Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Saturday, February 25, 2006

President Urges Public to Connect the Dots

It was not unexpected when the Republican congress approved, and Bush signed, energy legislation last year that cut funding for the National Renewable Energy Lab here in Colorado. The large number of pork projects in the energy bill required this significant sacrifice ($28 million worth). When all was said and done, many cuts were required at the lab, including the layoff of 32 employees.

But, Bush suddenly got religion at his State of the Union address, and started talking up alternative energy. He recently went on a whirlwind tour of some of the country's hot spots in the industry, including NREL. Well, the day the President showed up at NREL to talk up all the good things they are doing, it was announced that somehow the Department of Energy had scrounged up $5 million, enough to save those 32 jobs. (Note that NREL is still $23 million short to accomplish the projects they are working on and which Bush was touting.)

It doesn't take much of a crayon to connect the dots on this. A successful Bush speech is worth $5 million, but not $28 million. And the scientists at NREL (and the worthy science they are performing) are nothing but pawns in this political game.

At NREL, President Bush explains the difference between renewable energy and renewable research dollars.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Any Port Is a Storm

There are lots and lots of reasons to protest President Bush's actions. I did so as recently as yesterday. However, I think we need to cut him some slack on this one. The entire country, right and left, seems to be in an uproar about the decision to allow a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates to operate several of our major ports.

This seems a classic case of guilt by association. Just because this company is from a certain part of the world does not make them less trustworthy than any other company. Imagine that the ports were being controlled by Halliburton. How many people would feel any safer?

This reminds me of Michael Moore condemning all Saudis, as he did in Fahrenheit 9/11. People hear "... Arab ... Muslim ... terrorist ... 9/11 ..." and don't care about the words in between.

Now, I have to assume that this company was properly vetted for all security concerns. And, I think it was incompetent of the Bush administration to be blindsided by the controversy. But, to block this action just because the company involved is Arab is baseless fear mongering.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bush Budget Slight of Hand, Part I

I've never read one of these things before, and I'll admit that I haven't read the whole thing. However, just perusing the Bush 2007 budget proposal I've found a number of items that are quite eye opening.

Here's a good one that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere. The President is proposing to change the budget baseline to include the extension of his 2001 and 2003 expiring tax cuts. This is quite a tricky maneuver that you have to think about for a moment to understand its implications. If the budget baseline is modified to include the extension of these tax cuts, then the President never has to account for their impact to the budget! The cuts could only be passed in the first place by including the expiration, because of the enormous long-term impact. And now that impact can magically be wiped away as if it will never happen!

I plan on writing more about the proposed budget later, but I thought this one item was especially worth noting.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Why Can’t We All Just … Grow Up?

Seminal child psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) developed a theory of childhood development that is still widely used today. He identified four stages of cognitive development through which the child progresses, from birth though adulthood.

In Piaget’s model, a child of about six or seven begins a process of decentration – in which the child begins to recognize the viewpoints and feelings of other people. This process can continue for years.

I’m beginning to think that the definition of a fundamentalist is somebody who cannot successfully complete this process. Think about it.

A Muslim fundamentalist does not understand that there are non-Muslims who do not follow the same teachings. Political cartoons that are insensitive to their religious views, created and published by non-Muslims in far away countries, are sufficient to incite them to violence. Immoral behavior by non-Muslims in another country is enough to cause them to blow themselves up along with as many innocent bystanders as possible. It does not seem in the least hypocritical to them that their own actions and beliefs are just as immoral to the very people they despise.

A Christian fundamentalist believes that his religion defines morality for all. No matter that people of other religions (including many Christians) may hold strong views that are contrary and just as moral to them. If it is a fundamentalist belief, it is worthy of writing in the law of the land. Someone who believes differently is anti-Christian (even if they are just as devout in their own beliefs, and may even consider themselves Christians).

If you are a fundamentalist, your beliefs are the only ones. You have the right, even the duty to enforce your beliefs on others. If others believe something different than you, then your very existence is threatened. Even though your God may be all-knowing and all-powerful, you do not trust Him to enforce His own laws. You need to do it for Him. It is not enough that the nonbelievers are condemned to hell for all eternity. They must also be harassed, arrested, and even murdered in this life.

My message to all religious fundamentalists: Grow up! Recognizing the existence of people who are different than you isn’t the end of the world. It is the expansion of the world.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

War on Washington

The War on Washington! Sounds serious. And I'm not talking about Washington, D.C., or even about the State of Washington. No, I'm talking about George Washington, the Father of Our Country, the first President of the United States of America. A man who saw enough war in his time that we should not be bringing more upon him.

The third Monday in February is coming up, and we will be celebrating the birth of this man. Except, everywhere I turn, it is Presidents' Day this or that. (They are never sure where the apostrophe goes.) Doesn't our country's original truth-teller deserve to at least have his birthday kept sacred?

Some might say that this holiday celebrates the life of President Lincoln, or even (as put forth by none other than President Richard Nixon) that it celebrates ALL presidents.

But then, where does it stop? Next year, Presidents' Day will fall on the 19th. This happens to be the birthday of Saparmurat Niyazov, President for Life of Turkmenistan, one of the world's most authoritarian dictators. Yes, in just twelve months we will be celebrating the life of the man who (facts courtesy of Wikipedia):
  • Changed to word for bread to the name of his mother

  • Order physicians swear an oath to him instead of the Hippocratic Oath

  • Banned video games, opera, ballet, and lip syncing

  • Banned public smoking (ok, there's a good reason to celebrate his life!)
In 2009, Presidents' Day will fall on Feb 16. That happens to be the birthday of Kim Jong-il. I guess he is not officially the president of North Korea, because his father, Kim Il-sung, was named that country's "Eternal President". Imagine that.

So, if you are like me, you will be boycotting any business that has a Presidents' Day sale. I'll be getting out my axe and chopping down some cherry trees (not Presidents' Trees!). I refuse to celebrate the life of the man (Niyazov) who decreed that the people in his country should chew on bones to preserve their teeth rather than getting caps.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Vice President Makes Easy Mistake -- or Was It?

It's not like you wouldn't have done the same thing. Perhaps Vice President Cheney simply mistook attorney Harry Whittington for his prey. They've shown the same doctored photo of Whittington in all the news media, so it may not be obvious how this could happen. However, I've discovered this picture of Cheney's victim in an old family album, and it becomes clear why it was such an easy mistake.

Harry Whittington relaxing on his family's ranch.

I've also discovered evidence that Cheney's actions may not have been accidental after all. In fact, according to an unnamed White House source, this was actually the first concrete step in the Bush administration's new "War on Chimeras", announced in the recent State of the Union speech. In that speech, Bush asked Congress to outlaw "human-animal hybrids". Clearly, Whittington was meant as an example in this new campaign.

So, which was it? Simple mistake based on resemblance between hunting partner and hunting target? Or, a vicious, unprovoked attack on one of the quail people? I think it is time for civil rights legislation to protect the multi-species-enabled. As Dan Quayle, the former Vice President of the Hybrid Anti-defamation League and Friends (HALF) said, "We're Frail! We're Quail! Get used to it!"

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Self-Censorship -- Just a Precaution

I hope none of my loyal readers notices. However, I did have to go through all my old posts and make sure I had nothing negative about our esteemed Vice President. Not that I'm worried I'll get shot or anything. And don't worry, I didn't remove anything of substance.

I wonder how long it will take Google's cache to update?

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Environmentalism is Fundamental to our Heritage

What's the purpose of our government? The preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America sums it up very nicely:

  • To form a more perfect Union,

  • Establish Justice,

  • Insure domestic Tranquility,

  • Provide for the common defence,

  • Promote the general Welfare,

  • Secure the Blessings of Liberty

  • To ourselves and our Posterity
Each one of these is key to our past and ongoing success as a country. Today, I'd like to take about a couple of these items: Promote the general Welfare ... to ourselves and our Posterity.

This tells me that our federal government has the responsibility to make this country a better place to live, not just now and for our current citizens, but for all future generations. Sounds like common sense, but I'm glad our founders wrote this down. It means that we want to help people live a good life, but that we can't forget about the long-term consequences.

One set of long-term consequences is often lumped under the umbrella "environmentalism". It includes everything from clean water and air, to recycling, to climate change, to endangered species, to habitat maintenance, to ozone depletion, and many more "tree hugger" issues. What do these have in common? It is a concern with the fact that we have something now -- perhaps less than we used to, but still something good -- and if we are not careful we will have less of it some number of years from now.

What about the disputed science? For example, look at climate change. Among unbiased scientists, I believe there is a consensus that we are witnessing a significant global climate change. As to the cause, there is less consensus, but there is significant weight to the argument that human activities are at least contributing to this change. We don't know all the factors. We don't know how it will end up. However, the prudent thing to do, the responsible one, the one in line with the goal of promoting the general welfare for our posterity, is to take precautions based on the best available information. In the case of climate change, perhaps it means to stop being so selfish, to start thinking about your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and cut down on the amount of carbon you are causing to be emitted into the atmosphere. Just a suggestion.

Why is this the job for government? Shouldn't we be pursuing market-based solutions? Well, certainly there is a role for responsible companies to do well for the environment. However, the goal of a company is to make money for its owners. Yes, many companies have laudable practices in this area, and consumer pressures help. But fundamentally, given a choice, most every company will do what is best for its bottom line, not the welfare of the country's descendents.

Owners of companies have a voice in our democracy (some louder than others), but the environment needs to have an advocate, and that advocate needs to be able to trump the immediate needs of any specific company.

Which brings me to today's issue. President Bush has submitted a budget that continues his past short-sightedness in the environmental area. The President needs to reread the Constitution that he pledged to uphold and contemplate what it really means. Then he needs to think about his and our posterity, and to start working on their general Welfare.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Response? What Response?

I watched President Bush's State of the Union speech the other night, and then eagerly awaited the Democratic response. This year it come from Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.

Well, I watched, listened to his words, and waited. The entire speech. And, do you know what? Not one word about Bush's speech. Not one!

Instead, I heard what sounded like a campaign speech. The great things Kaine has been doing in Va. How Republicans and Democrats can and should work together. But no response.

How do these people expect to win elections without even being able to address the points being brought up by the other guys?

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Fun with Numbers

In my high school physics class, I discovered something called "dry labbing". When you dry lab, you figure out how the experiment is supposed to turn out, then you log results in your lab notebook that correspond to what you figured out (rather than having to go through the entire exercise). I reasoned that it wasn't a real science experiment anyway, because we were just demonstrating a well-known principle, rather than trying to find out something new. Also, you had to understand the material better to make up the results than you would to just write down what happened. Not to mention that for a clumsy adolescent science is never repeatable.

Needless to say, I only got to do this once, before I learned another valuable lesson that had nothing to do with physics. The lesson is, anybody can fudge the numbers, and in doing so can prove just about anything they want. Or, as Benjamin Disraeli said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

For example, take politics. In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush said, "Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending." Come on, now, how long did he and his speech writers have to think before coming up with something that sounded positive and couldn't later be shown to be wrong?

Here's the recipe:
  • First, decide what point you want to prove.

  • Second, come up with some numbers (it doesn't matter what or from where) that are related to your point.

  • Third, state your point, along with the numbers, in close proximity, with conviction.

  • Repeat the third step as required, until your numbers are accepted as a given and your point is accepted as the logical conclusion of your numbers.
Another example is the economic case for/against tax cuts. It's been proven that tax cuts improve the economy. It's also, coincidentally, been proven that tax cuts are bad for the economy.

What's the lesson? Well, I guess it is that when somebody is able to prove their point with statistics, they are probably hiding more than they are showing.

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