The Day After

Last night I watched a movie that somehow I missed when it was broadcast on ABC on November 20, 1983. It is the most compelling dramatization I have seen of why we need to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. Frankly, this movie is terrifying, but as stated at the end, a real nuclear war would be far, far worse. This movie ought to be required viewing for every American over the age of 12. Though the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is no more, and the two Germanys reunited, the threat of nuclear warfare is just as relevant today. In fact, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is closer to midnight now than it ever has been—even during the height of the Cold War.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, among them the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 and 1985, respectively. I encourage you to donate regularly to both of these organizations as I do.

What else can we do? Here in the United States, we must reject and oppose tribalism at every opportunity. Our political system is dysfunctional, both in practice as well as structurally, and it needs to be dramatically reformed. Our politicians are completely unable to address the many existential crises currently facing our nation and the world, and most citizens feel powerless—or worse yet—dispirited, apathetic, or willfully ignorant. At the same time, we must root out lies and misinformation, and rely upon facts and hard-earned expertise.

Globally, we must work toward establishing a global “supergovernment” that enacts and enforces binding international laws that are in the best interest of all the world’s peoples. Individual nations will have to give up some sovereignty in order to effectively address global threats such as nuclear weapons, warfare, human rights violations, pandemics, climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Whether the United Nations can be strengthened to serve in this role or a new organization created will need to be explored.

The Day After is available through Netflix and Amazon.

Iowa Intercity Bus Service

Another pandemic casualty: intercity bus service. The Dubuque – Waterloo – Cedar Rapids – Marshalltown – Ames bus route shown on the 2015 map below is no more. When I called Burlington Trailways yesterday, they told me that this bus route will not be coming back after the pandemic. What a shame.

Not everyone who would like to ride a regional bus has no other transportation option, though that demographic is sizable and certainly needs to be served. Some of us like to ride a bus because we simply don’t want to drive long distances, especially alone. I lived in Ames, Iowa for nearly 30 years, and go back periodically to visit friends and family. I currently live in southwest Wisconsin, and prior to the pandemic, I was able to board a bus in Dubuque at 10:55 a.m. on any day, and would arrive in Ames on the same bus at 5:00 p.m., in time to pick up a rental car at Enterprise before they closed for the day. On the return trip, I could return the car in the morning, after Enterprise opened, board the bus in Ames at 9:45 a.m., and would arrive in Dubuque at 3:30 p.m. It was all very convenient.

Now, your only choice for using public transportation from Dubuque to Ames is the following:

  • Board the bus at Dubuque at 3:50 p.m.
  • Arrive at Davenport at 5:05 p.m.
  • Layover at the Davenport bus station until 6:55 p.m. (1h50m)
  • Transfer to a new bus and leave Davenport at 6:55 p.m.
  • Arrive in Des Moines at 11:10 p.m., with a 20 minutes layover
  • Transfer to a new bus and leave Des Moines at 11:30 p.m.
  • Arrive in Ames at 12:10 a.m. (no rental car companies open at that hour of the night)

The return trip is even worse.

  • Board the bus at Ames at 10:20 p.m.
  • Arrive in Des Moines at 11:05 p.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus at Des Moines
  • Arrive in Chicago at 5:35 a.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus in Chicago
  • Leave Chicago at 6:30 a.m.
  • Arrive in Davenport at 9:55 a.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus at Davenport
  • Leave Davenport at 10:10 a.m.
  • Arrive in Dubuque at 11:25 a.m.

A parenthetical note about this trip. The eastbound bus arrives at the Davenport Flying J’s Travel Shop, 8200 Northwest Boulevard at 1:55 a.m. Instead of going on to Chicago, you could take a 16-minute cab ride the 7 miles to the Burlington Trailways bus station in Davenport at 304 W River Dr. and then wait at the bus station for the 9:55 a.m. bus to arrive that will take you on to Dubuque. Or rent a motel room to sleep for a few hours first.

This is crazy! Who would put up with this unless they were desperate and had no other travel option? Certainly not a good way to build demand for public transportation across a broader demographic, is it?

Public transportation has been underfunded for decades in the United States and it shows. We ought to be ashamed. We really do need a much better bus and passenger rail network, with good intermodal connections.

Sadly, there was not a single news article on the internet that announced or lamented the cancellation of the Burlington Trailways bus route from Dubuque to Ames (and beyond). I guess intercity bus service isn’t deemed newsworthy, as many bus passengers are considered to be second-class citizens at best.

Another sign of the times: neither the bus companies nor anyone else posts bus route timetables on the internet, and even the Amtrak ones are hard to find these days. They all want you to enter your origin and destination on their website, but what if you want a “big picture” timetable for the entire route? You’re usually out of luck.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited and Las Cruces

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited currently runs just three days a week between New Orleans, LA and Los Angeles, CA. There continues to be a lot of interest in making this a daily train, and I hope that happens soon.

The Sunset Limited stops at 22 cities and towns. These are listed below, with stops having a station building and waiting room shown in bold.

New Orleans, LA
Schriever, LA
New Iberia, LA
Lafayette, LA
Lake Charles, LA

Beaumont, TX
Houston, TX
San Antonio, TX
Del Rio, TX
Sanderson, TX
Alpine, TX
El Paso, TX

Deming, NM
Lordsburg, NM

Benson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Maricopa, AZ
Yuma, AZ

Palm Springs, CA
Ontario, CA
Pomona, CA
Los Angeles, CA

As you can see, the Sunset Limited makes only two stops in the great state of New Mexico, and both of them are small towns (Deming 14K, Lordsburg 2.4K) without a station building.

Las Cruces, home of New Mexico State University, is by far the largest city in southern New Mexico, with a population of 103K and a metro area of 218K. It is not served by passenger rail.

Currently, if you want to utilize the Sunset Limited from Las Cruces, you need to board a Greyhound bus in Las Cruces at 1:20 a.m., and after you arrive at the Greyhound station in El Paso at 2:30 a.m., you need to take a cab or walk 0.4 miles in the middle of the night to the Amtrak station where you’ll have to wait until 1:22 p.m. to catch the westbound train or 3:10 p.m. to catch the eastbound train. Or later, if the train is not on time.

Returning to Las Cruces from El Paso involves arriving by train westbound at 1:22 p.m. or eastbound at 3:10 p.m., taking a cab or walking the 0.4 miles to the Greyhound station, and then waiting for the 3:25 a.m. bus to Las Cruces, where you will arrive at 4:30 a.m.

How’s that for convenience?

Would it be possible for the Sunset Limited to make a stop at Las Cruces between El Paso and Deming? Yes, but…

In order for the Sunset Limited to make a stop in Las Cruces without building a new rail line, it would have have to leave Union Pacific track and take BNSF track to Las Cruces, then on to Rincon, where it would take Southwestern Railroad track through Hatch and down to Deming where it would rejoin the Union Pacific track, adding 41 miles and some additional time to the trip both eastbound and westbound.

Other option would be to connect Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to the Sunset Limited by adding a new passenger route between Albuquerque and El Paso, with stops in Socorro and Las Cruces along the way. The rail between Albuquerque and Belen is owned by NMRX, and between Belen and El Paso by BNSF. Alternatively, the new passenger route could run entirely on BNSP track if you took the Rail Runner Express from Albuquerque to Belen with the new passenger route running between Belen and El Paso.

Yet another option would be to add a short passenger route like Rail Runner between Las Cruces and El Paso along 42 miles of BNSF track.

The best non-rail option would be to have a dedicated Amtrak thruway bus between Las Cruces and El Paso that would be in sync with the Sunset Limited train schedule and take you directly to and from the Amtrak station in El Paso. (The wonderful Van Galder bus service that runs multiple times per day between Madison, Janesville, South Beloit, Rockford, and Chicago serves as an excellent model as to what can be done by a well-run bus company.)

Finally, a shuttle between Las Cruces and El Paso in sync with the Sunset Limited train schedule could be offered, similar to the RoadRunneR shuttle that runs between Lamy and Santa Fe for the Southwest Chief stop at Lamy.

Retirement Challenges

I retired from my full-time position on May 21, and am now working three hours a day, Monday through Friday, for the same company, 100% remote. It is intense work, but at least it is only 15 hours per week now, and the pay is good.

There are a lot of potential projects that present themselves for an encore career, but I’m finding that I live in the wrong place to do any of them. Some are going to be impossible to do without substantial help from others.

One thing I’ve learned, especially during the pandemic, is that I need to be with people in the work that I do. A 100% remote interaction with others is unsatisfying, and I certainly don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that.

The project I am most excited about is Mirador Astronomy Village. Nothing like it has ever been done in the United States before.

Mirador would be a residential community that is astronomy-friendly, and the majority of that residential community would be permanent residents (in other words, not vacation homes for the wealthier among us). Mirador would have no dusk-to-dawn lighting, and no one living there will ever have to worry about a neighbor putting up a light that trashes their view of the night sky or shines into their home. Mirador would have a public observatory and provide regular astronomy programs. Mirador would also have private observatories for research, astrophotography, and visual observing.

Ideally, Mirador would be located where it is clear most nights and winters are mild. New Mexico, Arizona, and West Texas immediately come to mind.

The challenges? Mirador is going to need a land donation and a group of people who can take some financial risk to build it without jeopardizing their personal economic stability. Astronomy is such an important part of my life that I am willing to move, even to a remote location, for the opportunity to live in an intentional community of astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts. What I don’t know is whether there are even 20 others in the entire United States who would make the move for such an opportunity. Running a classified ad in Sky & Telescope for a year accomplished nothing other than “great idea, let me know when you get it built.” Well, even though I have passion, knowledge, and leadership skills to make this project a success, I do not have financial resources beyond providing for myself and my family. I can’t personally fund a development.

Many other projects and activities interest me. None of them can I do in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

  • Provide astronomy programs at a public observatory
  • Volunteer at a classical music radio station, perhaps even hosting my own classical music program, or at least providing recordings and commentary
  • Volunteer for a symphony orchestra
  • Bring the best music of new and neglected classical composers to a wider audience
  • Passenger rail
  • Paved off-road bicycle path
  • Develop a comprehensive outdoor lighting code/ordinance that has support, will get enacted, and will be enforced

One current activity related to classical music is necessarily 100% virtual. Back in April, I created a groups.io discussion group called Classical Music Little-Known Favorites. I posted a note about it to the hundreds of people I am connected to on LinkedIn and Facebook, and that garnered only a single subscriber. Since then, I’ve been working diligently to find interesting and accessible classical music to feature. I am pleased with the results so far, only no one else is posting anything. Still only one subscriber besides myself. There must be at least 20 people in the entire world who have a passion to seek out and champion the best classical music that is not yet commercially available. How do I reach them?

Currently, my astronomical work is focused on stellar occultations by minor planets for IOTA. I spend about 20 hours per week running predictions, recording the events from my backyard observatory, analyzing the data, and reporting the results. My backyard observatory is wholly dedicated to this work. Wherever I end up living, I would like to continue these observations. This adds the complication that I will need access to a dedicated observatory for occultation work—either my own or one that I share with other occultation enthusiasts. That observatory should be within walking distance of where I live.

I would like to live closer to my daughter and her family in Alpine, TX. Even though I would prefer to live somewhere not too far from civilization (thinking quality health care, mostly) with a unpolluted night sky, I am beginning to consider moving to a larger city like Tucson or Las Cruces where I can better pursue my classical music interests in addition to astronomy. Tucson has direct Amtrak access to Alpine (a huge plus), but Las Cruces has no connection to Amtrak. The Sunset Limited needs to come to Las Cruces (between the El Paso and Deming stops), or at least there needs to be a bus that takes you directly to and from the train station in El Paso.

I am concerned about the direction this country is heading, and that is entering into my future plans, too. I am a non-religious progressive who believes that local, state, and federal government should be strong, competent, and efficient. There can be no higher calling than a life dedicated towards public service. I am pro-government, pro-tax, pro-education, pro-science, and anti-gun. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere where Trump got the majority of the vote in 2020. If the current Republican insanity continues (and they have most of the guns), we progressives may be forced to consider forming our own country. Or moving out of this one. Before things get any uglier. Living in an enlightened and compassionate society requires giving up some of your liberty and freedoms for the health and well being of everyone. That’s a given.

Quit Saying a Low Birth Rate is Bad News! It Isn’t.

I subscribe to The Week which does a good job summarizing news events of the past week from a number of sources. In the May 21, 2021 issue, they quote an article from Noah Smith on Bloomberg.com that tells us, once again, how bad it is that the U.S. birth rate is declining.

Birth rates need to decline everywhere in the world because population growth is the cause of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and increasing poverty, conflict, suffering, and inequality. It is obvious by now that if we want to avoid a dystopian future for the human race, we’d better start encouraging people to have fewer children (one or zero is enough). That is the only humane way to reduce human population. Why would any sane person want to reduce our population through any other means?

Quoting from the article, “America’s declining birth rate”,

A “baby bust” points to “a grim economic future” for America, said Noah Smith.

Not as grim as the economic future that awaits us as the world’s resources are rapidly depleted and the natural world collapses due to too many people on our planet.

U.S. births fell 4 percent in 2020 to their lowest rate since World War II, the federal government reported last week.

Is it any wonder? The pandemic has upended all of our lives. That would have been reason enough, but add to that the toxic politics of this country which is like a horribly abusive marriage from which there is no escape. Then, add the host of existential crises facing the world, plus powerful manipulators constantly lying to us and distracting us to keep us from doing anything about these problems, and you have a country that clearly is on the verge of open warfare, if not collapse. Why would anyone want to bring a beautiful child into such a hopeless future?

“This puts an increasing financial and physical burden on the young,” who must pay the soaring costs of Social Security, Medicare, and caring for their own aging family members.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for the world’s most expensive medical care that for many is no longer of the highest quality. We need a non-profit, single-payer system such as Medicare for All.

“In 2010, the number of working-age adults per older adult was 4.8; by 2060, it’s projected to be only half that”—meaning that the tax burden on workers will need to double.

We are not paying enough taxes as it is. This is especially true for the wealthiest among us, including large corporations. And spending less on the military would help a lot, as it already consumes an obscene percentage of our federal budget.

The graying of the population will also lead to lower productivity and economic stagnation.

It depends on how you measure productivity and economic growth. Many seniors are highly productive members of society, even when they are not paid for their work. These encore careers allow many seniors to contribute directly to the betterment of society in more substantial ways then when they were traditionally employed.

If humans are to survive on this planet, we must transition away from an ever-increasing-consumption approach to economic growth and towards one of sustainability and improving everyone’s quality of life (not only materially).

Per-capita productivity will increase if we build robots and other machines to do the most unrewarding and dangerous work that humans now do. People can be retrained for more interesting work and more service-oriented careers.

And it will put the U.S. at a marked disadvantage in our competition with China, which has four times our population.

So what? Why must we continue to take this “us vs. them” approach? We need to think, and act, globally.

Increased immigration would help, but it’s not enough to keep our population growing.

Why must our population grow? Growth is killing us and this planet. We need a new economic system where progress isn’t equivalent to unbridled growth.

“Americans need to have more children,” and surveys show they want to—but are held back by the high costs of housing, education, and child care.

Well, then don’t vote Republican. And one child is enough.

America has a choice to make: to be a graying nation in decline or a great nation, “confident enough in ourselves to believe that there should be more of us.”

This is nonsense. Since when is a graying nation in decline? Let’s value every individual for who they are and what they can contribute, regardless of their age. And who cares about a “great nation”? I’m more interested in a “great world”. And making a “great contribution” of my time and energy to others.

We need a new economy. Where everything is recyclable. Where everything is built to last. Where everything is repairable. How are we ever going to get to that without strong government regulation to encourage needed behaviors and discourage harmful ones? And binding international laws?

For more information…
Population Connection

Earliest Sunset, Latest Sunrise

Why does the Earliest Sunset come before the Winter Solstice and the Latest Sunrise after?


Why does the Earliest Sunrise come before the Summer Solstice and the Latest Sunset after?

Ever wonder? I have. And aside from some hand-wavy explanations, I’ve never been able to explain this very well. Here’s the best explanation I have seen yet, provided in the December 2007 issue of Sky & Telescope, p. 55:

You’d think the earliest sunset would come on the shortest day (or longest night) of the year, at the winter solstice. But in fact, the day-night cycle shifts back and forth a little with the seasons, due to the tilt of Earth’s axis and the ellipticity of Earth’s orbit. At the beginning of December, sunrise, midday, and sunset all happen a little earlier than they “should”, and in January they run a little late. So the earliest sunset ends up being two or three weeks before the solstice, and the latest sunrise is two or three weeks afterward. The exact dates depend on your latitude.

Continuing along that same line of thought…

At the beginning of June, sunrise, midday, and sunset all happen a little later than they “should” and in July they run a little earlier. So the earliest sunrise ends up being about a week before the solstice, and the latest sunset is about a week afterwards. The exact dates depend on your latitude.

I know, I know. You still have a question. “Why are the dates of earliest sunrise and latest sunset closer to the summer solstice than the dates of earliest sunset and latest sunrise to the winter solstice?” Good question. I think it has everything to do with the fact that the Earth is near aphelion at the time of the summer solstice, and thus moving most slowly in its orbit around the Sun (the Earth’s orbit is slightly elliptical and not circular). That means that the Sun is moving slowest against the background stars and thus the accumulated difference between the sidereal day and solar day is the smallest at that time of year. That means the spread of days between earliest sunrise and latest sunset is less. Conversely, at the winter solstice, Earth is near perihelion, and therefore it is moving most quickly in its orbit around the Sun. That means that the Sun is moving fastest against the background stars and thus the accumulated difference between the sidereal day and solar day is largest at that time of year. That means the spread of days between earliest sunset and latest sunrise is more.

Here in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, where the latitude is just shy of 43˚ N and the longitude is just a tad over 90˚ W, the earliest sunset this year is today, Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at 4:25:49 p.m.

Latest sunrise in 2021 will be on both Saturday, January 2 and Sunday, January 3 at 7:31:51 a.m.

Pause to consider that if we were on year-round daylight saving time, latest sunrise wouldn’t be until 8:31:51 a.m.

My preference would be to stay on standard time year-round, as Arizona does.

Where Voters Rejected Trump – II

Though Trump lost his 2020 re-election bid, the fact that he polled so well throughout the anything-but-United States clearly shows the “Party of Trump”—today’s Republican Party—is leading us towards something far more sinister. The Republican Party of our parents’ generation would never have elected such a damaged person to the highest office in our land. Trump’s narcissism, ineptitude, lying, corruption, nepotism, divisiveness, etc. has been an unmitigated nightmare these past four long years. If you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you take the time to view the three-part documentary series Rise of the Nazis airing this month on PBS Wisconsin. There are parallels to what is happening in the U.S. today, and it is chilling.

As for the voters who continue to support this charade, we are witnessing in living color government by people who don’t believe in government—or good governance. The landscape looks pretty bleak in this country for progressives and intellectuals for the foreseeable future. Might want to leave while you still can.

Has the whole country gone mad? Well, not all of it. Here are the ten states where Trump and Trumpism were most soundly rejected in the 2020 election.

RankState% Voting for Trump
0.District of Columbia5.40%
1.Vermont30.67%
2.Maryland32.44%
3.Massachusetts32.49%
4.California34.24%
5.Hawaii34.27%
6.Rhode Island38.70%
7.Washington38.76%
8.Connecticut39.21%
9.Delaware39.78%
10.Illinois40.14%
States where Voters Most Rejected Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election

And here are the ten states you’ll probably want to think twice about moving to if you’re a progressive.

RankState% Voting for Trump
1.Wyoming69.94%
2.West Virginia68.63%
3.Oklahoma65.37%
4.North Dakota65.11%
5.Idaho63.81%
6.Arkansas62.39%
7.Alabama62.15%
8.Kentucky62.13%
9.South Dakota61.77%
10.Tennessee60.73%
States where Voters Most Supported Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election

Now, let’s return to the ten states that most soundly rejected Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Which county in each of these states had the smallest percentage voting for Trump?

State RankStateCounty% Voting for Trump
1.VermontChittenden County21.25%
2.MarylandPrince George’s County8.77%
3.MassachusettsSuffolk County17.8%
4.CaliforniaSan Francisco County12.72%
5.HawaiiHawaii County30.63%
6.Rhode IslandNewport County34.07%
7.WashingtonKing County22.22%
8.ConnecticutHartford County35.39%
9.DelawareNew Castle County30.72%
10.IllinoisCook County24.03%
Most Trump-Unfavorable Counties in States where Voters Most Rejected Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election

Polarization is tearing this country apart, but the blame does not equally fall on both sides. How do you talk with someone who all-too-willingly embraces conspiracy theories rather than reason, who derides science and scholars, who mistrusts or worse yet hates anyone who has a different spiritual viewpoint, let alone is a humanist, agnostic, or atheist? Who shows little or no interest in understanding perspectives other than their own?

May I submit for your consideration, the March 4, 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”.

The Monsters are Due on Maple Street

Figure One

Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers…throw them into darkness for a few hours and then you just sit back and watch the pattern.

Figure Two

And this pattern is always the same?

Figure One

With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find…and it’s themselves. And all we need do is sit back…and watch.

Figure Two

Then I take it this place…this Maple Street…is not unique.

Figure One

[Shaking his head.] By no means. Their world is full of Maple Streets. And we’ll go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves. One to the other…one to the other…one to the other—

Narrator’s Voice

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices—to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children and the children yet unborn. [A pause.] And the pity of it is…that these things cannot be confined to…The Twilight Zone…

Written by Rod Serling

Repurposing an Existing Community

One approach to establishing a dark-sky, astronomy-friendly, community is to find a small town in a rural area that would be receptive to doing the following:

  1. Enact a comprehensive lighting ordinance that will be enforced
  2. Eliminate all dusk-to-dawn outdoor lighting
  3. Apply for International Dark Sky Community status

Obviously, this is going to be easier to do in a small community, and most likely one that is economically depressed.

What’s in it for them? What would the motivating factors be?

  • A commitment from X number of people that they would move to the community provided the community agrees to 1-3 above being done. Options for new residents would be to either purchase or rent an existing home/apartment/RV space/etc., or to build the same but land would have to be available.
  • The new residents would commit to working with the existing residents and businesses to improve the community and provide new opportunities, ensuring that this is a win-win situation for both existing and new residents.
  • The new residents would commit to doing some or all of the things outlined in the Mirador Astronomy Village specifications document, or something like it.
  • The influx of new residents and tourism will benefit all in the community, both economically and socially.

Does anyone know of a rural community that might be interested in putting their town “on the map” as an astronomy-friendly community for residents and visitors?

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