High Strangeness

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

UFO Research Nirvana - Part 2

Okay, I was able to capture the conversation I was pretty sure I had heard yesterday, and it's pretty funny...
There might be something to it, but what?

The recording was made around 1975-76, sometime after the Travis Walton abduction case. Dr. Hynek is chatting with Coral and Jim Lorenzen, and I think Rich Heiden, along with Walton and a few of his friends. They're all having a very boisterous conversation about how the investigation of Walton's experience went awry when a whole slew of sketchy characters like UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass, William Spaulding of Ground Saucer Watch and renegade hypnotist "Dr." Lester Steward got involved... The general sense is that there might be something to the Walton case, but that the investigation hasn't been handled as well as it might have been.

Suddenly Dr. Hynek says, in a somewhat hushed tone, "I've got one ulterior motive here, Coral, and I think you'll agree, and that is (unintelligible) we can really nail Klass to the wall on this one."

A moment or two later, one of the other men, I think either Jim Lorenzen or Rich Heiden, says, "It's not going to be easy. I think you underestimate your adversary. He is a sonofabitch."

After which another of the men says, "I got a call from him the other night, and I'm pretty certain he was taping the conversation..."

Monday, January 25, 2016

UFO Research Nirvana

Researching my Hynek book is about the hardest work I've ever done, but it's also some of the most enjoyable. Today was kind of a bonanza...

I was going to write today about the second coming of "The X-Files" ("Roswell was a smokescreen!") or the super-groovy "Swamp Gas UFO Conference" coming up this March in Ann Arbor, MI, but I had such an interesting day of researching my book that I'm just going to talk about that...
Don't miss the UFO event of the Century!

First, I got some fantastic archival material from a very helpful librarian at Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU), where Dr. Hynek taught astronomy classes and conducted astronomical research from the mid-1930s to the late 1950s. One of the most interesting items contained background information on a sweet little perq OWU offered its faculty: cheap vacation property in northern Ontario. Like many other professors, Hynek took advantage of the program and built a cabin on his lot, and the Hynek family vacationed there every summer for decades... Hynek also had a second cabin built as an office, and that, according to his son Paul, is where he did a lot of his writing. He also saw a UFO there once!

There's also a terrific piece from OWU about Hynek taking a job at Harvard in 1956 planning the world's first global satellite tracking system. This was a pretty daring move, seeing as how no one knew for sure if an artificial satellite could get off the ground at all, much less be tracked from earth. Hynek knew it could be done, and he did it. And in so doing, he invented crowdsourcing. He truly was a pioneer, of the space age and, also, somehow, the internet age, some 30 years before it started.

Then the snail mail arrived and Amazon came through with a 1978 issue of Playboy magazine featuring Hynek as part of a scholarly "Playboy UFO Panel." Hynek, along with several other UFO luminaries like researcher Jacques Vallee and skeptic Philip J. Klass, talks at length about the state of UFOlogy in the late '70s, and he is not afraid to mix it up with Klass! It's a fantastic article, and an important reminder that Playboy was and is an essential publication -- perhaps the essential publication. It also has a lot of awesome ads for late-'70s cars, booze, and hi-fi equipment -- I'm talking reel-to-reel! Those were the days...

(This came hot on the heels of a 1978 science fiction film magazine I got the other day that was dedicated to the new movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and featured a wonderful interview with Hynek about his involvement with the film, the origins of its title, and the scenes he shot that ended up on the cutting room floor.)

You really can find anything on Amazon...

Then, as I was listening to my treasure trove of audio recordings of Hynek giving speeches and interviews and talking with colleagues (courtesy of Mr. Michael Swords), I came across a mid-1970s interview in which he mentioned five of his favorite puzzling, unexplained UFO cases. I am happy to say that four of them were new to me. So I've been reading up on some of these cases, and they're pretty fantastic. One even took place about an hour from where I live, so I may be able to track down some of the witnesses.

Right now I'm listening to a recording of Hynek with some of his colleagues talking shop. It's not always easy to tell who is speaking, because the audio quality is pretty awful, but I think that Jim and Coral Lorenzen are there, as well as James Harder and a few others. In this tape, Hynek spends a lot of time talking with abductee Travis Walton, which is pretty fascinating, but I think I need to replay part of the recording...

Out of the blue, someone in the room blurts out to someone else:

"I think you underestimate your adversary. He's a sonofabitch."

Sounds like UFOlogy to me! If I figure who said it and who he's referring to, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A New Name for Those Slides

Thanks for all the comments on my last post about the Roswell debate!

I have to say, while reading over the comments today, I realized that I am sick of the term "the Roswell slides." Why are we still calling them that? The slides in question have no connection whatsoever with Roswell.

It's Reynolds Wrap, folks.
Not only is it wrong to refer to the slides this way, it's offensive to the poor child whose remains are visible in the images.

So, looks like I'm gonna have to do the heavy lifting in UFOland once again and come up with a new name for those pesky little Kodachrome slides.

Try these on for size:
  • The slides from someone's attic
  • The poor pueblo child whose remains were exploited by the Roswell Dream Team slides
  • The slides taken in a museum in Mesa Verde National Park and not in Hangar 18 or Area 51
  • The slides that may have been taken in 1947 but probably weren't
  • The slides found in a box in someone's attic by a housecleaner who let them sit around for 10 years before giving them to her brother who then kept them for a while before giving them to a sports cameraman in Chicago who thought he could make a buck off them so he contacted the Roswell Dream Team
  • The slides that show a placard that wasn't deciphered until someone not trying to make a buck off it deciphered it
  • The slides that sold a million Roswell books
  • The Hey you really fucked up but we still want you to headline our big UFO conference slides
  • The slides taken by Bernard and Hilda Rey, two really interesting people who lived in the 1940s and knew everyone famous and took pictures of them but never took pictures of any aliens
  • The Whatever Happened to Adam Dew slides
  • The Kodachrome: The Movie slides
  • The slides that killed UFOlogy
  • The slides that pulled the plug on UFOlogy's life support
  • The slides that dismembered UFOlogy and buried the parts all over town 
  • The slides that I wish had fallen into my lap!
Wow... so hard to choose!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Great Roswell Debate is ON!

I did not see a single UFO in Antarctica.

No UFOs, no remnants of Operation Highjump or Hitler's secret UFO base, nothing. Which is not to say that Antarctica was a disappointment. It was an amazing, uplifting, mind-blowing experience, and even two weeks after returning home I'm still soaking it all in...

The purpose of the trip was getting my 90 year-old dad to Antarctica, his 7th continent. That was my dad's entire bucket list, right there, and now he's done it! And he was nice enough to take me and 4 of my siblings with him, making it the family adventure of a lifetime.

What was best about the trip? Penguins! Seals! Sea lions! Whales! Family time! Icebergs! Abandoned whaling stations! Cruising around inside the caldera of an extinct volcano! Calving glaciers! Tooling around the Antarctic Ocean in Zodiacs!
Me in Antarctica. Not a single UFO to be seen.

There were so many stupendous, spectacular natural wonders on display that at least once a day I found myself asking "How is that even possible??"

To be honest, I didn't even look for UFOs. There was already too much natural beauty to see...

Once I got home, I had little time to readjust. Just before leaving on the trip I had accepted a position teaching screenwriting at DePaul University in Chicago, and although I intended to do prep-work for the class while on the trip, of course I didn't. So that left me with a little less than a week to get a class up and running. Fun.

(I am now two classes into the term, and so far, so good! My students are pretty damn sharp.)

Within days of arriving home, my agents concluded the final negotiations for the book contract with HarperCollins, and I am now officially in business. My manuscript is due August 1st, so I have a LOT of work to do...

In the middle of all this, I had a good talk with Txx Kxxxxxx, the organizer of the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference, to be held next October in Brewtown. Txx wanted to share his ideas on how to conduct the "Roswell debate" to which I've been challenged by Roswell entrepreneur Mr. Donald Schmitt, and I welcomed the opportunity.

You see, it hadn't been clear to me at all what we would actually be debating... Nurse X? The Frank  Kaufman papers? The Ramey memo? The Roswell alien autopsy video? The Roswell slides? So many aspects to the story, so many so-called "smoking guns," but what exactly would we be debating? Did the alleged Roswell saucer crash really happen? Well, Don and I could go around in circles arguing about that for days, and in the end nothing would be proven or accomplished. How do you limit it to a real discussion about real things?

I was happy to discover that Txx had the same concerns, and he had a few ideas on how to structure the debate so that it's substantive and meaningful. His suggestions make a lot of sense to me. He proposes one or more of the following:
  • What happened at Roswell. Is there proof?
  • Is it time for UFOlogy to move on from Roswell?
  • What happened with the Roswell slides?
  • Roswell research techniques: good or bad?
  • Lessons learned, and finding a way forward.
Sharp readers will immediately recognize that a few of these topics will not make Mr. S. happy. But then, he's the one who challenged me to the debate, so... tough luck.

Txx was agreeable to me suggesting some additional possible topics, which I intend to do. I have a few suggestions in mind, but I winder whether you, my readers, have any thoughts on the topic. I bet you do!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

UFO Hiatus

Something had to give...

Over the past couple months, life has gotten surprisingly busy, and I find I haven't been able to keep up with my responsibilities as a Certified MUFON Field Investigator. Between selling my Hynek book (which means I have to write the damn thing by next summer!), prepping to start a new gig teaching screenwriting at DePaul University and gearing up for a 16-day Antarctic cruise over the holidays, I have been spread out pretty thin and letting my caseload slip as a result.

So I wrote to my state director and told him that I may have to take a leave of absence from MUFON for the first 6 months of 2016. By then I'll have the book done, school will be on summer break, and things will settle down greatly. I told him I would let him know after the 1st of the year, once I'm back from the South Pole. He was very cool about it, and appreciated the heads up.

To be completely honest, though, I've been ready for a break from MUFON for a while. My motivation has been seriously lacking since last summer, and once it starts to slip away it's hard to get it back.

Thank God I can get away from UFOs in the Antarctic... or can I?
There are two big issues. First of all, there have been too many cases over the past few months that are either obvious pranks, obvious mistakes, or just flat out unimportant. It's hard to enthusiastically dedicate even one night a week to this when so many of my recent cases are exactly alike: "I saw a light in the sky. I watched for a while, trying to figure out what it was. Then it disappeared." Well, ok. Maybe that's something, maybe it's not, but if that's all there is to the report then what, exactly, am I "investigating?" I spend 30 minutes on the phone with the witness, who repeats what he/she said in the initial report, and then I file it with MUFON as an "Identified Flying Object-Man Made" or "Insufficient Data," or some such thing. Which does absolutely nothing to help us understand the UFO phenomenon, and feels like a big waste of my time. Much better, I would think, if the simple Category 1 cases were just filed away and the investigators only had to look into the truly strange and interesting cases. But who's going to make that call?

The second issue is that the MUFON Case Management System where I file my reports is so clunky, slow, cumbersome, counterintuitive, and nonsensical that I dread having to go into the system to file a report. It always takes twice as long as it needs to, because the reporting requirements are so inane. We basically have to fill in everything twice, which usually means cutting and pasting into the wee hours of the night, and then we need to type the report into a text box so tiny it can barely hold one letter, much less a report. It's sheer torture, I'm telling you. I have hated the CMS since day one.

Then in October, they changed the CMS reporting procedures, for no apparent reason. The email MUFON sent me about the changes is completely incomprehensible to me:
For Cat 1 cases. Copy and paste the elements of the Short Form (see bottom of page 8) into the text box for Field Investigators Report located at the bottom of CMS. Complete the report.

For Cat 2 and higher cases. You will complete only Form 30. Upon completing the report as a Word document, do the following:
Highlight the all of the information from the Investigation Section (see top of Page 4). Click copy and then move your mouse to the Field Investigators Report box and then click on paste. Next, attach the Word document as a file to CMS and close the case.
Uhhh... What?

The last straw came the other day when MUFON changed the log-in procedures. All of a sudden, with no warning and no explanation, they require me to choose a new password and then keep changing it every 45 days...

I've been using the same password for 4 1/2 years without any problem. I remember that password. It's easy and it's secure. Why do I need to change it, and then keep changing it? Well, I knew there was no getting out of it, so I put in the new password and wrote it down, and guess what? The next time I tried to log in, I couldn't remember the new password--of course--and I couldn't find where I had written it down. So I had to ask MUFON to help me reset the password, and I was told to check my email for the reset code. That was a week ago, and I'm still waiting for the flipping email. (and before you write to tell me to check my bulk folder, I have, and it's not there)

The thing is, even if I get the email and I get the password reset properly, I'm going to have to go through this stupidity every 45 days from now until forever, and I can pretty much guarantee that I will promptly forget every new password every 45 days, the minute I create it. And for what? Do we really have security problems?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not leaving MUFON. I just need a break, and I need to concentrate on the book and blog and the class for the time being. Even if I decide to take the leave of absence, I'll still be keeping up with the blog, although maybe less frequently than in the past.

I may not get back here again before my trip, so Happy Holidays to all, and keep watching the skies!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks for UFOs

Well, it's happened again. For the second time in my very short career as a MUFON Certified UFO Field Investigator, one of my cases is in contention for MUFON's "Top 10" list!

It happened before, when a case involving a giant hovering UFO witnessed by a woman and her daughter was named one of MUFON's "Top 10 UFO Sightings" of 2012. It was a pretty cool case, but I'm even more excited about the new one. Well, I say "new," but it actually took place in 1980. It's a mass sighting at Fort McCoy, a military base in central Wisconsin, that involved as many as 50 servicemen.

The witness is now retired and is haunted by the event. He doesn't know what he saw, and realizes he may never know, but he wants to know if any of the other servicemen there that night remember seeing what he saw, a strange rectangular craft with two entities visible through a port in the front of the object.

His story, which you can read here, sure made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The sketch he sent me of the craft (below) is amazingly detailed and precise. I have spent a lot of time conversing with the witness of the phone and via email, and he has never given me the slightest reason to think that he was making this up or imagining it. This is one of those cases where my gut reaction is very Hynek-like: I absolutely believe that this witness had a real experience, but I have absolutely no idea what it could have been, or what level of reality from which it may have emerged...

I may learn more about the Top 10 selections next week, so I'll keep you posted!