Utah’s Dark Skies Above Our Country’s Dark Days

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10 mins read

As you know, I am a writer-turned-candidate for Congress. I am also a candidate who still camps along the campaign trail. Part of the reason is because Utah’s 2nd Congressional District contains some of the most beautiful, and remote, terrain in the continental United States. Boulder, Utah, was the last place to get mail delivery via pack mules. That slow, and loud I bet, delivery route ended around 1933 when a road was finally built—through federal funds and the Great Depression’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program.

Boulder, Utah

I still write and I still camp. Sometimes both at the same time. Recently, our tech director Tai (an amateur astronomer with a good telescope set-up, who knows space and physics inside-out and all Star Trek storylines) and I camped under the dark skies just outside Boulder. We were delivering new campaign yard signs to supporters in rural Utah but also wanted to highlight Utah’s dark skies, which are internationally famous. Torrey, Utah, for example, was only one of 18 communities designated as an International Dark Sky Community in 2015—Utah’s first. This special designation is given to communities that implement light pollution restrictions, develop educational initiatives, and demonstrate citizen support.

Tai Moon
Tai took this photo of the moon under Utah’s dark skies.

Other places in Utah’s CD2 speak to cosmic frames of reference as well, reassuring in these dark days of political division, COVID-19 anxiety, and heaviness of mind and, it seems, the current depletion of—and testing of—the American Spirit. Outside Delta, the Telescope Array Project has brought together researchers in Utah, Japan, Belgium, Russia, South Korea, and the Czech Republic to study cosmic rays.

Tai under dark skies
Tai, the campaign’s Tech Director, and his telescope.

In the mountains west of Milford, the 31-inch Willard L. Eccles Observatory is operated by the University of Utah and sits atop Frisco Peak at 9,554 feet in elevation. Residents in Kanab recently told us about a new initiative there to support the building of another large telescope and related educational initiatives.

So today’s message, sent on a weekend, is not about politics. It is not about Chris Stewart. It is not about me as much as, I hope, it is about we, all of us that is, in these trying times. And what we do to deal with stress and division at home, in our families, neighborhoods, state, and country. I encourage each of you, particularly if you reside in Utah, to get out on the road. To camp if you can. Build a campfire. Set up a tent. Look up under our state’s dark skies. Maybe get lost in thought and imagination (possible signs of life in Venus’s high clouds according to recent headlines) … even if for just a short while … before 2020’s realities set back in.

If ever there were an annus horribilis (to use the Queen of England’s term), we seem to be persevering through it … the incalculable loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg … Trump … COVID-19 … a big earthquake felt throughout Northern Utah … west coast fires resulting in Bladerunner-esque skies … and a northern Utah windstorm that felled thousands of mighty but vulnerable trees.

I have long believed that individuals are also only as strong as the roots we choose to plant—where and with whom. That’s why I believe being better neighbors matters and why it has been a central campaign theme from the very beginning of this race. Neighborliness and sustaining shared roots matters a lot. Which reminds me: go visit Pando, near Fish Lake, too.

Camping Campaign

A final recommendation, once back to civilization: I have a good Danish friend and charismatic politician in that northern European country who once said to me, “Kael, compared to the U.S., politics in Denmark is not so bad because the country is so small.” Well … if you have time, and want an escape to the world of parliamentary politics in Denmark (pop. 5.8 million), I recommend you watch Borgen on Netflix. This candidate running in Utah finds the series a healthy break from the politics American-style all of us are forced to deal with a lot closer to home. There are elected leaders to root for, not just boo, and very well-scripted at that.

We might also ask ourselves—and our neighbors who perhaps politically disagree with us—why is it that many other countries rank higher than our own on the World Happiness Report? Since the report was first issued in 2012, four different countries have held the top position: Denmark in 2012, 2013 and 2016; Switzerland in 2015; Norway in 2017; and now Finland in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

“A happy social environment, whether urban or rural, is one where people feel a sense of belonging, where they trust and enjoy each other and their shared institutions,” said John Helliwell. “There is also more resilience, because shared trust reduces the burden of hardships, and thereby lessens the inequality of well-being.”

The U.S. ranked 18th in 2020. Working together, I hope we can move higher next year. November 3rd is where we can start to do just that.

Kael Weston
kael@westonforcongress.com


This campaign is only possible through donations. Thank you for your support.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion Of Gender Equality, Dies At 87, NPR.

A 5-decade-long Friendship That Began With A Phone Call, Nina Totenberg, NPR.

“I ask no favor for my sex.
All I ask of our brethren is that they
take their feet off our necks.”

~Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the documentary RGB, explaining her work towards gender equality.

Notorious RBG.


Next Week: Wednesday, September 23rd

Policy Lunch with Kael Weston

Kael invites you to participate in a series of weekly lunchtime conversations with him about urgent policy issues that require serious leadership and personally impact the people who live and work in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.

When you RSVP, you will receive login information and a method for submitting your questions prior to these virtual events.

Policy Lunch with Kael Weston: Jobs & the Economy
Wednesday, September 23, 12:30 pm

The pandemic has battered our economic lives. Through no fault of their own, millions have lost jobs, health care, and their businesses. Across CD2 we see the pain and worry of families and individuals struggling to survive this crisis. Economic recovery requires a real strategy to deal with the pandemic and policies focused on families, small businesses, and local economies. A comprehensive approach to economic recovery requires that we also address the public health crisis comprising healthcare that leaves millions uninsured and a global pandemic that has become politicized in the U.S. 

Beyond the immediate crisis of COVID, Kael believes in a social safety net, a living wage and wage equality, and protections for workers. He knows we need to explore ways to make childcare accessible and affordable. He understands that it’s going to take real reform and big, people-first ideas if we’re to survive the looming economic devastation. We as a country have ample resources to bring hope and security to American families. It is a matter of priorities and will.

Join Kael for the sixth in the series of Policy Lunches, focusing this time on Jobs & the Economy on Wednesday, September 23rd, at 12:30 pm, for a lively, one-hour discussion of the issues.

Wednesday, August 12 – Healthcare/COVID
Wednesday, August 19 – Education 
Thursday, September 3 – Public Lands
Wednesday, September 9 – Foreign Affairs 
Wednesday, September 16 – Civil Rights
Wednesday, September 23 – Jobs & the Economy – NEXT EVENT
Tuesday, October 6 – Accountability & Ethics in Government

Watch videos of past events on YouTube.


This campaign is only possible through donations. Thank you for your support.

Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, the total amount an individual can contribute to a candidate for the general election is $2,800.



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A native Utahn, Kael Weston served for over a decade in the U.S. State Department, including seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his government career, specific assignments included: U.S. representative on the UN Security Council’s Al Qaeda/Taliban Sanctions Committee in New York; Iraq team, Political Section, U.S. Mission to the United Nations; State Department Political Adviser to a dozen Marine commanding generals, including during and after the biggest battle of the Iraq War (Fallujah, 2004-2007). In this role, he and Marine leaders were responsible for rebuilding the city’s infrastructure, facilitating the return of hundreds of thousands of Fallujans back into the city, establishing a new city council despite numerous assassinations of local politicians, and working closely with Iraqi governors in Ramadi and central Iraqi government representatives in Baghdad. Several nation-wide elections and a constitutional referendum were held across Iraq during this time.

In eastern Afghanistan’s Khost Province, Kael helped prioritize over $50 million dollars in U.S. reconstruction funds and worked to reintegrate former Taliban fighters in coordination with U.S. military leaders and Khost’s Afghan governor. He also met with a group of former Guantanamo Prison detainees and helped lead U.S. government political engagement with Afghan tribal and religious leaders. In Helmand Province, he worked directly with a Marine commanding general during the 2008-2009 U.S. troop surge that doubled Marine forces in the area from just under 11,000 to almost 20,000.

Kael is the author of the book, The Mirror Test (Knopf, 2016) a New York Times Editors’ Choice (NYT Book Review) and Military Times’ Best Book of the Year. He has taught at the college level in Utah and in Quantico, Virginia, at Marine Corps University, as well as leading seminars at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Kael writes monthly for the Salt Lake Tribune and has contributed to NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, The Hill, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Daily Beast, and other publications.

For Kael Weston’s multi-year service in Fallujah, Iraq, the State Department awarded him the Secretary of State’s Medal for Heroism.

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