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.

Television à la carte

I don’t have much time for television. Seldom more than 2-3 hours per week, most or all of it on PBS Wisconsin. I usually watch Washington Week, Here and Now (Wisconsin news), and Amanpour & Company each Friday evening, and quite a few of the Nova episodes.

Once or twice most Friday and Saturday evenings, we’ll flip through the broadcast television channels we are able to receive from Madison some 39 miles to the east, and if we’re unusually lucky we’ll happen upon something worth watching. Usually not. And then there’s the damned commercials. I’m sure wherever you are you’ll find as I do that at any given moment, most of the television stations (except for PBS) are airing commercials. Ugh!

When we travel and stay at a motel, we often flip through the cable channels they offer, and once again seldom find anything worth watching (except, perhaps, for PBS and C-SPAN), even though there are dozens and dozens of channels. Here, too, at any given moment, most of the cable channels (except for PBS and C-SPAN) are airing commercials.

I have an aversion to advertising of any kind, and will go to great lengths to avoid watching anything that is interrupted by commercials during the program. Some of you might not be old enough to remember that when cable television first came out, a big selling point was that by abandoning free broadcast television and paying for cable TV, you could watch programs free of advertising. Well, we know how long that lasted. The number of commercials we have to endure has increased dramatically since the “golden age of television” in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

In my opinion, almost all of the television stations offered on both broadcast TV and cable are garbage. I have not subscribed to cable TV since the early 1980s, and have never been a satellite TV subscriber.

The only way I would ever subscribe to any kind of television service (cable, satellite, or internet) is if I they gave customers the ability to pick and pay for only the channels you want. Television à la carte, in other words. And the list to choose from should be huge, including multiple PBS channels, documentary film channels, reputable news channels, foreign English-language channels (or at least with English subtitles), classic movie channels, and, yes, NASA TV. And, please get rid of the advertising except—if need be—in between programs. I would pay extra for this option.

I am also frustrated by not being able to watch many newly-released documentaries (or documentary series) without subscribing to a service. Why should I subscribe to a service when all I want to do is watch one program? Why not charge $12 (or whatever) for each program a person wants to watch?

There is a case to be made for “flipping through the channels” and happening upon a documentary, movie, or television program of interest that you might not discover otherwise, but until some company offers television à la carte with a wide selection, my local PBS station is going to get all of my television dollars. I am delighted that—with the advent of digital television—we now have four PBS Wisconsin television stations to choose from!