The Great Divide

A few quotes come to mind when considering the current hyperpartisan and politically polarized environment in the United States.

“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” – Anonymous

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H. G. Wells

One thing is for sure. The systemic problems in our political system will remain firmly in place no matter who wins the election.

I want to live in a place where we can work together, despite our differences, to make real progress towards the following goals:

  • Free or inexpensive basic healthcare not tied to one’s employer
  • Free or inexpensive post-secondary education
  • Affordable housing and tiny house villages for the homeless
  • Universal Basic Income (UBI)
  • An economy based on building things that last and are able to be repaired or recycled, rather than rapidly consumed and thrown away
  • Currency that is neither artificially scarce nor debt-based, and that takes into account everything of value to society
  • Public policy based on a humanistic worldview where decisions are guided by facts not faith, science not religion
  • A gradual reduction in the world’s population through the only humane way available—having fewer children
  • Tight restrictions on gun ownership and training requirements for those who do own guns
  • Binding and enforceable international laws
  • A stronger and more effective United Nations
  • A completely decentralized power grid powered by renewable energy sources, primarily solar and wind
  • Substantially scale back on the use of fossil fuels
  • A strong public transportation system, including high-speed passenger rail

I’m sure those of you of a similar persuasion could add many more items to this list, but you get the idea which “side” I am on. (Hint: It is not the side that has most of the guns.)

There are many people who want these things. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live someplace where we could work towards these goals without our every effort being blocked?

We have built a lifestyle that is economically and ecologically unsustainable. We are fast running out of time and options. Smart people address problems before they get to be crises.

What are our options, besides a slow, miserable, and probably violent descent into dystopia (i.e. life’s a bitch and then you die)?

  1. Divide the U.S. into autonomous enclaves
  2. Leave the U.S. (if anyone will have us)
  3. Form or join an intentional community where people with similar goals and beliefs can demonstrate to the wider world a better way to live, a better way to govern

1 and 3 are similar, but 3 would be on a much smaller scale—no more than about 150 people. Small is beautiful.

A few years ago, at a friend’s recommendation, I watched a movie based on a brilliant idea but crudely executed (and I do mean crudely): Idiocracy. It seems we are already well on the way to the dystopian existence portrayed in that 2006 movie. Though Idiocracy is brilliant satire, I would love to see a remake that is more discerning and family friendly so it can reach a wider audience.

There’s a great divide in my life, too. On the one hand, I want to finally live far away from city lights during my retirement years in an astronomy-friendly intentional community that has no dusk-to-dawn lighting. But on the other hand, I would love to live in a politically progressive city with a first-rate symphony orchestra and a vibrant classical music scene. Observational astronomy and classical music are my two biggest interests, but their venues are mutually incompatible.

Challenges, large and small.

Imagine

John Lennon

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

Imagine all the people
Livin’ for today
Ah

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace
You

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Mirador Astronomy Village

Photo by John Rummel, Madison WI

Since the beginning of February, I have been able dedicate 10+ hours each week towards creating an astronomy-friendly community called Mirador Astronomy Village. Will you join me in that effort?

Here’s the “placeholder” website:

https://miradorastrovillage.org/

And here are some recent posts I’ve made to Dark-Sky-Communities on groups.io (https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main) to give you an idea where we’re currently at with this exciting project.

Acquiring Land for Mirador Astronomy Village

The Mirador specifications document located in our Files section and here gives a lot of detail about our vision for an astronomy-friendly residential community and astronomy resort & learning center. But before any of this can be developed, we need to have land.

The next step for Mirador is to create a legal entity that can raise money for a land purchase.

Some challenges we face:

  • Mirador could be located in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas. We don’t want to limit our land search to one state, but incorporating in the state where land will be purchased is less complicated.
  • We need an attorney who is familiar with Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas law, but especially with real estate law and corporate law.
  • Does anyone know an attorney who is interested in astronomy, might want to become involved with this project, and might be willing to do some pro bono work?
  • Does anyone know a fundraising professional who is interested in astronomy and might want to become involved with this project?

Our most immediate need is to find an attorney to help us create the legal entity that will be necessary to raise money for a land purchase. This legal entity will exist for one and only one purpose: to purchase land for Mirador Astronomy Village.

Here is what we currently envision for the land-purchase legal entity. Would appreciate your thoughts before we submit this to a prospective attorney.


Land Purchase

Issuance of Shares

  • 1 share = $1000
  • No limit on the number of shares that can be purchased
  • Initial shares and additional shares can be purchased at any time
  • Hold the money in an FDIC-insured interest-bearing account
  • Value of shares remains unchanged except for interest accrued
  • Shareholders can return shares and remove their investment (plus interest) at any time up through the point of the shareholders voting in favor of making an offer on a property but before an offer is actually made
  • 1 share = 1 vote
  • Funds can only be used to purchase a property for Mirador Astronomy Village; any leftover funds will be returned to the shareholders proportional to the number of shares they own.
  • If there are insufficient funds to purchase the property without financing, the shareholders will not be a party to that financing arrangement.
  • It is possible we may acquire land that is “partially donated”, that is the land owner may agree to sell us the land for the amount of funds we have raised to date.
  • Shareholders will be known as Community Founders.
  • After the property is purchased, the monetary value of the shares goes to $0.
  • Benefits for shareholders after the property is purchased will include free RV, camping, and astronomy access to the property as soon as it is acquired; after development, no-additional-cost benefits such as free access to astronomy programs will be offered.
  • Benefits will be proportional to the number of shares owned.
  • If Mirador Astronomy Village isn’t established on the property within five years, the property will be sold and the proceeds returned to the shareholders in proportion to the number of shares they own.

Some Reasons Why I Want to Live in a Dark-Sky Community

Posted 13 July 2020

I drove 20 miles round-trip early Saturday morning to view Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) for the first time. It is beautiful! Easily visible to the unaided eye and spectacular in binoculars. And now, in the more convenient evening sky!

I had to trespass onto private land (as I often do) because we are not allowed to be in any of our state parks here in Wisconsin during the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (unless you are a paid camper at a campsite).

One of my motivations for living in a dark-sky community is having a great view of a comet like C/2020 F3 literally right outside my door night after night. The same goes for watching meteors. The visibility of comets and meteors are severely impacted by light pollution—both the general urban skyglow but also nearby lights. Along with just about every other aspect of observational astronomy.

All my adult life I have spent significant time and energy educating (and becoming educated myself) about light pollution, environmentally-friendly lighting, and, of course, astronomy. There have been small victories, yes, but overall I feel my contributions have been a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Living in a “regular community” (as I have all my life), there is always the trepidation with every new neighbor or lighting technology change that your view of the night sky will be degraded even further than it already has, and there is not a darned thing you can do about it if the perpetrator (be it a neighbor or the city) chooses to marginalize you and your kindly-presented concerns. Heck, this can even be a problem living in a rural area. When I had my Outdoor Lighting Associates, Inc. business in Iowa from 1994-2005, I can’t count the many times I got a call from a distressed rural resident that had a new neighbor who decided to light up their place like Las Vegas.

Sure, a lighting ordinance would help a lot, but in most cities and towns these days they’ll look at you like you’re from Mars if you try to make enacting one a priority.

There are many advantages to living in a small community, but where I live now (population 4,700) there is no community will nor interest in reigning in bad lighting or in protecting the night sky. However, in 1999 I was deeply involved with writing a lighting ordinance and getting it approved in Ames, Iowa, a university town of 50,000 (at the time). Being a well-educated university town had a lot to do with our success there. Those were kinder, gentler times then, too.


Lighting at Mirador

I’d like to take this opportunity to explain more about the outdoor lighting aspects of an “astronomy-friendly” community. Indoor lighting would have no restrictions except the amount of light shining outdoors at night would need to be controlled with some sort of window covering.

Ideally, an astronomy-friendly community would not allow any dusk-to-dawn lighting. Why have a light shining all night long when most of the night no one will be making use of its illumination? Modern light sources such as LEDs, occupancy sensors, and control electronics have advanced to the point (both in terms of technology and affordability) that dusk-to-dawn lighting is no longer needed, at least not in the kind of small community we are talking about here. I would like Mirador Astronomy Village to be an ongoing demonstration project for the wider world showing a better way to do outdoor lighting. By “better” I mean lighting that provides needed illumination where and when it is needed without adversely affecting the nighttime environment, including our view of the night sky. By “better” I also mean using passive reflective or light-colored materials where possible to reduce the need for—or brightness of—outdoor lighting.

There’s a lot to be said in favor of using “personal lighting devices”, also known as flashlights, when walking about at night.

The permanent outdoor lighting that is installed should be properly shielded and directed so that only what needs to be illuminated is illuminated, thus eliminating glare, light trespass, and direct uplight. The right amount of light for the intended task should be used, never more than is needed.

We certainly will need to be mindful of anyone visiting or living in our community with vision limitations. This is most likely going to be an issue in the areas open to the public at night. Observational astronomers, as a general rule, have learned to see better at low illumination levels through familiarity and experience, but the same is not true for the general public. Accommodations will need to be made with this in mind, and I would expect the public areas to have more illumination.


Getting this project off the ground has been challenging in the midst of a pandemic. There is at least one of several things you can do right now to help this project along.

  1. Post a comment here!
  2. Join the Dark-Sky-Communities discussion group at https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main. There are several subscription options for your convenience, and even if you subscribe to receive individual emails, the traffic on this moderated group is light and focused specifically on astronomy-friendly residential communities.
  3. Visit the Mirador Astronomy Village website.
  4. Take the time to read through the detailed Mirador Astronomy Village specifications document.
  5. Send me an email at DaveDarkSky@mac.com or call me at 608-930-2120 to discuss.
  6. Spread the word! There may be only a half a dozen people in the United States who can help me to make Mirador Astronomy Village a reality. How do I reach them?

Thank you!

Photo by John Rummel, Madison WI

Population

Climate change is a serious problem requiring immediate attention. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere as fast as possible. Half measures will not do. We are rapidly running out of time before the quality of life for all humans on planet Earth declines, especially for the economically disadvantaged.

A precipitous decline in biological diversity due to habitat loss and extinction of species is of greater concern, and yet it gets very little attention in the mainstream media. While climate change will render large areas of the Earth uninhabitable, biodiversity loss will lead to a partial or complete collapse of the ecosystem humans depend upon for food.

Getting even less attention is the cause of both of these problems: overpopulation. If you were born in 1973, the world’s human population is now twice what it was then. If you were born in 1952, there are three times as many people alive now than there were then. We have a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency because we have a population emergency. The number of humans on this planet needs to decline, and the only humane way to accomplish that is to have fewer children. It is that simple.

And, yet, we often see this or that news article lamenting the fact that the birth rate in this or that country is too low. That’s crazy! A low birth rate should be a cause for celebration given the current state of the world and its environment. Certainly, a low birth rate does lead to some economic challenges, but these pale in comparison to the challenges we will face if population (and consumption) continue to grow.

As a humanist, I believe that we should do all we can to alleviate and eliminate human suffering. It is our highest moral calling. To be sure, some human suffering is inevitable and necessary when an individual makes poor decisions and suffers the consequences before hopefully making a mid-course correction. But the kind of suffering I am talking about is suffering that is imposed upon a person through no fault of their own, be it the cruelty of other human beings, or the cruelty of nature.

In this light we can see that our economic systems, governments, and most religions are utterly failing us. Nothing short of drastic changes will solve these problems. May wisdom, intelligence, ingenuity, and compassion guide us, rather than fear, ignorance, hatred, and dogma.

There is an organization dedicated to stabilizing human population throughout the world by lowering the birth rate: Population Connection. I encourage you to support their work as I do.

YearPopulationGrowth Factor
20207,794,798,7391.0
20197,713,468,1001.0
20187,631,091,0401.0
20177,547,858,9251.0
20167,464,022,0491.0
20157,379,797,1391.1
20147,295,290,7651.1
20137,210,581,9761.1
20127,125,828,0591.1
20117,041,194,3011.1
20106,956,823,6031.1
20096,872,767,0931.1
20086,789,088,6861.1
20076,705,946,6101.2
20066,623,517,8331.2
20056,541,907,0271.2
20046,461,159,3891.2
20036,381,185,1141.2
20026,301,773,1881.2
20016,222,626,6061.3
20006,143,493,8231.3
19996,064,239,0551.3
19985,984,793,9421.3
19975,905,045,7881.3
19965,824,891,9511.3
19955,744,212,9791.4
19945,663,150,4271.4
19935,581,597,5461.4
19925,498,919,8091.4
19915,414,289,4441.4
19905,327,231,0611.5
19895,237,441,5581.5
19885,145,426,0081.5
19875,052,522,1471.5
19864,960,567,9121.6
19854,870,921,7401.6
19844,784,011,6211.6
19834,699,569,3041.7
19824,617,386,5421.7
19814,536,996,7621.7
19804,458,003,5141.7
19794,380,506,1001.8
19784,304,533,5011.8
19774,229,506,0601.8
19764,154,666,8641.9
19754,079,480,6061.9
19744,003,794,1721.9
19733,927,780,2382.0
19723,851,650,2452.0
19713,775,759,6172.1
19703,700,437,0462.1
19693,625,680,6272.1
19683,551,599,1272.2
19673,478,769,9622.2
19663,407,922,6302.3
19653,339,583,5972.3
19643,273,978,3382.4
19633,211,001,0092.4
19623,150,420,7952.5
19613,091,843,5072.5
19603,034,949,7482.6
19592,979,576,1852.6
19582,925,686,7052.7
19572,873,306,0902.7
19562,822,443,2822.8
19552,773,019,9362.8
19542,724,846,7412.9
19532,677,608,9602.9
19522,630,861,5623.0
19512,584,034,2613.0
19502,536,431,0183.1

References
World Population Prospects 2019, United Nations.
Worldometers.info; 17 January, 2020; Dover, Delaware, U.S.A.

An Astronomy Retirement Community

Are any of you nearing retirement (as I am) or already retired who might be interested in moving to an astronomy-oriented retirement community? If you are, I encourage you to join the moderated Groups.io discussion group Dark-Sky Communities at

https://groups.io/g/Dark-Sky-Communities

I am working to establish such a community and would value your input and assistance. That work involves extensive research, networking, writing articles in various publications to reach a wider audience, finding a suitable developer, and seeking benefactors.

Some characteristics of the community I envision include:

  1. Rural location with a dark night sky, but not too far from a city with decent medical facilities, preferably to the northeast or northwest;
  2. Location with an abundance of clear nights and mild winters, probably in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas;
  3. Lighting within the community that does not interfere with astronomical activities, strictly enforced;
  4. Community is owned and operated by a benefit corporation or cooperative that will rent a house or apartment to each resident;
  5. Observatories will be available for rental by interested residents who will equip them;
  6. Pro-am collaborative research opportunities will be developed and nurtured;
  7. A community observatory and a public observatory for astronomy outreach will be constructed and maintained;
  8. Lodging will be available for visitors and guests;
  9. There will be opportunities for on-site income operating and maintaining the community or, alternatively, a reduction in monthly rental fees.

Many of us have spent a significant amount of time and energy over the years trying to rein in light pollution in our respective communities and in the wider world, with varying degrees of success. Those efforts should continue, but the grim reality is that light pollution is continuing to get worse almost everywhere.

The opportunity to live in a community of varied interests but with a common appreciation for the night sky and a natural nighttime environment will appeal to many of us. Furthermore, a dark-sky community will afford us opportunities to show the world at large a better way to live.

Traditionally, in the United States at least, if one wants to live under a dark and starry night sky, your only options are to purchase land and build a house on it, or purchase an existing rural home. Not only is buying and maintaining rural real estate unaffordable or impractical for many, many would prefer to live in a rural community, provided that the night sky and nighttime environment are vigorously protected. Rental will also make it easier to move into and out of the community as circumstances change.

In Praise of Indexes

SAS Press recently discontinued selling physical books, and now offers publications only in an electronic format (EPUB, Kindle, and PDF). I’m sure this is not an isolated incident and many other smaller publishing houses are going the same route.

I recently purchased the 3rd edition of Kirk Paul Lafler’s useful book, PROC SQL: Beyond the Basics Using SAS. I have the first and second editions of his book in softcover, and I was pleased to find that I could order a physical copy of his third edition through Amazon. After receiving the book, I quickly discovered that the third edition no longer includes an index!

I contacted SAS about the omission of the index, and received a prompt and courteous reply:

“You are correct about the index.  Indexes are no longer a standard part of our print books.  I do understand your concern, and have forwarded your feedback to the appropriate editors. All of our e-books are searchable. If you would like a complimentary copy of the corresponding e-book, I will be happy to forward that to you.”

I learned that neither the hardcopy nor the electronic version of the book contains an index.

I know I am 63 years old, and maybe not as immersed in modern technology as my younger colleagues, but since when did an index become a dispensable part of any non-fiction book?

First page of the index of PROC SQL: Beyond the Basics Using SAS, Second Edition

A good index is like a table of contents, only much more detailed. Sure, you can search a PDF for a particular term, but what if you can’t think of the term you’re searching for? For example, you might not remember that the type of many-to-many join you are looking for is called a Cartesian product, but when you see this term in the index it jogs your memory and you can find it on pages 237 and 242, which then leads you to the term cross join.

Another problem with searching through a document is that I have yet to see any search provide the ability to search for more than one non-contiguous terms at a time on a page or adjacent pages. A well-crafted index is often more effective than one-dimensional searching at finding topics that can’t easily be reduced to a single word or term.

Index subheadings, such as shown for CASE expressions above, are also hard to replace with one-dimensional searching.

Indexing is so important and requires such skill (to do it right) that there is even a professional organization for it: the American Society for Indexing.

I hope you can see now that every non-fiction book, printed or electronic, needs an index to help you quickly find the information you need.

Stevens Point

I visited Stevens Point, Wisconsin for the first time over the Memorial Day weekend and, I have to say, this community of 26,000 is impressive. A great place to stay while you’re there is the Baymont Inn & Suites at 247 Division St. N. It is a short and pleasant walk to the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point campus, the Schmeeckle Reserve (wow!), and the Green Circle Trail. Michele’s Restaurant is only a few blocks down the street. Great food!

I miss living in a college town. It is energizing to interact on a daily basis with well educated, intellectually curious, and cosmopolitan people who are passionate about their work. I lived in Ames, Iowa—where Iowa State University is located—for nearly 30 years, and I feel more at home in Stevens Point, a smaller community, than I do now in Ames. I think Stevens Point is the nicest community I have visited since leaving Ames in 2005. Definitely would be willing to live there someday. UW-Stevens Point even has a physics & astronomy department, an observatory, and a planetarium. Perhaps I could help out in retirement.

Some towns have a lot going for them even without a college or university—around here, Mineral Point and Spring Green come to mind. Some towns are at somewhat of a disadvantage because they have a name that is not particularly attractive. For example, Dodgeville, where I currently live and work, has a moniker that isn’t all that inviting. But there is no place so nice to live as a college town—for people like me, at least.

My primary civic interests are in gradually developing a well planned network of paved, off-road bike paths, walking trails through natural areas, a center for continuing education, a community astronomical observatory, and a comprehensive and well-enforced outdoor lighting ordinance to restore, preserve, and protect our nighttime environment and view of the night sky. Living in a community like Dodgeville, I don’t get the sense that there is enough interest or political will to make any of these things happen. I can’t do it alone.

Tax Choice

Wouldn’t it be nice if you got to choose where some of your income tax money goes? Where you the taxpayer have some say in how your hard-earned tax dollars are allocated?

Here in the dis-United States, about 50% of us want lower taxes, and 50% of us would be receptive to higher taxes provided that it pays for things we believe in like universal health care and low-cost or no-cost education.

Short of amicably splitting up our country (a civil separation), changing our tax policy may help alleviate some of the frustration many of us have that half of the country is keeping us from building the kind of country we want for ourselves and for our children.

Federal income tax, and state and local income tax (where in effect) would be divided into a non-discretionary portion (100% currently) and a discretionary portion.

When you fill out your tax return each year, you would designate the government agencies and programs where you want the discretionary portion of your taxes to go.

Going one step further, I would like to see taxpayers given the option to choose either the standard or a supplemental tax tier. Those who opt to pay higher taxes by choosing the supplemental tax tier would pay a fixed percentage more, regardless of income (like a true flat tax).

To be fair, those paying in at the higher supplemental tax rate should receive additional benefits compared to those paying in at the standard rate. This could mean lower medical costs, lower education costs, or increased social security payments during retirement, for example.

Would this be easier to implement than partitioning the U.S.? Perhaps. Would it be the more effective solution to satisfy those with very different viewpoints about the proper role of government? Perhaps not.

In my view, society is far too reliant on volunteers. If a job is worth doing, and if it is a benefit to society, then, more often than not, it needs to be a paid position. There is so much work of a humanitarian, educational, and environmental nature that needs to be done that cannot and will not be done by any capitalistic enterprise. As members of society, we all have an obligation to help fund these activities through strong government and non-sectarian non-profit partnerships.

I dream of a day when paying for our medical care is no longer tied to having health insurance through an employer, when each of us will have the freedom to work in a variety of capacities, for both profit and non-profit organizations, throughout our careers, and to receive adequate training and pay for those efforts.


Great Courses Launchpoint

The Teaching Company, LLC offers hundreds of video courses under the name “The Great Courses” on just about every subject imaginable, with more being added all the time.

Though offered for personal in-home viewing, these 30-minute lectures (or 45-minute in the case of Robert Greenberg’s engaging music courses) would make a wonderful centerpiece for a continuing education course.

As an instructor, what I would like to be able to do is show my class a Great Courses lecture, and then follow that with discussion and activities that reinforce and expand upon those  concepts during the remainder of a 60-minute or 90-minute class.

Not unlike what a good teaching assistant does in a college recitation section after a lecture by the professor, The Great Courses lecture would provide instructional scaffolding for both instructor and student.

I believe The Teaching Company has a great opportunity here.  Just by allowing an instructor to show a course to students (and charging a reasonable fee to do so), they would be opening up a new market for their products, and would no doubt bring in many new individual customers.

The Teaching Company could provide the courses “as is”, or could make available supplemental materials for the continuing education teacher and their students.

I even have a name for this new offering: Great Courses Launchpoint.

Currently, The Teaching Company doesn’t exactly encourage the use of their materials for face-to-face teaching:

My hope is that they will see the value of incorporating their video lectures into the classroom, and maybe Great Courses Launchpoint will roll out by the time I semi-retire in three or four years.  One of the frustrations of getting older is that my “day job” is taking a greater share of my time and available energy than ever before.  I love teaching, though, and semi-retirement will afford me the opportunity to begin teaching on a regular basis again.  Looking forward to it!