Folks near San Diego can hear me see me introduce a screening of DISTRICT 9 on September 22, at UCSD, with vignettes from ALIEN NATION and E.T. for comparison.
While I loved District 9, it wasn't for the usual reasons. I found the encounter-of-civilizations aspect illogical in many ways, along with the science. There'd be humans crawling all over the ship, for example. Also, frankly, I find unrelenting and unmoderated guilt trips (e.g. “Avatar”) overbearing and unhelpful. That is why I will be comparing D9 with the 1980s sci fi movie ALIEN NATION... of which D9 is an homage and variation-riff.
Sure, the situations are as different as they are similar. Take the settings - Southern California vs a clearly still apartheid South Africa - which correlate with two very different tales of contact and tension. ALIEN NATION, depicts yet another immigrant community assimilating, with unusual difficulties, but amid general good intention... helped by the moderate humanoid attractiveness of the aliens.
There's a definite parallel with Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” in which the only truly villainous individual is the captain of E.T.’s own ship.
But the director of District 9 does not make any of this plain to the audience. It’s all there, but these facts are overwhelmed by the cartoonish apartheid aspects. And so it becomes a standard guilt trip, after all, with interesting details.
No, what I admire most about DISTRICT 9 is its wonderful portrayal of a solitary human -- not an admirable or genial or respect-worthy individual, in any way -- who embarks on a quest for personal survival that is both frenzied and overwhelmingly determined. A determination that overwhelms all other loyalties or concerns. A fascinating character study and a deeply creepy look into the mirror for any thoughtful person.
Who are the ''bad guys'? It's not always clear. See my video exploration of this topic: Name That Villain: Bad Guys and Aliens in Science Fiction Movies.
== LOOKING BACK: HOW I HELPED CHANGE THE WORLD a bit ==
Way back in 1970, I was part of the organizing committee for the Clean Air Car Race, from MIT to Caltech (where I was an undergraduate). The race - actually a point-scored road rally - had divisions for all-electric vehicles (including the first ever to cross the continent), propane and natural gas vehicles, one with a Lear Jet engine (leaving a trail of shattered toll booths and seared underpasses, from New England to California...
... plus the world’s first hybrid car, built by the University of Toronto, with almost all of the features now seen in hybrids, from regenerative braking to multi-cycle drive trains. Lacking computers, the car needed a co-pilot who was busy all the time, plus a back seat filled with batteries. But it worked, and set the stage for all future hybrids. (Quite an important outcome for the race, all by itself.)
But history can be strange. It turns out that the division that seemed the least interesting would actually change the world the most. For, taking part in the rally, were several cars tuned to use only unleaded gasoline... at the time a relatively new fuel that was much maligned by entrenched corporate powers. The Ethyl Corporation, clawing to prevent any removal of its poisonous product, contended that fuels without lead-based additives would ruin auto engines. But then came the Clean Air Car Race, in which all of the cars using unleaded gas cruised smoothly into Pasadena...
...and in (relatively) short order Congress acted, getting the lead out. Which just goes to teach a valuable lesson. Progress does not always consist of giant leaps forward. Sometimes the less romantic or seemingly less ambitious, of your efforts may turn out to be the one the makes the greatest long-term difference. Incrementalism may not seem romantic or grandiose... but maybe that’s exactly why it works.
I’m proud to have participated in the CACR... thirty years ago, almost exactly. It helped make the world a little better..
PS...see me in photo number two!
AND THE DESCENDANT OF CACR IS... Forty years later, here is the heir of the Clean Air Car Race... still changing the world through science, technology, pragmatism and goodwill, instead of the sick arrogance of dogma.
=== MORE SCIENCE! ===
Under the “I predicted this” department... with clear implications for The Transparent Society ... meet Looxcie.
A cool survey of nifty science tidbits.
Some concepts for VASIMR-powered (ion propulsion) missions, using 200 megawatts of power, allow transit times from Earth to Mars in as little as 39 days, nearly five times faster than a conventionally-powered mission. Others are skeptical.
100,000 houses damaged by New Zealand earthquake as repair bill tops £1.8bn.
Hundreds of enterprising New Zealanders have turned to Facebook to organize themselves into relief squads helping residents in the earthquake-hit city of Christchurch.
See a super-cool view of a bird flock in sanfran bay, shot from an airship by a guy I respect.
Suggestions for alternative music?
“On the cusp of curing ageing?” I really, really doubt it will prove to be this simple.
"We want to encourage filmmakers to produce and share their cinematic visions of a present or future society shaped by synthetic biology. What is your view on a world living with synthetic life forms?"
=== THE MUSE’S CORNER ===
1. A site that compares human heartbeats over a lifespan with animals, demonstrating some good news/bad news for humans. The GOOD NEWS? we get roughly 2.5 billion heartbeats... roughly THREE TIMES as many as most mammals and even a lot more than our fellow primates. The BAD NEWS? We probably have already flicked all the readily available chemical switches to eke out this longer span. To get more will require herculean measures, much more than simple caloric restriction (which seems to flick a few of those switches in short-lived species.)
2. Scientists caught stealing from themselves…it’s all too easy to reuse text, particularly in the introduction & method sections, but journals have retracted papers with text repeated verbatim from previous works. Scientific publishers subscribe to software programs that scan databases, searching for duplication or plagiarism. I hope they don’t start checking my speeches; my wife says she’s heard it all before….
3. Ten accounts of shifts in the scientific paradigm of the day.
4. A biological big bang? This paper by Gibson, Wickramasinghe and Schild suggests that life developed within a few million years after the big bang – in a cosmological primordial soup. Complex organic compounds are then spread through the universe by comets and meteors to otherwise sterile planets, like earth. (Warning... these guys are not widely considered to be “all-there” on the grounded science-o-meter. I’ve had run-ins with the zealous Gibson, and Wickramasinghe - while certainly very smart and a colleague of the late great SF author Fred Hoyle - has mono theory-itis. Panspermia Fervor.)
== MORE ITEMS ==
Patterns in the data... A Beijing suburb will soon begin testing a new futuristic bus that would be built on tall legs - allowing bus passengers to drive above the cars on the highway.
New software seems to predict which individuals on probation or parole are most likely to murder and to be murdered.
Later this month, the Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab will premiere Death and the Powers, an opera more than 10 years in the making. Featuring life-sized singing robots and a musical chandelier, the opera could redefine how technology can enhance live performance and help reestablish opera’s spirit of innovation.
Northwestern University researchers have discovered that broadband Internet prices have remained nearly stagnant since 2004, despite the explosive pace of adoption since then, from approximately 20 percent of U.S. households in 2004 to more than 65 percent today.
NASA is considering a revolutionary new horizontal rail launcher concept. (Yeah, but if Marshall SFC is involved...)
Federal Communication Commission’s move to release “white spaces,” or unused television channels, later this month will unleash another boom of mobile innovation.
And finally this, offered by John Petersen.
"The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope." - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin