As it has every year since 1970, July heralds the arrival in San Diego of the pop culture phenomenon known as Comic-Con International. From its humble beginnings as a single-day comic book convention, Comic-Con has grown into a four-day multimedia extravaganza celebrating all aspects of popular arts – comics, science fiction and fantasy literature, collectibles, gaming, cosplay, movies and television, and more – that attracts 130,000 devoted attendees from around the globe.

You’re probably thinking, “But John, what does a pop culture convention have to do with an academic institution that’s been ranked as the 17th best in the world, according to the Center for World University Rankings?” I was hoping you’d ask. Though it may not be immediately apparent, UC San Diego has long served as a sort of incubator for some of the most respected and provocative writers in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. Authors who claim UC San Diego as their alma mater include David Brin (the Uplift series), Gregory Benford (the Galactic Center Saga), Vernor Vinge (Rainbow’s End), and Kim Stanley Robinson (the Mars trilogy). Since attending UC San Diego several of these alumni have maintained their ties to the University of California by teaching at various UC campuses, and appearing at UC-sponsored academic conferences and symposia.

In addition to UC San Diego, other campuses in the UC system have contributed significantly to science fiction, fantasy, and pop art studies. Most notable is UC Riverside, which houses the world-renowned Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Eaton Collection, featured in our Web series It Came From Riverside, is “the largest publicly accessible collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and utopian and dystopian literature in the world,” and consists of more than 300,000 items. Many of the writers and illustrators associated with UC have donated to the collection, and scholars consider it a unique and indispensible resource.

These and other personalities and topics are featured in UCSD-TV’s omnibus series, Comics, Pop Culture, and Science Fiction. This series gathers together programs on a wide range of subjects related to Comic-Con, including profiles and conversations with industry artists (David Gerrold, Michael Westmore), in-depth analyses of popular films and TV shows (Blade Runner, Lost, The Walking Dead), and discussions of important issues in the science fiction and fantasy genres (Marv Wolfman, David Brin). Whether an aficionado or merely curious, you’re sure to find something that will intrigue, stimulate, and inspire.

Contributed by arts and humanities producer John Menier

Even Billionaire Philanthropists Need Their Own GPS!
Sir Richard Branson Takes The Long Road to UC San Diego

8232A visit to UC San Diego from Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy , was bound to cause a stir. But how do you explain his late arrival to a campus event on drug use and HIV in Tijuana? His flight was on time, but his driver took him to the wrong university! No matter. Moderator Steffanie Strathdee deftly hosts a fascinating discussion with Proyecto El Cuete research director Dr. Patricia Gonzalez-Zuniga and author Jon Cohen that gets even better when Branson finally takes the stage and opens with a hilarious, off-color joke. Strathdee also previews material she will be presenting this week at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Watch Drug Decriminalization and Tijuana’s AIDS Epidemic with Sir Richard Branson.

The Tragedy of Beliefs and Their Reality

8232In her work monitoring populations of marine mammals for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, Barbara Taylor has had to deal with sad endings. First, she was involved in the determination that the Baiji, or Chinese River Dolphin, existed no more. And now she and those she toils with are faced with the reality that the endearing little Vaquita, who lives only a few hundred miles from us here in Southern California will vanish on their watch. Why? It’s a sad saga that like many tragedies is driven by human greed.

Similar to the belief that ground Rhino horn is a potion that increases virility, or that bear paws are an aphrodisiac, the belief that consuming the swim bladders of fish enhances complexion and boosts fertility is driving Asian consumers to once again abet the extinction of another host of creatures.

This greedy tragedy starts again in Asia. The population of the traditionally preferred source of swim bladders, a large Asian in-shore fish called the yellow croaker, has plummeted due to a host of causes (but in no small part to overfishing). With the scarcity, the value of such bladders increased, so the Asian market has spread its nets, pun intended – to find another source for the storied swim bladders.

Enter the Totoaba, another giant croaker, technically the largest member of the drum family, found only in Mexico’s Gulf of California. The Totoaba, which grows to a size often described as on par with an NFL offensive lineman, has a huge swim bladder which regulates its buoyancy. The Totoaba is also a delicious fish to eat. Once abundant, it was the subject of an intensive fishery. Coupled with other environmental insults such as the diversion of river flows into the Gulf of California, their numbers have been drastically reduced. Mexico banned the fishery in 1975 and it is internationally recognized as an endangered species. But that didn’t stop the fishing for Totoaba. The scarcity and belief in the mythical powers of swim bladders have made even this protected fish a prime target.

Which brings us to yet another critically endangered sea creature – the endearing little Vaquita or “little cow.” The smallest and rarest of all the porpoises, and the rarest cetacean in all of the world’s seas, the Vaquita is Mexico’s only endemic marine mammal. It only lives in the far northern reaches of the Gulf of California. With a range that overlaps the spawning migrations of Totoaba, the tiny Vaquita with its distinctive make-up like facial markings is directly in the cross-hairs of pirate fisherman and the criminal enterprise which supports them. These pirates use huge illegal gillnets to ensnare the Totoaba. At never more than five-feet long, the Vaquita also become trapped in these indiscriminate trawls and perish – dying just as you or I would trapped in a net anchored to the bottom of the sea, struggling to get free for a breath of air.

The scarcity of Totoaba has made their swim bladders an actual instrument of investment in Asia where they are purchased and locked away. Their value becoming akin to that of illicit drugs – bringing tens of thousands of dollars for a single prime swim bladder and arousing the involvement of even drug cartels. With only profit in mind, the pirates take only the swim bladders and leave the shores of Baja California littered with the withering carcasses of Totoaba and everything else their nets destroy, from Humpback whales, to sea-turtles, to earth’s most endangered little porpoise.

The bottom line in this sad saga of myth-driven human misdeeds is that this little creature, inhabiting earth for perhaps 11 million years but known to us only since 1958, is under imminent threat of extinction. As it peacefully forages for small fish and shrimp in the warm, nutrient-rich waters of the northern Gulf of California it faces a looming threat and may soon vanish – very soon.

Barbara Taylor and an international team of experts have established that there are only about 60 Vaquita remaining. She and many others are leading an heroic effort to save our little neighbor, but there may not be time to prevent the Vaquita’s destruction. Drastic, immediate and direct measures must be taken and enforced – or not only Barbara, but all of us, will very soon face a very sad ending to this story of greed and our own failure to act on behalf of defenseless victims.

Learn more by watching Net Loss: New Abundance Estimate Reveals That Mexico’s Vaquita Faces Imminent Extinction Due to Illegal Fishing.


Contributed by science producer Rich Wargo

Coming in November – Armageddon, Apocalypse, or Rapture?

8232“Our democracy today is poisoned by so many lies that truth is now stranger than fiction – just not as popular,” said Bill Moyers to a packed audience at UC Santa Barbara.

Bringing his expertise, experience and wisdom longtime journalist Bill Moyers looks at the November election and asks what has happened to our so-called national discourse. With his usual eloquence Moyers explores the Trump phenomenon, the revolt against the power elite, and the rigged systems that squeeze out all but the wealthiest and most powerful.

Moyers has received 37 Emmy Awards, nine Peabody Awards, the National Academy of Television’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute, among others.

“Blind faith in bad leadership is not patriotism,” says Moyers. Watch the UCSD-TVPosted on Categories Uncategorized

Oliver Stone on Conversations with History

8232Years ago (I won’t say how many) I was sitting on the steps of a Cinemobile truck parked near a film set (I won’t say which one), practicing “hurry up and wait.” I was chatting with a grip, a veteran of countless productions with decades in the business. At one point he sighed, looked off in the distance, and said, “Just once I’d like to work on a picture that’s about something real.” Even at that tender age I understood that desire; it’s what compelled me to become a documentarian, while my fellow film students aspired to be Spielberg or De Palma.

I recently recalled that encounter while watching an episode of Conversations with History featuring filmmaker Oliver Stone, and realized that my enthusiasm for factual filmmaking also informed my interest in Stone’s work. Beginning with his sophomore film, “Salvador,” and throughout his career, Stone has incorporated elements of documentary style in heightened narratives that are often based on real people and historical events. In his pursuit of what he’s termed “emotional truth,” as opposed to literal truth, Stone has never shied away from controversy. Stone’s detractors – and they are legion – accuse him of being “undisciplined’ and “reckless” in dealing with facts, labeling him as a “propagandist” and an “amateurish would-be historian.” In fairness Stone has never claimed to be either objective or an historian in the academic sense (though his films are heavily researched); rather, he has stated that his goal is not to provide definitive accounts but to spark debate while hopefully entertaining his audience. In this he has often succeeded, and even those self-same detractors can’t deny his prowess as a filmmaker.

Stone’s work in documentary and docudrama is just one of the many topics discussed in a wide-ranging interview with “Conversations” host Harry Kreisler. Of particular interest is Stone’s discourse on the changes that have overtaken him since his last appearance on the program some twenty years earlier. He’s an older artist who’s fallen out of favor in Hollywood, and his once-prodigious output has slowed as a consequence, but Stone remains committed to his beliefs and fearless in expressing his viewpoint.

One of the consistent themes in Oliver Stone’s work is a determination to explore the complexities of character, and in this interview Stone himself emerges as a complicated figure – by turns insightful, dogmatic, worldly, parochial, passionate, and analytical; at times exasperating, but, like his films, never dull.

Browse this program and others on Conversations with History.