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Ann Druyan special on Equal Time for Freethought

Today, to mark Carl Sagan's birthday (he would have been 74), the WBAI radio program Equal Time for Freethought broadcast a special interview with Sagan's widow and collaborator Ann Druyan (the half-hour interview was originally intended for a fund drive show in September, but not aired in its entirety until now). An audio permalink will be added to soon, but for now, it can be found at the WBAI archive here and also temporarily in WMA format here.

The main news is NASA's establishment of a Sagan Fellowship to study exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System), but the conversation ranges from the profound (how to communicate the wonder of science) to the quirky (an extended discussion of what Sagan ate for breakfast). Check it out!

Cross-posted to my personal blog.


Carl Sagan jack-o'-lantern

By Caleb Pennypacker, via Nick Sagan's blog:

This brings back memories, since one of Nick's earliest posts ever on his blog referenced an illustration that I made for Halloween 2005 combining a pumpkin with a famous scene from Georges Méliès's Le Voyage Dans la Lune.


Sagan and Reagan

Over at the ScienceBlog Framing Science, Matthew Nisbet wrote about two men that he considers to be the top communicators of the 1980s, President Reagan and Dr. Sagan:

In the years before cable television fragmented Americans into ever smaller viewership groups, both men took advantage of the broadcast television networks to communicate directly to a mass audience. Reagan would make speeches during prime time from the Oval Office such as his 1983 call to scientists to develop the Strategic Defense Initiative. "I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete," declared Reagan.

And before The Daily Show or The Colbert Report turned late night comedy into platforms for scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sagan would appear as a regular on Johnny Carson reaching tens of millions of viewers. The astronomer was so familiar to American audiences that Carson would even affectionately impersonate Sagan in skits.

Follow through to the original post for video.


Carl Sagan in Time Warner Presents The Earth Day Special (1990)

title card for The Earth Day Special starring Carl Sagan

One of Carl Sagan's more obscure movie appearances is in a video tribute to the environmental holiday produced by Time Warner in 1990. The special mixes its message with entertaining cameos by a wide array of pop culture celebrities, from Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doctor Emmett Brown from the Back to the Future movies to Rodney Dangerfield showing that having eco-conscious date plans are the way to get some respect.

In one segment, Sagan appears in full Cosmos explainer mode, lecturing an attentive audience on the scientific basis for understanding global warming, ozone depletion, and acid rain. The script was written by Sagan and Ann Druyan themselves, and they also penned an appropriately Cosmos-like opening narration about Earth's place in the universe:
We have searched the skies for signals. Our spacecraft have explored dozens of exquisite worlds in the family of our sun. But as far as we've looked, there's only one place in the entire universe where the miracle of life exists: our own planet Earth. Life is so rare and precious. We must safeguard, protect, and cherish it.
Sagan is also one of the scientific advisors listed in the credits.

(I've also posted a lengthier, but less Sagan-centric, take on the special on my personal blog.)


Contact on TCM's 31 Days of Oscar

Contact (and Men in Black) featured in the TCM lineup

On Sunday, February 24th, Turner Classic Movies will be airing Contact as part of this month's "31 Days of Oscar", in which Academy Award-winning movies are showcased.

Check out the TCM Movie Database entry for the film. Sean Axmaker provides an excellent overview of the film, from the production history to the issues and themes involved; Sagan is described as "one of the most effective spokesmen for the advancement of science and space exploration in the world", and the entry also includes a quote from Ann Druyan:
"Carl's and my dream was to write something that would be a fictional representation of what contact would be like," explains Ann Druyan, Sagan's wife and collaborator. "But it would also have the tension inherent between religion and science, which was an area of philosophical and intellectual interest that riveted both of us."
Each night's worth of movies is organized by a specific decade (all the way from the 1920s to the 1990s and 2000s); it so happens that immediately before Contact on the schedule is a somewhat different 1997 alien contact science fiction film, Men in Black. Saganites have mixed opinions on the merits of MIB; Keay Davidson in his biography of Sagan dismisses it as a dumbed-down "mean-spirited bloodbath"; whereas pop-culture-savvy Nick Sagan slipped in an homage (or more precisely, an homage to an homage) to it in his short story "Tees and Sympathy":
I thought that was clear. The reason why I’m wearing a black suit and sunglasses is because I’m homaging Men in Black.
And Phil Plait answers the question of how "a skeptical, UFO-bashing, aliens-aren't-visiting-us-and-excoriating-cow- you-know-whats scientist-type guy" can enjoy the film in his review:
I loved this movie.

Surprised? "What's a skeptical, UFO-bashing, aliens- aren't-visiting-us-and-excoriating-cow-you-know-whats scientist-type guy going around saying he loves a movie whose very premise is that not only do aliens exist, but live among us?" you are asking yourself.

Well, the movie is awesome. It rocks. I laughed all the way through it. It's funny. It's also satirical, poking gentle but firm fun at the whole UFO and alien subculture.

(Also, for all the differences in tone, note that both films use a shot consisting of an extended zoom out from Earth to outer space to comment on humanity's place in the universe.)


"Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" released on DVD last week

If you're wondering why you never heard of a spinoff of Cosmos based on Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan's book of the same name, it's because the film in question — a 1964 Soviet film by Sergei Parajanov — was instead the source for the name of the Sagan/Druyan book! (Also, the film is not a documentary as one might expect, but fiction.) This seems to be the first North American region DVD release. Some links to stuff about the film: