Saturday, September 01, 2007

Back to the future

TO FOLLOW the trajectory of Lisa Nowak's career is like reading a Philip K. Dick novel.

Dick is the science-fiction icon whose novels were set in a futuristic Armageddon. He pitted cyborgs against humans, using artificial forms of life to expose the artificiality of the humans' decaying moral and social order.

Nowak is the former astronaut whose employment was terminated by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) a month after she was charged for assaulting and trying to kidnap a romantic rival last Feb. 5, 2007.

Nowak, a US naval officer who logged over 1,500 hours of flight in over 30 different aircraft to obtain the rank of captain, was also a mission specialist in robotics. On board the Space Shuttle launched in July 2006, she operated its robotic arms, as well as those of the International Space Station.

If one were to apply tabloid captions to her case, Nowak's crime of passion made her run the gamut “from robot expert to robot captive” after she recently appealed to a court to remove her electronic monitoring ankle bracelet while she awaits trial for charges.

Last August, Nowak complained that wearing the bracelet was “expensive, bulky and uncomfortable.” She said her ankle was chaffed by the bracelet, which also got “in the way of her military boot laces,” according to an Associated Press report.

The bracelet monitors the movements of the US naval officer whose parole prevents her from going to some states, including Florida, where her rival lives, or to Virginia, where her former boyfriend resides.

The judge who ruled to grant Nowak's plea cited her behavior, which was “well enough” for the past seven months.

Apparently though, not everyone agrees. Colleen Shipman, the woman Nowak allegedly attacked, has petitioned a court to keep the bracelet on Nowak's ankle. Shipman says she still fears Nowak who is accused of disguising herself (even wearing adult diapers to rule out restroom stops) last February to stalk Shipman, harass her in her car, and, when she rolled down the car window, pepper-spray her rival.

Online news sites also report that many Americans found the court's temporary removal of Nowak's bracelet as “too lenient.” Nowak's lawyer has said his client recently lost 15 percent of her body weight. She is diagnosed for “major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and 'brief psychotic disorder'.”

In her 44 years, this is the former astronaut's first recorded brush with violence, as well as her first criminal charges. In January 2007, Nowak separated from her husband after getting involved with a fellow astronaut, who later cooled off in their affair and took up with Shipman. According to Nasa records, extramarital affairs trouble many astronaut marriages.

Aside from Nowak, Paris Hilton, some rapists and other convicted US criminals on parole, the electronic bracelets are mandated accessories for aliens in eight US cities. According to, the Department of Homeland Security experiment requires aliens without any criminal record to wear the electronic monitors 24 hours a day.

The bracelets are supposed to discourage the aliens from "absconding" or going into hiding to avoid deportation. But according to the Vera Institute of Justice Report on Community Supervision, a three-year pilot program in New York City, phone calls and personal reminders were more cost- effective and almost doubled the compliance of immigrants to court rulings. No electronic bracelets were used in the program.

In his 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Dick wrote of a society hunting down to “retire” androids that rebelled against “forced retirement” by posing as humans. Made into the 1980s classic “Blade Runner,” the novel explored Dick's “concepts of persecution based on narrow distinctions,” notes Wikipedia.

The US trend in electronic bracelets brings on a feeling of reverse déjà vu, as well as chilling new meanings for “distinction-based persecution.” 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 2, 2007 issue

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