Aliens in high office

Apparently the UN has not in fact decided to appoint an ambassador to the little green men. Despite what you read in the newspapers, Mazlan Othman, head of its Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), is not being made responsible for co-ordinating humanity's response to alien contact. What a lost opportunity.

In the first place, as columnist Lorne Gunter noted, if invading aliens were to pull a "take me to your leader" stunt on the UN, there is every hope that their lethal hordes would perish slowly and miserably in a massive bureaucratic tangle of delay and inefficiency, their deadly laser blasts only making the red tape hot and sticky while the forms in triplicate gave off suffocating smoke.

In the second place, Unoosa would make a great name for an alien.

In the third place, it would have been darkly funny if, as initially reported, the UN had proposed a more inclusive approach to aliens. Evidently the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which UNOOSA really does oversee, obliges UN members to protect Earth from contamination by sterilizing alien species but, a certain newspaper claimed Monday, "Othman is understood to want a more tolerant approach." I could have dined out on the UN putting the vital interests of mankind a distant second to those of beings prone to erupting from our bellies, probing our brains after a perfunctory "I come in peace" or falling implausibly in love with James Tiberius Kirk.

Mind you, I am not one to support travelling through space to locate exotic alien races and perpetrate injustices upon them.

Indeed, I do not support travelling through space at all; if we cannot make a decent go of life on Earth I cannot imagine that some moon of Saturn rendered inviting by picturesque seas of liquid methane (at a bracing minus 161.6 degrees C) would furnish a more appropriate stage for our greed and folly. But survival is the first order of business, and even Stephen Hawking, not the most bellicose of individuals, says if there are aliens don't wave at them because "The outcome for us would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the native Americans."

With luck their first contact with us through transmissions of I Love Lucy will convince them that, while too stupid to resist conquest, we have no brains worth feeding off so why go there?

It is to my enduring shame that I can quote from memory Skeletor's disparagement of Earth in the sci-fi film Masters of the Universe as "this primitive and tasteless planet," but remember: tasting bad is a legitimate defence mechanism.

The other reason I wish we had a UN office of aliens is to deal with the ones I am increasingly persuaded live among us. I'm not talking about this week's news report that a few retired American air force officers and one NCO claim aliens have been sniffing around their nuclear sites for half a century. There are a lot of mighty weird people on this planet who don't have the excuse that they came from Alpha Centauri and I don't see why the antics and errors of a handful of them deserve media attention, however convenient it may be to life forms who convert strange stories into radio waves.

Rather, I was trying to imagine the scenario where aliens land and say "Take us to your leader" and we show them Dalton McGuinty and they say "You must be pulling my tentacle. Who's really in charge?"

And I suddenly thought that if they did meet the premier, they'd do some weird secret Arcturian handshake and wink some odd visual apparatus then waddle off as though nothing had happened to avoid blowing his cover. But it's too late because he gave the game away with his lost-in-space advice to families to save up their laundry for weekends to conserve electricity.

To be fair, Dalton McGuinty generally does a plausible imitation of an Earthling. But obviously he's from a planet where the beings own many more garments than humans do, dirty ones don't smell after six days in a heap and politicians can tell you when to wash your clothes even though they themselves don't do it and you don't mind.

And it escaped his notice that this planet isn't like that. A tiny error, but it's the little things that give you away. Like the character in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who did a good job of blending in on Earth except for a shaky start when he decided Ford Prefect (it was a 1950s British car) would make a nicely inconspicuous name.

Now if we could just get the UN to co-ordinate our contacts with Premier McGuinty, it might keep both of them too busy to bother us while we do our laundry, fend off alien invasions, get the state out of our basements and try to determine which stories in the newspaper have some foundation in fact.

Unoosa, call home!

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson