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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crunching the Global Warming Numbers

Anybody who reads me regularly knows that I'm kind of a nerd, and also knows that I'm very interested in the issue of global warming. So, you won't be surprised to know that I've found all the raw data I can get my hands on, and loaded it into Excel to play with.

Yes, there's nothing like just looking at a set of data, drawing graphs, comparing one thing to another, just rolling around in it. Sometimes when you're off doing something else, like maybe a long run, an idea jumps out at you, some way of making sense of all the numbers.

One thing I found when comparing the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere to the average annual global surface temperature is that there is strong mathematical correlation between the two. Correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation. But what I found is that the strongest correlation (88.3% correlation) is between CO2 level in one year and temperature 14 years later. That not only gives us one more piece of evidence that one is a causal factor in the other, but it also gives us a time frame. When you burn a gallon of gasoline in your car, you are impacting the future climate of the planet. And that impact may be felt immediately and may last for decades, but the strongest impact is about a decade and a half in the future.

What does this mean? Well, for one thing, even if we stop burning fossil fuels today we will still be seeing the impact for a while. But it also means that our actions today will have an impact within the foreseeable future. The impact of burning a gallon of gasoline today on the climate twenty years hence falls to the same level as its influence on this year's climate. So, if we can get our fossil fuel burning under control, perhaps in twenty years we will start seeing a significant difference.

What else did I see in the data? Here's one: Right at the time of World War II CO2 levels in the atmosphere stabilized, and even fell a tiny bit. From 1939 to 1948, there was essentially no change in CO2 in the atmosphere.

Why? I'm not sure, but perhaps the level of industry was reduced, and gas shortages caused reductions in driving, and that may have been enough to get our CO2 emissions to a reasonable level.

What happened with global temperatures then? Well, as you might guess, they stabilized or fell immediately after WWII. Between 1946 and 1957, global temperatures fell by about 0.12 degrees C. Temperatures didn't really start rising again until the 1970s, about 20 years after the CO2 levels started really rising again.

What can we learn from this? Well the most positive thing I take from this is a confirmation that not only do temperatures go up when CO2 goes up, but temperatures go down when CO2 goes down. Plus, we have a concrete example of mankind actually influencing global warming in the correct (lower) direction. This tells me that if we reduce our CO2 output to a level at which its atmospheric concentration is stable, we might, just might, be able to get the temperature increases under control.

Of course, our annual CO2 increase today is about five times as high as the annual increases in the 50s, so it won't be easy to get it under control. Much more of the CO2 is being originated in places that aren't the U.S., so there needs to be a truly global attack on the problem.

But at least it seems technically feasible.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Have You been Propositioned?

Fourteen simple words:
Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
And with those words, and the vote of 52.2% of the voters in California, the rights of roughly 120,000 people to wed in that state (estimated for three years) were taken away.

But shouldn't the wishes of the majority be respected? The voters in California (along with Colorado and 28 other states) have spoken. Well consider these very first words from the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
As well as the Fourteenth Amendment:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Clearly the U.S. Constitution has the authority to overrule any state's individual constitution and statutory code. Clearly the freedom from establishment of religion and the right to free exercise qualify as "privileges" and "immunities" under the Fourteenth Amendment, meaning that states cannot abridge these rights. And clearly, equal protection of the laws means that one class of people can't be subject to one set of laws while another group is subject to another.

Here's an analogy: The majority of the citizens of the State of Utah are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons have a number of beliefs and practices that are not necessarily adhered to by the majority of other members of society. For example, it is against Mormon law to have premarital sex, masturbate, view pornography, or have sexual fantasies. They also believe it is wrong to consume coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol.

There is nothing wrong with those beliefs. But suppose they were to put them on the ballot in Utah, and because Mormons have a majority in that state they were able get these aspects of their religion passed as state law. Because a majority believe it, it would be illegal to have a sexual fantasy or drink a cup of coffee.

How many people would consider that a violation of the principle of separation of church and state? How many people would be up in arms about their inability to get a cup of Starbucks, or watch just about any network television program?

Now, consider what has happened with gay marriage. Marriage is clearly a profoundly religious issue. A large percentage of weddings are performed by religious officials and/or in religious facilities. It is considered a sacred bond, and many religions speak out loudly on issues related to marriage. To many, gay marriage is an abomination. To others, it is a sacred celebration of love.

Although many weddings and unions are purely civil and secular, they cannot be separated from religion. In fact, ministers have been arrested for performing gay weddings.

That's right, they have been arrested for freely exercising their religion, something that is spelled out clearly as a fundamental right in the Bill of Rights.

When our country was formed, the founding fathers had the idea that there were certain rights that are so basic that they cannot ever be taken away by the government. Not by Congress. Not by majority rule. Not by any individual state.

When gay marriage is allowed, its opponents lose nothing, except for the comfort of knowing that gay weddings are not taking place. But when gay marriage is banned, an entire class of people lose out on the sacred, emotional, financial, and other benefits of this institution. And that just isn't right.

One of these days, this issue will be brought in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as a First and Fourteenth Amendment issue, and I don't see how they could come to any other decision.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

How Did I Do? Better than the County Clerk!

Every year after the election I compare how I recommended and voted with how all of the ballot issues actually fared at the ballot box. This time, it took three days for the county to finish counting votes in Boulder County, the slowest in the entire state.

What went wrong? Well, apparently the folks doing the counting were paying attention and noticed some anomalies in the optical scanning that was picking up votes that weren't made. It took hand checking each ballot for paper dust and ink smudges, a very slow process. I guess no other jurisdictions were doing the same type of check, so they were able to finish faster. Please, nobody tell them that their vote counts may not be accurate.

Anyway, back to my own report card. First, I got 100% on the City of Boulder issues. That's right, the city voted with my recommendations on all seven of the questions on the ballot. Are that many people reading and agreeing with my blog, or are the people here just that much smarter? Basically, people agreed to continue funding the city at the current level, but not to give council more powers.

At the county level, I got one out of two. I recommended a NO vote on extending the Worthy Cause tax, and it passed with flying colors (which I could have predicted.) Oh, well. I don't think the money from this sales tax will go to any group that doesn't deserve it. I just wish people were trusted to make their own decisions on who to give to.

We did pass, in line with my recommendation, the new clean energy district, a novel way to fund, with no public expense, small renewable energy and efficiency projects. Boulder folks are smart AND generous.

On the state level, I didn't do as well. State voters ignored my recommendations on nine out of fourteen issues.

My successes: Luckily, Amendment 48, which redefines "person" in parts of the state bill of rights went down narrowly. Amendment 52 also failed -- it would have taken money from water projects, pine beetle mitigation, and other priorities that will be getting more urgent with global warming, and spent it on getting more people in their cars to ski resorts. Two out of three of the attempts by business to cripple unions also failed. Less critically, voters agreed with me that 21-year-olds are not old enough to run for state legislature.

Big losses: Referendum O would have protected our state constitution against the continued onslaught of amendments, but failed because too many people were convinced (incorrectly) that it would decrease their ability to write initiatives. Amendment 50 won, giving state casinos the right to not only stay open all night and increase bet limits, but also prevent their own taxes from going up. Two measures that would have helped with education funding went down -- Amendments 58 and 59. Amendment 51, a sales tax to help people with developmental disabilities failed; I guess Coloradans as a whole are not as generous with their sales tax dollars as Boulderites. Amendment 54 passed. Like Amendment 41 in a previous election, it takes a semi-reasonable idea (in this case preventing undue influence by government contractors) and pushes it way beyond reasonable, probably way beyond constitutional.

Mixed blessings: Also failing was Amendment 46, which would have ended affirmative action in the state. No doubt it is still useful, but symbolically it still grates. And Referenda M and N also passed contrary to my recommendation. These remove so-called obsolete clauses from the state constitution, although I wasn't convince in either case that we had the whole story.

Yes, this Insomniac is out of touch with the Colorado voter, and proudly so!

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

I'm Sick of Waiting for Socialized Health Care

I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Canada last week. While I was there I thought it would be a good chance to do a little informal research into how their health care system really works.

"Fixing" our health care system is clearly near the top of the list of things for our incoming President and Congress to work on. And everybody here seems to have an opinion. Obama wants to bring us "socialized" medicine, according to John McCain. But socialized medicine, he warns us, results in rationing of care and long waits.

Well, Canada truly does have socialized medicine. And nothing Obama has proposed comes anywhere near to what they have. But in any case, I asked three Canadians I had the chance to talk to what they thought of their system:
  • The software engineer
  • The business executive
  • The retired factory worker
The first thing to get out of the way is wait times. Every person I talked to confirmed that there are long waits for certain things. If you want to schedule non-emergency surgery you may have to wait six months. I was told that the government is working on improving this, because of the number of complaints, but it seemed to be an accepted fact.

Can you get your hip surgery quicker if you are willing to pay? Well, I heard of one man who paid out of pocket to come to the U.S. and get his new hip. It cost him $40,000, but the money was burning a hole in his pocket and being in his 80s he really valued the time more than the money. I also heard that, depending on which province you live in, you may be able to pay for improved service locally, but that in some provinces that would be illegal.

The other thing you may have a long wait for is a first appointment with a doctor or specialist. (I guess this is similar to some popular providers in the states.) Again, that could be months. Now, once you have become a client of the doctor, I was told that immediate appointments were available. The executive and the retired factory worker told me they were getting appointments the next day when needed.

Interestingly, I also heard that employers may supplement the health care plans of their employees. For example, they may add prescription coverage, or may upgrade from a ward to a semi-private room.

The retired worker's biggest complaint? When he turned 65 and switched to the Canadian equivalent of Medicare, they switched one of his drugs. Instead of taking one pill per day he had to take two.

What about the cost? The executive told me she is in the highest tax bracket, with essentially no deductions, and that she pays 47% of her paycheck in taxes. For comparison, the highest tax rate in the U.S. is 35% federal, 7.65% payroll tax, and 4.6% state income tax (here in Colorado), for a total of 47.25%. Hmm. That doesn't count the insurance costs that are also deducted from your paycheck.

So what do they think? My software engineer doesn't like it. He doesn't like the rationing, and the inability to get the care he wants when he wants it. My business executive loves it, because people can't go bankrupt because of a catastrophic medical problem. And my retired worker feels lucky compared to his brother, who lives in the U.S. and has no health care after being forced into early retirement.

So what's the bottom line? First, it will be hard to sell government run health care in the U.S. It seems like it can be done at a reasonable cost. To do so, however, will require some rationing. And given that, people in this country will not tolerate being told they can't get the care they want.

To be successful here, socialized medicine must include the ability for employers to supplement the insurance, and it must include the ability for individuals to pay for unrationed care.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Summary of Colorado and Boulder 2008 Ballot Issues

I have now read every single issue on this year's ballot from the City of Boulder, Boulder County, and the State of Colorado, and analyzed the pros and cons of each. You may not agree with any particular recommendation, but you can easily see how I came to my recommendation and come to your own decison based on all of the facts. My biggest goal is to ensure that fewer people vote on issues based on either just the ads or just reading the issue title on the ballot.

Remember, when in doubt, vote no! Here's the list. The most important issues are bold. The ones that are crossed out have been withdrawn and the votes will not be counted. Click on any specific issue to see my full analysis.

Colorado Measures
YESAmendment 46
Colorado Civil Rights Initiative
NOAmendment 47
Right to Work Initiative
NOAmendment 48
Definition of Personhood
NOAmendment 49
Limitation on Public Payroll Deductions Initiative
NOAmendment 50
Limited Gaming Initiative
YESAmendment 51
Sales Tax for Developmentally Disabled Initiative
NOAmendment 52
Severance Tax & Transportation Initiative
NOAmendment 53
Criminal Liability of Executives
NOAmendment 54
Clean Government Initiative
NOAmendment 55
Just Cause
NOAmendment 56
Health Insurance Initiative
NOAmendment 57
Safe Workplace Initiative
YESAmendment 58
Severance Tax Initiative
YESAmendment 59
Savings Account for Education Initiative
NOReferendum L
Candidate Requirements
NOReferendum M
Obsolete Constitutional Provisions
NOReferendum N
Obsolete Constitutional Provisions
YESReferendum O
Initiative Process

Boulder County Measures
YESIssue 1A
Clean Energy Options
NOIssue 1B
Worthy Cause Tax

City of Boulder Measures
YESIssue 201
City Retention of Property Tax Funds
YESIssue 202
Sales and Use Tax Extension
NOQuestion 2A
City Council Compensation
NOQuestion 2B
City Council Executive Sessions
YESQuestion 2C
Amendment of Recall Election Procedures
NOQuestion 2D
Permit City Lease up to Forty Years
NOQuestion 2E
Qualifications for Appointment to City Commissions

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