Scrooge

Alastair Sim in Scrooge (1951)

The iconic novella by the great English writer Charles Dickens (1812-1870), A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, was first published in 1843. There have been many film adaptations since, the first being in 1901. But I can’t imagine a better one than the 1951 British black & white film Scrooge. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you should watch this movie.

Even after repeated viewings, I still can’t get through it without becoming teary-eyed at various points in the movie. The film score for Scrooge was written by English composer Richard Addinsell (1904-1977), and it is unquestionably a vital part of what makes this movie so good, along with the performances of all the actors—especially Alastair Sim (1900-1976) as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Experiencing this movie, you can’t help but be reminded of the following:

  • Bittersweet and very sad episodes in your own life (the older we get, the more of these we have to look back upon), especially now from a perspective of hindsight. What would you have done differently, knowing what you know now?
  • Much of what you thought was important has been a distraction from what really is important in “a life well lived”.
  • It is never too late to change the focus of your attentions and endeavors.

Timeless themes, to be sure.

The Enemy Below

Robert Mitchum and Curt Jürgens in The Enemy Below (1957)

I don’t normally watch war movies, but the 1957 classic The Enemy Below is a war movie for people who don’t like war movies. It is best if you don’t know anything about the story or plot before you see it, so I won’t share any details here, but I will say that even if you are a pacifist (as I am), you will probably like this movie.

Some interesting facts:

  • The German actor Curt Jürgens, who played the German U-boat commander, was critical of Hitler and the Nazis and was sent to an internment camp in Hungary in 1944. He became an Austrian citizen after World War II.
  • The USS Whitehurst, an active-duty ship first used during World War II, was utilized for this movie.
  • Many of the sailors on the American ship in this movie were actual crewmen of the USS Whitehurst and not actors.
  • The main actors on the German submarine were born in Germany and Austria.
  • This is the film debut for (Albert) David Hedison (Jr.) as Lt. Ware, and he went on to a starring role in the television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968) as Captain Lee Crane.
  • The excellent 1966 first-season Star Trek episode Balance of Terror was influenced by this movie and closely parallels it.

Highly recommended!

Korngold & The Prince and the Pauper

Robert J. Mauch and Errol Flynn in The Prince and the Pauper, 1937

Sometimes you hear a piece of film music that is so good that it makes you want to see the film. That is certainly what brought me to the 1937 film adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) wrote the film score for The Prince and the Pauper. Here is the Main Title:

André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon 289 471 347-2)

Korngold reused this theme in his wonderful Violin Concerto of 1945:

André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra; Gil Shaham, violin
(Deutsche Grammophon 439 886-2)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a Viennese compositional wunderkind whose father was the overbearing Julius Leopold Korngold (1860-1945), chief music critic for the Neue Freie Presse and the most influential music critic in all of Vienna during Erich’s formative years. (Another Leopold was also an overbearing father to another extraordinarily talented child prodigy whose middle name was Wolfgang.) Undoubtedly molded by his father’s extreme distaste for atonal modernism, young Erich developed a style that was tonal and melodic. However, the classical music world was “evolving” away from tonality and Romanticism, and as often happens with composers who write new music using an old idiom, they are largely ignored or, worse yet, forgotten. Fortunately, Erich Wolfgang Korngold was discovered by Hollywood where his tonal music was appreciated, and he went on to write scores for sixteen Hollywood films to great acclaim. He also wrote a great deal of classical music not associated with films that has been neglected for decades and only recently is receiving a fresh hearing and long-overdue appreciation.

The Prince and the Pauper, starring Billy & Bobby Mauch, Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, Phyllis Barry, and many other notable actors, is a delightful movie suitable for the entire family. Highly recommended!

Clear and Present Danger

I’m far from a conservative and if you want to put a label on me it would be “progressive humanist” but I highly recommend you watch this 17-minute interview with conservative Max Boot by Walter Isaacson on Amanpour & Company from yesterday:

Donald Trump, his enablers, sycophants, and truculent supporters, are a clear and present danger to the United States. In their support of demagogue Trump, almost half of the people in this country (the almost-half that counts) have clearly demonstrated that they would unwittingly vote to elect someone far more dangerous as long as he or she pushes all the right emotional buttons.

As Mark Twain once said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Almost as disturbing is the insouciant multitude who do not vote. About 33% of eligible voters did not participate in the 2020 presidential election.

Progressives like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are recent examples in a long line of politicians and scholars who offer bold new solutions to seemingly intractable problems—certainly worthy of reasoned consideration and discussion—but at least since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the right-wing attack machine has vilified progressives as “communists” or worse. A large segment of our population has been lied to for so long that they now accept these untruths as fact.


In light of the many serious problems that beset us and a political landscape utterly incapable of addressing any of them, I am seriously reconsidering my encore career during these semi-retirement years. I had always assumed that I would spend most of my time and energy continuing what I did in my spare time during my full-time-employment years: providing observational astronomy programs for the public, teaching astronomy classes, and writing about astronomy. As much as I love astronomy, I am beginning to realize that focusing almost exclusively on astronomy is not the best use of my time and energy, given the various existential crises we all face at this moment in human history. I need to be an active participant in the solutions to these problems rather than yet another distracted bystander.

How many of you have reached your retirement years and found—unexpectedly—that the hobbies and avocations that sustained you throughout your working years are not what you want to focus on now?


Most of my adult life, I’ve wanted to live somewhere where the night sky is not compromised by light pollution—especially in retirement. But the election of Trump in 2016, his almost-reelection in 2020, and the continuing “Stop the Steal” movement has been a game-changer for me. Despite my desires, the reality is that almost all of the rural areas in this country are dominated by Trump-supporters. I currently live in a semi-rural community in Wisconsin where 24% more voted for Biden than voted for Trump in the 2020 election. And, even here, we are still being besieged by Trump flags, Trump-Pence signs, and hand-written yard signs with angry missives. During the worst of the pandemic, some businesses here (including at least one restaurant) defied the statewide mask mandate with no consequences, the Republican-controlled state legislature has gerrymandered their way to an unassailable majority in a state with an electorate that is close to 50-50 between the two parties, and the 2020 election results continue to be litigated and investigated. I’m done with this place. From here on out, I’m not going to live anywhere where Biden had less than a 24% lead over Trump in the 2020 election. In searching for that place, I have found the following tool from the New York Times to be quite helpful.

Now, I want to live somewhere with lots of progressives and real opportunities to collaborate and help facilitate meaningful change that will benefit all people. That will no longer be a rural area. Elections have consequences.

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.

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.

The Invaders

Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent

The Quinn Martin television series The Invaders premiered on January 10, 1967 and ran for two seasons, the forty-third and final 51-minute episode airing March 26, 1968. If I ever saw an episode of this series at the time it was aired, I sure don’t remember it. What I do remember watching at the time was Lost in Space (which ran for three seasons from September 5, 1965 through March 6, 1968) and Star Trek (which also ran for three seasons from September 8, 1966 through June 3, 1969).

Obviously, the target audience for Lost in Space was kids, and being ages 9-11 during its run, I regularly watched it. Looking back on it now, I see the show could have been so much better than it was. The Robinsons, Major Don West, the Robot, the Jupiter 2 spacecraft were all really cool (I still think so!). But as fine an actor as Jonathan Harris was, the Dr. Zachary Smith character just ruined the show. And I could have done without the (often) unbelievably cheesy aliens and bad science.

When Star Trek launched on September 8, 1966 (when I was 10), I am embarrassed to admit I didn’t like it as much as Lost in Space and missed most of the episodes. Boy, did that ever change! Once Star Trek went into syndication in the early 1970s, I saw all the episodes and became a lifelong fan, and it remains today my favorite science fiction television series.

Somehow, I totally missed The Invaders at the time, but having just finished watching the series on DVD (without ads!) from beginning to end, I am amazed at how good of a show it was. First of all, Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent is truly outstanding. He makes the show a success, no question about it. Next, the scripts are phenomenal. Exceptional stories that keep you on the edge of your seat more often than not. And a fabulous array of guest stars further strengthen the show. Let’s not forget to mention the remarkable photography by Andrew J. McIntyre.

If you are unfamiliar with The Invaders, the basic premise is that alien beings from a dying world come to Earth with the goal of eradicating humanity and making it their new world. On Earth, they can assume human form, and infiltrate society in their quest for domination. David Vincent learns of their plans and embarks on a lonely and dangerous quest to convince those in power that their threat is real and must be stopped.

All of the episodes are worth watching, but here are my favorites:

  • Doomsday Minus One [Season 1, Episode 8]
  • Moonshot [Season 1, Episode 15]
  • Wall of Crystal [Season 1, Episode 16]
  • The Ransom [Season 2, Episode 15]
  • The Vise [Season 2, Episode 22]

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