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The science fiction film that Alec Guinness starred in, a quarter century before Star Wars

Even before he was Sir Alec Guinness, he starred in The Man in the White Suit:

The Man in the White Suit is an Ealing Comedy, meaning it was one of a slew of comedies produced by Ealing Studios between 1947 and 1957. Guinness was a mainstay in these productions, and is probably best known for starring in Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers.

There were no spaceships or robots in this film; Guinness portrayed Sidney Stratton, an idealistic young inventor who creates a new synthetic fabric that's virtually indestructible and never gets dirty, it repels dirt with a static charge.

The owner of the mill where Sidney works loves the idea, until he realizes that no one will ever need to replace their clothing again, meaning he's out of business. Sidney's co-workers turn against him too, when they realize that they will be out of a job.

That said, The Man in the White Suit is one of the few movies ever to do what classic science fiction is supposed to: imagine a scientific breakthrough, a novum, and then see how it changes everything. (Or how it creates a social backlash, in this case.)


And his quasi-love interest, Daphne (the daughter of the mill owner), explains the dream most succinctly, when she tells Sidney: “Millions of people all over the world are living lives of drudgery, fighting an endless, losing battle against shabbiness and dirt. You’ve won that battle for them. You’ve set them free. The world’s going to bless you.”

But the prediction that “the world’s going to bless you” is sorely mistaken — and in a sense, The Man in the White Suit predicts the dilemmas that we’re still facing today. Technology is poised to eliminate more and more “drudgery” from our lives, by automating jobs that used to be done by hand. But that also means eliminating jobs (including, at this point, a ton of white-collar jobs.) And it turns out, as Sidney discovers, that setting people free isn’t an unalloyed benefit.


The Man in the White Suit takes a certain amount of care to portray a wide spectrum of society, as part of its broad social satire. We get to know some of the workers at the textile mill where Sidney has been hired as a menial laborer, as well as a lot of the rich capitalists who own the mill and other similar ones. Sidney is befriended by his landlady, as well as one of the workers on the textile mill floor, Bertha. Later, when the workers find out what Sidney’s been up to, Bertha insists that he’s being exploited, because in her mind he’s one of the workers. (And Bertha gets a lot of the best lines in the film, about the “dead hand of monopoly” and the relentless logic of capitalism.)

The film is structured as a farce, with lots of people running in and out of rooms and being chased and hiding — but it’s also a very broad look at how technological change threatens entrenched interests, and the ruthlessness with which the system of capital and labor colludes to keep innovation down.

Here's the IMDB page for The Man in the White Suit.

Mourning the loss of the Space Shuttle "NASA's 40-year embarassment"

Margaret Lazarus Dean mourns the loss of the space shuttle, NASA's 40-year embarassment. Author Margaret Lazarus Dean joins the ranks of other authors who've written about America's space program. Her book: Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight, celebrates and mourns the space shuttle years.

Margaret Lazarus Dean, an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville, loved the shuttle more than most. She loved it so much that she attributed distinct personalities to the individual vehicles. Columbia was “bumbly, a chunky older sister forever dropping crumpled tissues from her sleeves”; Challenger “the fuzziest, friendliest of the orbiters”; Endeavour “a quirky cousin from another country.” She loved the shuttle program so much that over and again in 2011 she forsook her students and husband and young son to drive the 700 miles between Knoxville and Cape Canaveral and witness the surviving shuttles’ final launches. She loved it so much that she wrote a book about these trips: Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight. A memoir of technological obsession, it reminds us that even when a machine fails by all other criteria, it can still succeed erotically.

Like so many obsessions, Dean’s began in pain. After her parents’ divorce, she spent childhood weekends with her father at the National Air and Space Museum, marveling at the high-tech relics and thinking that “despite their long and growing list of appalling limitations, grown-ups had at least done this: they had figured out how to fly to space.” On a film shot by shuttle astronauts she saw Judith Resnik, fourth woman in space, destined to die in the 1986 Challenger disaster, floating asleep and surrounded by the dark ringlets of her hair: “I fell in love.” In a passage that reads almost like Freudian fetish origination, Dean explains that her obsession began there, with “the air-conditioned, musty smell of Air and Space … a space-scarred Apollo capsule, the floating black curls of Judith Resnik, and my father’s calm voice.” Dean grew up, became a writer, and wrote a first novel about Challenger and a NASA engineer’s daughter. When the shuttle’s retirement was announced, she knew what her second book’s subject would be.

I can relate! I've loved the dream of space since childhood. I loved the shuttle when it was just a dream; I listened to NASA films (this was before the days of video) with Wernher von Braun describing the shuttle, rolling his 'r's as he described the orbiter. I was part of an organization called the L-5 Society, inspired by the work of Princeton physicist, Gerard K. O'Neill.

L-5 Members had high hopes for the shuttle and the proposed shuttle-derived vehicles. It was to be the vehicle that opened up space to routine travel. Gerry O'Neill did much of his work on space manufacturing using cost estimates for shuttle-derived vehicles. There were numerous studies about using space shuttle tanks as building modules for space stations and crew habitats.

And we were continually disappointed, sometime tragically. We mourned the loss of the Challenger crew. We were continually disappointed to find that the shuttle didn't really fulfill any of its promises:
  • It was supposed to fly 36 times a year; there weren't more than 7 launches per year, usually less.
  • It was supposed to bring down the cost of reaching low-Earth orbit; it turned out be be about twice as expensive as the old reliable launchers like Delta and Atlas.
  • It was supposed to make space travel routine and safe; there were two fatal accidents, giving a shuttle astronaut about a 1.48% chance of dying on any mission.

Given all that, like Margaret Lazarus Dean, I still loved the shuttle. It democratized space, opening it to a much wider slice of humanity than Apollo, including older Americans like 54 year old Dr. William Thornton, Dr. Sally Ride, our first woman in space, and Col. Guion Bluford, first African American in space.

That large payload bay was never completely filled; it was supposed to carry up to 60,000 lbs. It never carried more than half that; nevertheless, it allowed for historic firsts like the repair of the Solar Max Mission spacecraft in 1984, the Hubble Telescope servicing missions, and construction of the International Space Station.

With all its failings, I loved the shuttle, celebrating its achievements, and mourning the deaths of brave astronauts. The hope of routine access to space lies in the future. Maybe we will finally become the space faring species that we hoped shuttle would make us; but, that's not assured.

This climate deal will be turned into a 'New World Order' conspiracy theory by the right......

........just as they did with the UN's Agenda 21:

Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development. It is a product of the Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.

Agenda 21: The U.N. Conspiracy That Just Won't Die

It’s been called “the most dangerous threat to American sovereignty”; “An anti-human document, which takes aim at Western culture, and the Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions,” that will bring “new Dark Ages of pain and misery yet unknown to mankind,” and “abolish golf courses, grazing pastures and paved roads,” in the name of creating a “one-world order.”

It’s been the subject of several forewarning books and DVDs; there are organizations dedicated to stopping it and politicians have been unseated for supporting it. Glenn Beck has spent a good portion of his career making people scared of it.

The Southern Poverty Law Center's report on right-wing paranoia about Agenda 21 exposes some of the groups and individuals responsible for spreading this paranoia. The state legislature of Alabama has passed legislation outlawing effects of Agenda 21. State legislatures in New Hampshire, Tennessee, and (of course!) Kansas have passed resolutions condemning it.

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