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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fighting the Establishment

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ..."

What does this mean? Fundamentally, it means that Congress (and, by the Incorporation Doctrine, state and local governments) can't give preferential treatment to the ideas of one religion over another, without a clear secular purpose. This was in direct response by the founders to the naming of the Church of England as the official religion of England and its colonies.

What clearer violation of this principle could there be than laws preventing gay marriage?

Think of it this way. Certain religions consider gay sex (and by extension gay marriage) to be a sin. Other religions do not, and in fact would be performing gay marriages today if they could. (And they do in Massachusetts and California.) Even though it may be the majority opinion that gay marriage is "wrong", that does not eliminate the protection of the First Amendment rights of those whose religious beliefs include sanctifying gay marriage.

And it is not just the establishment clause. The First Amendment also prevents our government from prohibiting free exercise of religion. When ministers are arrested for performing a religious ceremony (gay marriage), there is no doubt that this right has been infringed.

So, is there a secular purpose to banning gay marriage that can be used to overcome this objection?

What about the argument that limiting marriage to a man and a woman is best for children? That is a completely bogus argument. This is about marriage not about child rearing. If this were true, then gay marriage opponents should be working to ban gay adoption and gay artificial insemination. Indeed, many of the same people who are so worried about the children in this instance would not dream of imposing government will on parents to protect them in other instances where the science is more clear -- banning parents from smoking and drinking, banning parents from serving soft drinks to their kids, etc.

But the more fundamental reason that argument is flawed is that it is not equally applied. Many people marry and never have children or ever intend to (including me). Think of the elderly people that remarry long after child-bearing years. That's clearly not in the interest of the children they will never have, but we allow it anyway. But by the anti-gay marriage argument, all of our marriages should have been prevented because they will not result in children, the only valid reason for marriage.

Another argument that is often offered is to protect the word, the sanctity, or the tradition of marriage. Well, these arguments come perilously close to being explicitly religious in nature, which goes against our quest for a secular rationale. For what other word are we willing to sacrifice the rights of an entire class of citizens?

Plus, if you honestly check other cultures and traditions past and present, in this country and elsewhere in the world, you will find many other interpretations of the traditions around marriage, many of which are contrary to the beliefs of the majority here today. For example, in the Native American tradition, gays were accepted, even revered, and would often marry members of their own gender.

What about the concern that gay marriage is a threat to straight marriage? In what way? Nobody would be forced to marry anybody they don't want to, no church would be forced to perform gay marriages, and no existing marriages would be affected in any conceivable way. This argument loses me completely.

It is claimed that gays are trying to force their agenda on everyone else. But who is forcing anything on anybody? It seems to me that the people who are being prevented from marrying are the only ones being imposed upon.

Colorado is one of the states in which gays are explicitly prevented form marrying. It's now in the state constitution. It really makes me wonder how so many people can fail to understand something so clear as the First Amendment.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Babies are Contagious

There's something about our yard this year. A few weeks ago it was the foxes. Here's a shot of our doe and fawn this morning.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Improving kWm by kWm

I think and write quite a bit about climate change and the environment, and in our household we take environmental awareness quite seriously. We burn less natural gas, use less gasoline, use less water, and generate less garbage than most households in this country. So, when we found in an energy audit a few months back that our electrical usage was actually above average, we were quite embarrassed.

You see, we had already done most of the things you do to cut down your energy usage. All of our light bulbs are compact fluorescent. Our appliances have by and large been replaced with more efficient models as the time has come to retire the old ones. We don't use air conditioning. And we removed the jacuzzi tub in our yard. What was going on? Was someone breaking into our house in the middle of the night and plugging in high wattage floodlights?

Fortunately, the energy auditor gave us a couple of tips, so we had something to try. We've now gotten three bills since the audit, and I'm happy to report that our monthly usage, compared to last year, has gone down 13% (for the first, partial month), 14%, and 25% for the most recent month. Our electricity usage for the past month was likely the lowest it's been since we moved in several years ago. That's an incredible savings, and I feel like we did almost nothing to earn it.

What did we do? First we turned off a couple items of electronics that weren't being used, and put most of the rest on power strips. Want to watch TV? Just remember to flip on the power strip before you sit down, and flip it off again when you're done. Going to use the treadmill? There are two power strips you have to flip, one for the exercise equipment, and one for the entertainment equipment. And who wants to work out inside this time of year anyway?

Power strips are about $5 - $10 each. We actually had some lying around, so this cost us nothing. And once you get used to it, the amount of extra effort is almost nothing. This equipment now draws power a few hours per week maximum, rather than 24 hours every day. It adds up.

We also configured our computers to go into hibernate mode rather than running all the time. That's a bit of a bother, as it now takes a little longer to start up when you sit down.

One other thing. Our home computer has an Energy Star LCD flat panel display, but my work computer in my home office had a rather old CRT monitor. I asked my employer for a new monitor. An energy-efficient monitor can be purchased for about $150. The one my employee provided probably cost $200 or $250 new, but they happened to have one that wasn't being used, so there was no expense involved.

So, our savings came with no cost to us and very little inconvenience. If we had bought the power strips and a new monitor, we could have spent less than $200. Our June electric bill was more than $12 cheaper than our June bill last year. At that rate, the investment would have paid for itself in a little over a year.

We discovered that it's true that the little things add up. Kilowatt minutes can easily become kilowatt hours. Most electronic devices continues to draw power even when they are turned off, so the secret is finding those items that you don't use all the time and cutting power when you aren't using them. And make it easy to do so, so you really will do it.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Torture Me, Br'er Judge, But Don't Fling Me in that Virgin Patch

The man known as KSM and four of his good buddies all want to die. No, they're not depressed, they're giddy. They are not suicidal. Rather, they want to be rewarded for pulling a fast one over on all us evil Americans, and sent directly on the fast train to heaven.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his cohorts are responsible for plotting the 9/11 mass murders. They are still greatly pleased with how that turned out. They will never be repentant. They are the picture of evil, and given the chance would do as much additional damage as they could. If convicted of their crimes, shouldn't they be put to death?

Think of it this way. In their belief system, as warriors for their evil cause there is no greater reward that to become a martyr. Giving them death penalty would be rewarding them for their actions. Not only that, we would be sending the message to potential recruits to their cause that even if they are captured they could become martyrs. What greater recruiting tool could there be?

So, if giving them the death penalty would reward them for their actions, would help recruit people to their cause, and would cause many people in the civilized world to feel more sympathetic towards them, what should we do to them instead if they are convicted?

Simple. Lock each one of them up in a small, dark room and don't let them out. Give them each a mattress to sleep on, a Koran, and a daily kosher meal. That's it. If there is particularly good news in the fight against their buddies, slip them a copy of the news, but nothing else. No other news would flow in or out. Make sure they get good health care, so they live long, unproductive lives. And give the Red Cross access to make sure they are not being tortured or otherwise mistreated. Let them fade away and out of everybody's mind. But make sure recent pictures are always available, so that the world knows what a man in permanent, earned solitary confinement looks like.

Speaking of torture, it's pretty clear that KSM and his gang were interrogated using "enhanced" techniques. What's up with that? Even if they got a confession (which they did), and even if it was legitimate, the judge (along with the rest of the world) is going to have to consider the validity of that confession, throwing the entire prosecution into question. What if we can't convict these evil people because their confessions were coerced illegally? Do we then let them go? Or continue to hold them without convicting them? This leads to some very bad options. Even if they are successfully convicted, many will not accept it because of the torture allegations. Why does our government insist on putting the punishment and imprisonment of these horrible people at risk? Why must they take a positive thing (capturing known terrorists) into a negative (we had to torture a so-called confession out of these people) with our own allies?

These actions are unconscionable and we should demand more responsible behavior from the people we trust to keep us safe.

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