When the Twerms Came: Arthur C Clarke’s easy guide for aliens to invade Earth?

Why waste all that energy when there are smarter ways? Image courtesy movie 'Independence Day'

It’s time to come clean: I have a fascination with alien invasions of our planet.

As a kid, I was an avid listener of radio (my only electronic medium, as I grew up in a land without television, and in a time before the Internet) — and expected the regular transmissions to be interrupted any moment to break the news of an alien invasion underway. The spoilsports shattered my childhood dreams everyday.

Now slightly older, I keep looking for the perfect moments for that history-shattering event. A widely reproduced op ed essay I wrote in July 2010 opened with these words:

“If you’re an alien planning to invade the Earth, choose July 11. Chances are that our planet will offer little or no resistance. Today, most members of the Earth’s dominant species – the nearly 7 billion humans – will be preoccupied with 22 able-bodied men chasing a little hollow sphere. It’s only a game, really, but what a game: the whole world holds its breath as the ‘titans of kick’ clash in the FIFA World Cup Final…”

The careless aliens didn’t heed my advice, but I live in hope. I keep looking for the strategic moments and smart ways to take over the planet — with as little violence as possible. After all, I’m a peace-loving person (even if I’m unhappy with the planet’s current management).

I’m not alone in this noble quest. Science fiction writers have been at it for decades, and future Earth invaders are well advised to first study these useful instructions masquerading as popular literature. In an op ed essay published today, I highlight one such story by Sir Arthur C Clarke.

Click on this ONLY if you're a prude...
I wrote WikiLeaks, Swiss Banks and Alien invasions with my tongue in my cheek about half the time (go figure!). I’ve been following the WikiLeaks cablegate saga for several weeks, and was intrigued to read that other critically sensitive secrets — that have nothing to do with garrulous American diplomats — were also reaching this online platform for assorted whistle-blowers.

One such story, appearing in the London Observer on 16 January 2011, reported how the Swiss whistleblower Rudolf Elmer plans to hand over offshore banking secrets of the rich and famous to WikiLeaks. That reminded me of an obscure short story that Arthur C Clarke had written more than 40 years ago, which is not as widely known as it should be. This short essay is an attempt to revive interest in it.

I describe how PLAYBOY Magazine used the story as a basis for a psychedelic comic strip illustrated by the American underground cartoonist Skip Williamson. That appeared in their issue for May 1972 — and I’m still trying to locate that story. All in the interests of pop culture, of course.

Read WikiLeaks, Swiss Banks and Alien invasions on Groundviews.org

Living in the Global Glass House: An Open Letter to Sir Arthur C Clarke

Word map created using http://www.wordle.net

“In the struggle for freedom of information, technology — not politics — will be the ultimate decider.”

These words, by Sir Arthur C Clarke, have been cited in recent days and weeks in many debates surrounding WikiLeaks, secrecy and the public’s right to know.

I invoke these words, and many related reflections by the late author and futurist, in a 2,250-word essay I have just written. Titled Living in the Global Glass House, it is presented in the form of an Open Letter to Sir Arthur C Clarke. It has just been published by Groundviews.org

This is my own attempt to make sense of the international controversy – and confusion – surrounding WikiLeaks. Taking off from the current concerns, I also look at what it means for individuals, corporations and governments to live in the Age of Transparency that has resulted from the Information Society we’ve been building for years.

Sir Arthur foresaw these developments year or decades ago, and wrote perceptively and sometimes in cautionary terms about how we can cope with these developments. As a research assistant and occasional co-author to Sir Arthur from 1987 to 2008, I had the rare privilege of sharing his views firsthand. In this essay, I distill some of the best and most timely for wider dissemination. The above Wordle graphic illustrates the keywords in my essay.

The essay was also prompted by recent experiences. Here’s that story behind the story:

By happy coincidence, I arrived in London on 28 November 2010, the very day the WikiLeaks Cablegate erupted all over the web, beginning to spill out what would eventually be over 250,000 secret international ‘cables’ within the US diplomatic corps.

The Guardian UK that day published an interactive map-based visualization of the leaks. By moving the mouse over the map, readers can find key stories and a selection of original documents by country, subject or people

During the week I spent in London, I experienced not only uncharacteristically early and intense snow storms, but a mounting international storm on the web over the leaked cables. WikiLeaks’ co-founder and chief editor Julian Assange was also somewhere in the UK, playing cat and mouse at the time with the Swedish police and Interpol. (He later turned himself in to the British authorities.)

Sir Arthur Clarke: The legacy continues...
On December 1, the British Interplanetary Society invited me to join their annual Christmas get-together where they were remembering their founder member and past chairman Arthur C Clarke. They talked mostly about the man’s contribution to space exploration, but listening to those fond memories against the wider backdrop of WikiLeaks very likely inspired me to write this essay.

Soon after I returned to Colombo, Transparency International Sri Lanka asked me to speak at a workshop on the right to information they had organised for journalists. Given my reputation as a geek-watcher and commentator on the Information Society, they asked to talk about what WikiLeaks means for investigative journalism. Two days later, the Ravaya newspaper did a lengthy interview with me on the same topic which they have just published in their issue for 19 December 2010.

All these elements and experiences combined in writing this essay. Being confined to home by a nasty cold and cough also helped! In fact, on 16 December when Sir Arthur’s 93rd Birth Anniversary was marked, I was too weak to even step out of the house to visit his gravesite. In the end, I finished writing this Open Letter to him on the evening of that day.

My daughter Dhara and I would normally have taken flowers to Sir Arthur’s grave on his birth anniversary. This year, instead, I offer him 2,250 words in his memory. The fine writer would surely appreciate this tribute from a small-time wordsmith.

Read Living in the Global Glass House: An Open Letter to Sir Arthur C Clarke

Compact version published in Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka, on 21 Dec 2010

Rap News on WikiLeaks: The truth is out there, huh?

Sounds funny, but these guys are spot on...and deadly serious!
On this blog, we take political satire very seriously and talk about it every now and then. It started with a blog post I wrote in July 2009 titled News wrapped up in laughter: Is this the future of current affairs journalism?

I’m delighted to highlight another commendable effort, this time on the web. It’s a website called The Juice Media, which presents news reports in, believe it or not, rap music! It has been online for a while, drawing rave reviews. One of them: “Like a mix of Eminem and Jon Stewart”.

TheJuiceMedia: Rap News is written and created by Hugo Farrant and Giordano Nanni in a home-studio/suburban backyard in Melbourne, Australia. In fact, Hugo appears as the amiable Rap News anchorman, Robert Foster.

Here are their latest three releases, which are hilariously serious.

Rap News 6 – Wikileaks’ Cablegate: the truth is out there

Rap News 5: Wikileaks & the war on journalism (ft. Julian Assange)

RAP NEWS 4: Wikileaks vs The Pentagon – the WWWAR on the Internet

Watch more videos at the Juice Media YouTube channel