April 1, 2005

Diablo Curtain Unveiled!

University of California's Lick Observatory today announced a bold new initiative designed to mitigate the effects of light pollution from South Bay cities, which researchers say impede their telescopic views of the heavens. According to sources at the observatory, the project -- dubbed the "Diablo Curtain" for its location in the southern Diablo Range -- will block a "non-trivial" share of the light which now suffuses the night sky. "This is the greatest boon to Califonia astronomy since Tetris and microwaveable pizza" gushed one observer who asked to remain anonymous.

The project is a joint venture of UC and the State of California, under the direction of the newly formed California Curtain Commission, appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger. In an abrupt reversal of his earlier position, the Governor, who last month called the curtain proposal a vast "exterior decorating" scheme, dreamed up by "gurly-men astronomers," issued a statement today not only endorsing the Diablo plan but announcing the introduction of a bill in the state legislature to fund a similar curtain along California's northern border to stem the tide of Oregonians entering the state. On the national level, President Bush hailed the curtain as "a victory for astrologers everywhere" and "a clear inidcation that we need to overhaul the Social Security system, drill for Alaskan oil, and lower taxes."

An official from the University of California's Office of the President told reporters that they expect the project's considerable cost -- estimated at between forty and forty-five billion dollars -- to largely be met by modest increases in tuition, supplemented by fines levied on students and faculty who split infinitives. She dismissed rumors that if necessary, additional funds would be raised by selling acres of advertising space on the mile-high curtain.

Environmental groups, in a series of sharp statements, warned that the curtain had another, more sinister purpose "hiding behind a smokescreen of science." "Today it's the Diablo Range," said a Sierra Club spokesman, "tomorrow the Pacific Ocean or Sierra Nevada could disappear behind a curtain designed to conceal offshore drilling or wholesale clearcutting." At a Capitol Hill press conference, Senator Barbara Boxer, while acknowledging that she shared many of the same concerns, sought to allay fears by reassuring constituents that the curtain was "environemntally sensitive," pointing out that "migration doors" would be provided in the shapes of every known animal species.

Project planners have been at pains to address not only environmental issues but aesthetic ones as well. Citing their long experience with huge drapey things, the Curtain Commission has engaged the artworld's best known duo, Christo and Jeanne Claude, to design the gigantic structure -- their most ambitious to date. When questioned about the project's daunting engineering challenges, the artists said they weren't worried. "We're looking for some really big poles" said Jeanne-Claude. Christo also expressed confidence, adding that "we've heard it doesn't get all that windy around here." Fresh from the success of their "Gates" project in New York's Central Park, the pair initially sought to include wrapping the Observatory's 3-meter telescope as part of the plan, but reconsidered when astronomers insisted that observing through several layers of heavy fabric would largely defeat the advantages of the curtain.

Despite its overwhelming scale and enormous pricetag, the curtain has received widespread support from South Bay residents who contend that the loss of their accustomed view of the Diablo Range will be more than offset by the gain in privacy from the peering eyes of stargazers, who have long been suspected of turning their huge telescopes on the city on cloudy nights. Astronomers at the Lick could not be reached for comment.

And now back to the mundane ...