Science, Religion, Zealots, Fascism, Politics, Law and Freedom

I came across an article in the Seattle Times today describing the situation a local man, and Saudi citizen, Majid al-Massari finds himself within.

Apparently his father is a well-known supporter of al-Qaida who describes his organization based in London as the “ideological voice” of al-Qaida.

Dr. Muhammad al-Massari is a theoretical physicist by education and profession. His son Majid received degrees in both Physics and Astronomy in Saudi Arabia, then travelled here to the University of Washington to pursue an advanced degree in Physics.

According to Majid’s co-workers and friends, he was very bubbly and loveable. His degree work and subsequent interest in computer viruses, which he gave talks on, indicate he is also a very detailed thinker and most likely very good at disseminating observations into the sensible.

However, he built websites for his father’s organization which supports al-Qaida and gave regular talks on their radio show.

At first, he supported the Bush administration’s “war”, but later did not, and spoke out against it. This alone is not surprising – it is the stance that many, many Americans with no love of terrorism have taken.

Majid never advocated violence.

He was arrested and jailed by our immigration service several months ago because of a two year old misdemeanor drug possession charge. The FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism seized his home and computers.

He is currently still detained and undergoing the process of deportation to Saudi Arabia because of these old misdemeanor drug possession charges. However, federal prosecutors have filed thousands of pages of documentation and exhibits about Majid’s father instead – and his father’s link to these terrorists.

Majid doesn’t want to be sent back to Saudi Arabia. His father has spoken out loudly for the overthrow of Saudi royals. Even assassination. Majid is afraid he will be tortured by the Saudis because of this. Many “experts” believe his fears are not unfounded and feel the Saudis will use Majid to try getting to his father.

How does Majid’s father feel about this grim prospect for his son?

His father said he won’t be deterred, even though he thinks the Saudi government will treat his son badly.

And what if the Saudis threaten to kill his son?

“It would be God’s will,” he said. “I would tell the people that, and let the people judge.”

A man of science? A man of God?

It is easy to look at Majid’s situation and say, well, he spoke bad about America, and now he wants us to save him from his own people. Just send him back – he doesn’t deserve what we have to offer – he deserves what he gets from his own people. Maybe now he’ll appreciate what America has to offer a little better.

It is easy to become affixed to our viewpoints, and our understanding.

Majid’s has been blown apart.

His friends from work gathered together and moved his belongings into storage for him. This, after pooling money together for him to pay his rent.

I remember often during the last Presidential election Bush saying, in essence, that to question his decisions is to be unpatriotic.

One of the fundamental aspects of our country that makes us “free” is the lack of a singular personality that rules. We arrive at decisions collectively. Openly. Honestly.

However, this has not been true in America recently. Then again, we have been challenged with some very difficult situations – unprecedented situations. Yet strangely, we are not even able to query deeply into the origins of these situations, let alone the effects. Obstructions to truth have been erected in many places.

So really, should we be so quick to judge someone like Majid, when idealism and quantifiable reality collide?

Is it not better to be who we are than to just speak what we want others to believe?

Is it not better to act upon what we know to be true rather than accepting the excuses given to us in a lie?

It always come down to just ourselves, and the many, many people around us. It is so easy to become caught up in one thing or another that removes us far from ourselves, into a word of abstraction. It is so simple, becoming lost.

The “Neverending” Picture

Zoom QuiltRemember those stories you used to write – just a paragraph or two, then you’d pass it along to the next person to carry on writing, and then the next person, etc., etc.?

And you ended up with these crazy stories that took wild turns, taking you to fanciful places where you had to later imagine you way out and on to the next place?

The Zoom Quilt is a pretty wonderful little thing – a collaborative art project where you can zoom in and out, seemingly forever, through exotic illustrations.

Ah, now this feels more like home… 🙂

Facts, Truth, Lies, Knowing and Guessing

I found a list called “100 Facts and 1 Opinion – The Non-Arguable Case Against the Bush Administration“. It’s dated November 8th.

As always with these sorts of things, I would very much like to find out more information about some of the issues – the skewing of information by selective facts or omission is always a danger.

It’s astonishing (though there are so many far more astonishing things listed that we have just become numb to) that they can cut Pell Grants that help give people college educations, under the guise of saving the government around $300 million, yet spend that same amount on programs that teach sexual abstinence in schools – which is not at all proven effective.

Somewhat coincidentally, there is a detailed article on Groklaw that delves into the right to know and the processes involved – mostly from a civil perspective.

Asteriod 2004 MN4 Impact Risk

Merry Christmas!

Observations today show Asteriod 2004 MN4, having a diameter of 0.39km (about 1/4 mile) and a mass of 83 billion kg (183 billion pounds) has a 2.2% probability of impacting on Earth at a speed of 12.59km/s (28,163 mph (7.82 miles/sec)) and giving off the energy of 1.6 billion tons of TNT (or rather 3 trillion pounds).

The atomic bomb that devistated Nagasaki gave off the energy of only 20 thousand tons of TNT.

The energy that flattened around 1,000 square miles of Tanguska forest was approximately 10 million tons of TNT (Asteriod 2004 MN4 would be 160 times as powerful).

We have a little time, though – it’s not projected to impact, if it does, until April 13th, 2029.

NASA’s NEO Information Page

Plus, the imact that wiped out the dinosaurs so long ago from that impact in Mexico was estimated to be between 30 million to 100 million megatons of TNT – whereas 2004 MN4 is would be a paltry 1,600 megatons… 😉

Of the appromiately 15,000 known nuclear devices we have today, the 2004 MN4 impact would only be like detonating 2,400 of them simultaneously.

Asteriod 2004 MN4 was discovered just this year, on June 19th at Kitt Peak observatory in Arizona. It has been increasing in impact probability, though is still very unlikely to happen. It is far more likely impact will be disproven at this stage.

On 23 December, the odds of impact were 1 in 300. On 24 December, the odds were 1 in 60. Today, 25 December, the odds are 1 in 45.

We really do need better monitoring technologies for space – and to focus more up there, instead of oil and money stuff down here.

UPDATE: 28 December 2004

Well, it looks like the trajectory of 2004 MN4 is now better determined, and it looks like we’ll be safe. 🙂

Apparently with further observations, scientists have been able to determine the asteroid will leave the “cone” of probability altogether.

I believe 2004 MN4 achieved the highest risk factor yet at NASA’s NEO center. Again, NEO detects mostly known objects – the worst case scenario (well, as far as knowledge of the event goes) is a rogue asteriod or comet that is not in known locations – of which there are… well… quite a few.

Gosh, I suppose now I’ll have to think about things like keeping the environment clean, and doing things that help the future. Damn. 😉

From NASA’s NEO group:

“As is often the case, the possibility of future Earth impacts for some near-Earth objects cannot be entirely ruled out until the uncertainties associated with their trajectories are reduced as a result of either future position observations, or in this case, heretofore unrecognized, pre-discovery observations. When these additional observations were used to update the orbit of 2004 MN4, the uncertainties associated with this object’s future positions in space were reduced to such an extent that none of the object’s possible trajectories can impact the Earth (or Moon) in 2029.

In the accompanying diagram, the most likely position of asteroid 2004 MN4 is shown at the end of the blue line near the Earth on 13 April 2029. However, since the asteroid’s position in space is not perfectly known at that time, the white dots at right angles to the blue line are possible alternate positions of the asteroid. Neither the nominal position of the asteroid, nor any of its possible alternative positions, touches the Earth, indicating that an Earth impact in 2029 is ruled out.”