Less of Our Light for More Star Light

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I have participated in the GLOBE at Night program sponsored by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) for several years and continue to support it for two vitally important reasons:

As an amateur astronomer, light polluted skies wash out both the quality of what can be observed and can radically reduce the number of stars and other celestial objects that can be seen.  Light pollution affects all visual telescopes, no matter how large they are.  That is why the world’s greatest observatories are almost always built on very high peaks in very remote places far away from cities.

 

Light Pollution from the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory, Mt. Graham Int'l Obs., Arizona. Photo courtesy of Marco Pedani & University of Arizona

Every photon created by artificial light requires a human-manufactured source.  Measured in what is called “kiloWatt hours” (kWh) the electricity that is used to create unnecessary light (overlighting) is a nonrecoverable expense.  We waste billions of kiloWatt hours every year, costing us billions of dollars in the production and service used to create the light that wasn’t needed to begin with.  As we think about our energy production and the price paid to create the fuels to generate it (coal, oil, gas, hydro, nuclear–even solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and other cutting-edge energy-producing technologies require huge costs to meet our power demands), just the amount lost to light pollution cannot be justified from either a perspective of economic sustainability or the stewardship of the earth’s finite resources.

 

Large Binocular Telescope. Currently the world's largest optical telescope for total combined aperture, 16.8 meters, 662 inches (55.16 feet). Mt Graham Int'l Obs., Arizona. Photo courtesy of John Hill and LBTO, University of Arizona.

I invite you to join in the effort to change this one vital part of preserving our natural resources, not just those from the Earth but also those of the sky.  Please watch the short video, and then read the letter from Dr. Constance Walker, PhD*, Director of the GLOBE at Night campaign, and then follow the links to join in the fun of walking out your front door, looking up (I’ll bet you haven’t intentionally looked at the sky in a long time!), and with the very user-friendly GLOBE at Night instructions, instantly become an important participant in a global research project with such important implications.

Please note that the results for people living in the Northern Hemisphere must be submitted by April 4, 2011!

Note: Any connection between exposure to artificial light at night and cancer remains under investigation. The statement in the video represents that of the producers and not necessarily the views of Extreme Thinkover or GLOBE at Night.  See links below for more information**.

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Join the 6th worldwide GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign:

March 22 – April 6

With half of the world’s population now living in cities, many urban dwellers have never experienced the wonderment of pristinely dark skies and maybe never will. This loss, caused by light pollution, is a concern on many fronts: safety, energy conservation, cost, health and effects on wildlife, as well as our ability to view the stars. Even though light pollution is a serious and growing global concern, it can be one of the easiest environmental problems you can address through responsible lighting on local levels.

Participation in the international star-hunting campaign, GLOBE at Night, helps to start the process of addressing the light pollution issue locally as well as globally. The campaign invites everyone all over the world to record the brightness of the night sky. The campaign runs from March 22 through April 4 in the Northern Hemisphere and March 24 through April 6 in the Southern Hemisphere. The campaign is easy and fun to do. First, you match the appearance of the constellation Leo or Crux with simple star maps of progressively fainter stars found.  Then you submit your measurements, including the date, time, and location of your comparison. After all the campaign’s observations are submitted, the project’s organizers release a map of light-pollution levels worldwide. Over the last six annual 2-week campaigns, volunteers from more than 100 nations contributed over 60,000 measurements, 30% of which came from last year’s campaign.

To learn the five easy steps to participate in the GLOBE at Night program, see the GLOBE at Night website. You can listen to this year’s 10-minute audio podcast on light pollution and GLOBE at Night. Or download a 45-minute powerpoint and accompanying audio. GLOBE at Night is also on Facebook and Twitter. (See the links at the end.)

The big news is that children and adults can submit their measurements in real time if they have a smart phone or tablet. To do this, you can use the web application. With smart phones and tablets, the location, date and time are put in automatically. And if you do not have a smart phone or tablet, there are user-friendly tools on the GLOBE at Night report page to find latitude and longitude.

For activities that have children explore what light pollution is, what its effects are on wildlife and how to prepare for participating in the GLOBE at Night campaign, see the Dark Skies Rangers activities. Monitoring our environment will allow us as citizen-scientists to identify and preserve the dark sky oases in cities and locate areas where light pollution is increasing. All it takes is a few minutes during the 2011 campaign to measure sky brightness and contribute those observations on-line. Help us exceed the 17,800 observations contributed last year. Your measurements will make a world of difference.

Primary Mirror, Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, world's largest single aperture, 10.4 meters, 664 inches (55.3 feet). Photo courtesy GTC & ORM, Canary Islands

Primary Mirror, Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, currently the world's largest single aperture optical telescope, 10.4 meters, 664 inches (55.3 feet). Photo courtesy GTC & ORM, Canary Islands

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GLOBE at Night: http://www.globeatnight.org/

Star Maps: http://www.globeatnight.org/observe_magnitude.html

Submitting Measurements: http://www.globeatnight.org/report.html

Web App for Reporting: http://www.globeatnight.org/webapp/

Audio Podcast: http://365daysofastronomy.org/2011/03/07/march-7th-globe-at-night-2011/

Powerpoint: http://www.globeatnight.org/files/NSN_GaN_2011_slides.ppt

Accompanying Audio: http://www.globeatnight.org/files/NSN_GaN_2011_audio.mp3

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GLOBEatNight

Twitter: http://twitter.com/GLOBEatNight

Dark Skies Activities: http://www.darkskiesawareness.org/DarkSkiesRangers/

The Milky Way as you've probably never seen it under excellent dark skies. View inludes Sagittarius, Libra, Scorpius, Scutum & Ophiuchus from Cerro Tololo, Chile. Photo courtesy of W. Keel, Univ. of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

*Constance Walker, PhD, director, GLOBE at Night campaign (www.globeatnight.org)
chair, International Dark-Sky Association Education Committee
chair, IYA2009 Dark Skies Awareness Cornerstone Project
member, Astronomical Society of the Pacific Board of Directors
associate scientist & senior science education specialist, NOAO
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How the Texas Long Horns and the TCU Horned Frogs Saved Health Care Reform

I just finished watching clips from NBC’s Meet the Press, which featured Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) discussing the status of the “public option” in the health care reform debate. It wasn’t much of a debate, despite host David Gregory’s best effort to provoke something other than party-line blather from either senator.  He wasn’t having much success.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Sen. Schumer made a comment that snapped my attention to full alert. He compared the public plan competing against private health insurers with public and private colleges and universities.  (If you watch the clip, it comes right at 2:00 minutes.)  I had to back it up and watch it again to confirm I actually had heard him correctly.  Gregory didn’t catch it, which he should have; Sen. Hatch, if he caught the comment, either had no response, or was so close to dozing off, he just kept mumbling the same old script.  I couldn’t really tell.

Schumer’s statement was a new characterization; I hadn’t heard it before. I’m not sure he even recognized the significance of it.  But it is an intriguing way to look at the public option. And since my PhD is in Higher Education, this is something I actually know something about.

Every state in the country has private and public universities.  Take Texas, for example, where the idea of the public option is more anathema than the Long Horns losing to Oklahoma.  The University of Texas in Austin is a public university.  Texas Christian University (TCU) in Ft Worth, where I earned my Master of Divinity degree, is a private university.

Hook 'em Horns.  University of Texas Football

Hook 'em Horns. University of Texas Football

According to the prevailing dogma of Republican and Free Market devotees, the government should never be allowed to compete against free enterprise and the private market, because the government will always do it worse, waste vast amounts of money in the process and destroy competition, thereby threatening the American Way of Life.

Does the public university “system” in the country drive out the private schools by being too competitive for them to survive? They could in theory, because student tuition in the state schools is subsidized by taxpayer dollars (although that has been shrinking dramatically over the past twenty years–the states all too often are short on cash), attracting more students than the private schools. For example, UT is a lot bigger than TCU (50,000 vs 9,000!). But private colleges, which were the original American academic institutions (Harvard was founded in 1636), continue to compete and flourish, despite the apparent advantage the public schools have. The typical model for what we think of as a state college or university did not come into being until after 1862 with the passage of The Morrill Act.

TCU Frog Fountain and Campus

TCU Frog Fountain and Campus

There are a lot of reasons, but the one relevant to our discussion about health care is that federal financial aid creates portability and allows students to choose (in concept) to attend any school in the country. I have two degrees from private schools and two degrees from a public school. Why did I choose those schools? Because in each instance it offered the academic program I wanted to pursue. Federally funded financial aid guaranteed that I had a choice. That is higher education’s equivalent of a “public option.” (now this isn’t the place to argue about the issues in financial aid such as student loan debt, etc–it is beside the point for this discussion).

We come up with this formula, thanks to Sen. Schumer’s insight:

Federal F/A= Choice + Access + Desired University (public or private) + Academic Degree

So when we look at America’s higher education system, a combination of private and public institutions that arguably is the best in the world (granting it has its own imperfections and needs for reforms), which allow the schools to provide their services in a competitive but mutually beneficial market, and provides students (as consumers) a huge amount of choice, both in program and in cost, it is just plain wrong to say that “government” can’t do anything right and to assume that a public option would destroy competition in the health care market.  The success of higher education contradicts the assumption and renders it null.

We Horned Frogs are justifiably proud of our private Texas Christian University. But if I was a bettin’ man, I wouldn’t place a red-cent on a wager that a University of Texas grad, dead-set against the public plan in health care, would admit that his/her “government education” was inferior in any way, shape or form!

Therefore, applied to the Public Option, the formula becomes:

Federal Public Option= Choice + Access + Desired Coverage (public or private) + Appropriate Medical Care

Responses anyone?

TCU Horned Frog Mascot

TCU Horned Frog Mascot

Go Frogs!

Universal Health Care Confronts the Nuclear Option

The Nuclear Option (just for those of you who are stilled mired in Bush-speak, it is pronounced “new-klee-ur” not “new-cue-lar”).  In this case I’m not talking about the U.S. Senate rule called “reconciliation.”

No, in this case I’m wondering what is going on in the minds of those who have so adamantly and vociferously have opposed Universal Health Care in the United States.  Yesterday, Paul Krugman New York Times columnist, wrote in his blog,

Yes, we can

Get more or less universal coverage, that is. The CBO scoring on an incomplete bill sent everyone into a tizzy — and also led to an avalanche of bad reporting, with claims that it said terrible things about the public option. (There was no public option in the bill.)

Now the real thing has been scored — and it’s OK. Something like 97 percent coverage for people already here, at a total cost somewhere in the $1 trillion range. Bear in mind that the Bush tax cuts cost around $1.8 trillion over a decade. We can do this — and have no excuse for not doing it.

In the minds of the opponents of UHC, however, nothing has changed.  That’s what worries me.  In fact, as the evidence mounts that assuring every American has access to health care can be a reality and not doom the economy (as they have so desperately hoped), the opponents are realizing the End-Game is upon them.  They are losing.  Not only has every traditional method of obstruction not worked, or not worked well, the vast majority of Americans are solidly against them.  Heard any good anti-health care spin from Rush, Karl, John Boehner, or Mitch McConnell in the past couple of weeks?  If they were gaining ground with their argument, neither the election in Iran or Michael Jackson’s death could drown them out.  Not even South Carolina Governor Sanford’s adventures in Wonderland would diminish their clarion call for Big Medicine.

Their voices have faded to background static.

Do not assume for a micro-second they have given up.  They are preparing the Nuclear Option.  One all-out attack on universal health care, with no regard for collateral damage, just the health of America.  In the Board Rooms of the Insurance Megacorps, Big Pharma, Corporate Hospitals, and dozens of other stakeholders firmly anchored in the Status Quo, they are planning to bring this down.  Once and for all, to obliterate the very notion of universal health care so completely, that  it will never threaten their companies and profits again.

Am I paranoid?  Well, even if you are not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you anyway.

I’m not paranoid, actually.  I’m well read in organizational theory (it was the corner stone of my doctoral dissertation in educational policy and management), and I understand how organizations respond in unstable ecologies and economic turbulence.  When resources are threatened, the people running the organization will tend to react in predictable ways.  When the operational environment changes more quickly than expected, or in ways unanticipated, the predictable management responses are more and more stressed.  If those responses lack the ability to guide the organization through transformational change (like, oh, General Motors), the likelihood of the company failing is very high.

Keeping all that in mind, when the entire global environment, e.g., the country’s health care system, begins to collapse because of a rapid set of ecological changes so powerful the only way to survive is to change transformatively (an analog of the evolutionary concept of “punctuated equilibrium”), only those institutions that have the capacity to change at the same rate and direction required for survival will likely survive.

How, then, does the Nuclear Option fit in this model?  Organizations use their resources to influence and improve their ability to survive in the existing ecological conditions, and eliminate competition for both the resources they need to exist and to improve their chances for greater access to those resources.  But here’s the rub: Organizations are “communities of fate.”  They are actually aggregates of individuals whose investment (personally and professionally) in the success of the organization varies from person to person.  In a corporation, those who have have highest investment are typically the Board of Directors and the Shareholders.  But they have to rely on managers and workers, to both produce and protect their investment.

The managers and workers have a much different perspective on the degree to which they consider the company their community of fate.  When the organization encounters increasing turbulence in its environment, the willingness of the people actually doing the work to cast their fate to ensure its success is much less certain.  If the situation worsens to the degree the survival of the company is in question, the confidence the managers and workers have in the Board’s decision making ability to, specifically save their jobs, can change very quickly.  Some workers will leave the company and look for more stable employment.  Others will stick with it until the bitter end, if it comes to that.  But if you work for an Enron, the house of cards can collapse on top of you regardless of your loyalty.

The pressure on the Board and the managers to keep the organization both alive and solvent can increase rapidly, especially in the situation where the environment and resources are changing at a rate unprecedented in history.  Even organizations that survived earlier transformational evolutionary changes may not survive the current one.  Because of the anxiety generated by the environmental turbulence, the shareholders put more pressure on the Board and managers to preserve their investment and continue to pay dividends.  The workers who are loyal to the company also put pressure on their supervisors to help preserve their jobs.  But loyalty to the community of fate by the worker is always much riskier, because the Board and the managers can, at  any time, cut positions that can eliminate the most loyal employees under the stated intent of protecting the viability of the organization by reducing personnel costs.  This trauma to the community of fate, however, is no guarantee the organization will survive the changing ecology.  It may, instead, guarantee its demise.

Now, here’s the part, as I build the case for the Nuclear Option, that I as an organizational theorist suggest sets the stage:  The critical decisions of the Board over time to adjust to the turbulence is a not a function of taking the most conservative stance in context, but is a function of the individual members of the Board and the Executive Managements’ ability to manage their anxiety in the midst of the turbulence, and at the same time abandon the mimetic* solutions traditionally used to control that anxiety across the organizational or industrial environment.  [*mimesis: from “mime.”  A concept in organizational ecology that says Company A will observe Company B, and adopt a successful process to “avoid reinventing the wheel.”  Over time this mimed process may become an industry standard.  The down side is that when the environment changes, continuing to adopt the mimed process may limit innovation and increase the chances of organizational failure.]

Therefore, if the individuals on the Board and the Executive Management fail to manage their anxiety about the turbulence and the implications of transformative change in motion, and as they realize their historical resources for influence (i.e., lobbying) are waning, they will tend to take the most conservative stance to defend the survival of the organization, and that stance will tend to be to preserve the status quo at all cost.  As organizational rigidity increases, adaptibility and innovation are stifled.

The door for the Nuclear Option is now open.  Why?  Because the real-life environment to which we are applying my theory is not  just one company; we are applying it to a multifaceted industry that has for decades successfully resisted and obstructed the move toward universal health care.  And they know that by conspiring together and pooling their resources, they can potentially create a huge wall of resistance.  This strategy has a flaw, however.  A significant percentage of companies in the industry are supportive of UHC, and are already changing the practice of their organizations to successfully ride the transformative wave.  This fact only serves to increase the opponents’ anxiety.  Who has the most to lose?

The portion of the industry that opposes UHC has powerful political and social connections.  The Republican Party, although reduced in its influence at the last election still has significant resources at its disposal, as well as a core of voters, who for numerous reasons at least state they don’t want to pay for UHC.

This set of circumstances, powered by huge finances, politics, ideology, and desperation creates the possibility that those who have the most to lose as they perceive it are going to try and “drop the bomb” on the universal health care.  Whether they make their move before the Congress acts, or, have a strategy to destroy it even after it has been signed into law, I can’t tell.  But I believe they are well into their planning and will indeed act.

A final note.  Another principle, not from organizational theory, but from psychohistory, is also undoubtedly in play in this situation.  Speaking not literally, but figuratively:  “Violence is the final refuge of the incompetent.”