High Strangeness

Saturday, June 23, 2018

UFO Dreams

I just had a very fun talk last night with Gary & Michael at Night Dreams Radio. Guess what we talked about?

WARNING: This is a full 2 hours of yours truly sharing amazing stories about our "UFO Dad."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

UFOs: Blue Book!

So, there's this new UFO TV series coming on the History Channel called Blue Book, and some lucky people have been getting sneak peeks at the show. I don't know a whole lot about the series, but my guess is that if you love the way the History Channel treats the UFO topic in Ancient Aliens I guess you'll probably love the new Blue Book show. If you're interested in a serious study of the UFO phenomenon, well, forget about the show and read my book.
Would you buy a used UFO from this man?
Sadly, this is what it's like for us UFO buffs. We're so happy to have something -- anything -- new about UFOs on TV that we'll accept whatever Hollywood foists on us and force ourselves to watch it. And I admit I will probably watch the show -- at least I'll sample it. And the whole time I'll be asking myself this:

Would Dr. Hynek be proud of 'Blue Book'?

Now, some readers may remember my close encounter with this show. About a year ago, shortly after my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, The Close Encounters Man, came out, I got a Facebook message from some guy who identified himself as one of the producers on the new Blue Book series. He wondered if I would talk to him about the UFO career of Dr. Hynek documented in my book, and my agent and I decided it would be okay for me to talk to him, but only in vague generalities.

I have to admit, I was flattered that they came to me to learn more about Dr. Hynek, but when I talked with this guy on the phone I was shocked by how dopey and simple-minded his questions were. He was utterly clueless. He obviously knew nothing about Dr. Hynek, and so of course he was trying to do his basic research by talking to me. I shut him down pretty quickly and never heard from him again.

(Side note: shortly after this phone call I discovered that my Evernote account had been hacked. Luckily, most of the research material in the Evernote account involved contact info for people I wanted to interview, so if the hacker was hoping to steal any of my secrets they would have been pretty disappointed.)

So, anyway, now this Blue Book show is ready to go, and I've been super curious to see whether that "producer" who tried to poach materials from me last summer ever figured out what the show should be about.

Well, the news is not good. I just googled "Blue Book" and discovered that the show is not about UFOs or Dr. Hynek at all! It's about used cars! Stranger still, the producers have inexplicably changed Dr. Hynek into a character named "Kelley."

From what little I found on google, it appears that, instead of a UFO investigator, this Kelley character travels around the country for the Air Force appraising used cars. I have no idea why the Air Force would hire a scientist to appraise used cars, but leave it to the History Channel to uncover the most unexpected and fascinating stories about history that never happened.

Now, used UFOs, that I would have believed!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

UFO Lore

Wow, hard to believe it's been a month since I posted anything new here on the blog! The last month has been kind of a blur, what with travel, birthdays, family gatherings and social engagements coming at us in rapid fire, and I just haven't been able to sit down here and hammer out my thoughts at all.

That's not to say I haven't been thinking about UFOs, though. One of the big social engagements this past month involved a multi-day reunion with one of my high school friends, Jxxx, and a pair of my high school teachers, Mxxx and Kxxxx (they're married so they come as a set!), and the big fun of the visit was that these dear friends are all hard-core UFO buffs and together we spent more than a few hours talking about our favorite UFO stories... How often does that happen in life that you get to spend so much time with people you really enjoy talking about something about which you're so passionate? I felt pretty lucky.
Do I know much about the Kecksburg UFO? I sure don't!

To backtrack a bit, Jxxx and became great friends in high school in large part because we were both complete pop culture nerds. We started making epic movies together with my Super-8 camera equipment, mostly for our own enjoyment, and we gained great fame in our school for doing goofy skits and celebrity impersonations during the morning announcements. And people remember this stuff, even 40 years later -- last weekend at a get-together another old high school friend started raving about how much she loved Jxxx's and my morning announcements! Yes, we were that funny.

The two high school teachers, Kxxxx and Mxxx, surprised me last summer when they popped up at one of my book signings. It was great to get re-acquainted with them then, and even greater to spend some quality time with them this month. And guess what? They're complete pop culture geeks, too, something of which I was not fully aware back in the day... But who is fully aware of anything in high school?

So, here I am with these three old friends talking UFOs, and boy did I feel rusty. Because I was the guy who wrote a UFO book, my three friends kept asking me what I thought about this case or that, and man, were they keeping me on my toes. What did I think about Roswell? What about the Phoenix lights? What about the Kecksburg incident?

Of course I had to be honest with them about my feelings about Roswell, and they challenged me on it, which is good, because it forced me to think through my thoughts once again and to articulate them in a way that I though made the most sense. Any opportunity to think about how you present your thoughts and feelings about UFO is a good thing, I believe.

Sometimes I had to slow down and wrack my brain to remember the details of a specific case, and I was reminded of how much UFO lore I don't know off the top of my head.

Part of that is because I've spent so much of the past several years focusing on J. Allen Hynek-centered UFO cases that I just can't keep any more UFO lore in my head. But part of it also because there's just so damned much UFO information out there, so many UFO cases on record, that it's just impossible to keep up with it all. How do we keep it all straight in our heads??

One of the high points of the visiting was when I shared some of the strangest and funniest cases from my days as a MUFON Certified Field Investigator. Someday I really do need to write a book about those experiences.

So, thank you Jxxx, Mxxx and Kxxxx, for reminding me of so many great UFO stories, and for challenging me to rethink some things!

Monday, May 14, 2018

UFO Cold Case

The other day I got wind of a bizarre re-hash of the 1973 Coyne Helicopter case, courtesy of Kevin Randle, who is doing us a valuable service by pushing back against some real stupidity.

I wrote about the Coyne case in my book, The Close Encounters Man. There I described it as the gold standard of UFO cases, as it had been reported by the some of the most credible witnesses imaginable -- the four-man crew of a military helicopter -- and their account had been corroborated by witnesses on the ground. It remains completely unexplained.

The Coyne UFO.... or is it an Air Force tanker?

The new re-hash of the Coyne case comes to us courtesy of Parabunk, and while his explanation is very long and very detailed it is also pretty ridiculous. You should follow the link below and read it, but like I said, it is very long... (Spoiler alert: My book is quoted in Parabunk's report!)

The 1973 Coyne/Mansfield helicopter UFO incident finally explained

In this new account, the UFO that almost caused Captain Coyne to crash his helicopter in central Ohio and ended up with the four men being essentially saved from the crash by the actions of that UFO, was actually a military refueling plane that was trying to conduct a mid-flight refueling of Coyne's helicopter. The bombshell in Parabunk's new version of the story is that Captain Coyne didn't realize he was supposed to be engaging in a mid-flight refueling.

Let that sink in. This person is seriously suggesting that the captain of a military aircraft and his three crewmembers were completely unaware that a mid-flight refueling plane was maneuvering into position to top off their fuel tank. Not only that, when they saw the "refueling plane," they didn't recognize it as military plane at all. Keep in mind that these four men were flying home from their mandatory medical exams, and they had all been found to be in perfect health only hours before their encounter. In other words, they were not hallucinating, as Carl Sagan later famously suggested on national TV a few days after the events.

There's plenty of stupid to be found in Parabuck's writing, like the way he works so hard to build an iron-clad case and then undercuts it with a casual "maybe" this, or "possibly" that. But the worst moment is this explanation:

Then there's the big why question. Why would a tanker try to refuel someone who isn't expecting it? There might be some some former crew members who could give a definite answer, even if they haven't been willing to make it public so far. Lacking that, I have thought of some possibilities

For the fun of it?

Yea, Parabunk, that is the big question, isn't it?

Seriously, this person is asserting that the crew of a massive Air Force tanker would risk their careers and their lives by intentionally causing a near mid-air collision over residential areas in central Ohio "for the fun of it."

Kevin Randle is not cutting Parabunk any slack, and you can read his take the story at A Different Perspective.

But the last word in this tale goes to someone who is very well qualified to comment on the Coyne case. Jennie Zeidman conducted an investigation of the incident for the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), and her account of the case remains the definitive telling. When Kevin Randle contacted her today for her take on Parabunk's refutation of her work, she kindly suggested that Parabunk needs a new hobby.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

UFOs and Racism

In an interview in the February, 1985 issue of OMNI Magazine, Dr. J. Allen Hynek had this to say about the caliber of his fellow UFO researchers:
"I do not mean it unkindly, but the UFO movement today is filled basically with amateurs. Most of the investigators are not professionals, and they are technically ill equipped and lack funds. Many are also beset by preconceived notions of what UFOs ought or ought not to be."
If he were asked that today, Hynek might add that some amateur UFOlogists are beset by horribly racist and intolerant views of their fellow humans. The recent news that Dr. Chris Cogswell, the new Director or Research for MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, had resigned his post only a few months after taking the position because MUFON was harboring a racist in its camp, has made a lot of headlines, and was just written up today in Newsweek. This is not the kind of publicity that MUFON needs, but it is the publicity it deserves.
Would MUFON have approved of Mr. & Mrs. Hill?

Why do I say this? Well, let's go back to the beginning. About a year ago, John Ventre, a high-ranking MUFON officer, was called out for posting a racist rant on his Facebook page. I won't excerpt his post here because it's too foul to be repeated one more time, but in it he specifically targeted bi-racial couples with some deep hatred and disgust. I found Ventre's views repulsive in general, but I was also personally offended by Ventre's comments, because I am in a bi-racial couple.

I did not resign from MUFON because of Ventre's words, however, because I had already left MUFON months earlier. I left when I discovered that my new Wisconsin State Director had been re-opening and revising my old case files, marking every object in every sighting report as an "Orb." When I called her out on this unethical behavior, her response was that I need more training because I'm obviously too stupid to know an orb case when I see one. Then she started pressuring me to buy a book about The Orb Invasion, written by a friend of hers. I was appalled by her behavior, and even more appalled when no one at HUFON HQ could decide how to address the issue. So I quit.

A few months later, when my biography of Dr. Hynek was about to be published, I contacted MUFON Chief Jan Harzan to see about selling my book at the MUFON online store. Despite having recently resigned in disgust, I remained hopeful that my ex-state director's horrifically unscientific methods and orb fixation was an aberration, and that there were still good people at MUFON. And I still thought that my book might have a positive impact on people who wanted to learn more about the UFO phenomenon. But, as Jan and I were negotiating a deal, Ventre's views became public and Jan's public response that the people who were offended by Ventre's words were the real haters was enough for me. I told Jan that I no longer wanted to sell my book through MUFON.

Fast forward to today. Chris Cogswell, a guy who very well could have led MUFON into a meaningful revival of serious, scientific UFOlogy, is gone. And as of today, it's national news. What does MUFON have left after this debacle? Not much that I can see.

Oh, wait, MUFON still has orbs. I imagine that invasion is still going on.

A few other thoughts:

I have often observed with my wife, who is black, that people of color (POC) don't often report UFOs. Hard to say why that is, but it seems to be true. But there are exceptions. My wife's dad once had a very strange encounter that he believes involved a UFO. And one of the most intriguing cases I ever investigated for MUFON was reported by a black man. He, too, was aware that POC don't often file UFO reports. It was a Close Encounter of the Third Kind, and I would have loved to have researched the hell out of it, but the sighting had taken place several years earlier, and the witness' wife would not consent to an interview; she just wanted to forget that the freaky occurrence had ever happened (Historic cases are tricky to begin with, because so much time has passed since the occurrence, but if one of two witnesses doesn't want to talk about it, you're basically left with nothing but one person's story to "investigate")

I don't like to think about what would have happened had John Ventre ever interviewed my father-in-law, or the gentleman who reported the Close Encounter of the Third Kind. I don't think those conversations would have gone well, and two fascinating reports would never have seen the light of day. Can we afford that?

Hint: No.

And then there's this: What the hell does John Ventre think of Barney & Betty Hill, the celebrated UFO abductees who happened to be a bi-racial married couple? Imagine what would have happened if Ventre, or someone like him, had been the first person to contact the Hills...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Mystery of the UFO at the Cabin

There's nothing worse than knowing that you have some really important information in your research notes and not being able to find them.

I was recently chatting with Paul Hynek, the second-youngest of Dr. J. Allen Hynek's children, and I mentioned the time his dad saw a UFO while at the family vacation cabin in Ontario, Canada. The story stuck out to me for a couple of reasons: first, I just love the image of Dr. Hynek standing out on his pier on the lake, miles from nowhere, watching a strange light in the sky; second, I love the irony that Dr. Hynek was miles from the nearest telephone when he saw the UFO, so he couldn't call it in to the nearest air base--here's the world's most qualified UFO witness and he's unable to report a sighting because he's in the middle of nowhere!

UFO photo taken by Dr. Hynek through the window of a commercial airliner.
Then Paul surprised me: he told me that he didn't remember his Dad having mentioned this sighting, and when he checked with several of his siblings he found they didn't recall it, either. They all remembered their Dad's sighting from a commercial airline, it seems (see photo), but no one remembers the cabin sighting! I thought that was pretty odd, so I told Paul I would find the reference I had used in the book. Then I quickly discovered that I had no idea where I had found Hynek's description of the cabin UFO! A year and a half after finishing the manuscript of The Close Encounters Man, my mental organization of my mountains of research material has seriously degraded.... Did he mention it in an interview or a speech? Is it in this book or that one? In this file or that one? On this thumb drive or that one?? 

Ugh. My first step was to review The Edge of Reality, co-authored in 1975 by Hynek and Jacques Vallee, as well as Dr. Vallee's published journals. Made sense to me that this was a story Hynek would likely have shared with Vallee at some point, and I did come up with some helpful info. In Volume 2 of Vallee's journal he mentions the following exchange with Hynek:
"I wonder how old you were when you saw your own UFO..." I said in jest.
To my surprise (Hynek) answered me seriously: "I must have been eight years old. It wasn't a saucer, mind you, just something that passed in the sky. I saw it from my doorstep. It made a big impression on me, because of the absence of sound."
So that's three sightings, right? I am not sure how I missed this when I was writing the book!

I also remembered a 1980 radio interview in which Hynek mentions having seen two unidentified objects in his life but doesn't go into any detail. Then a conversation with Hynek's longtime colleague Jennie Zeidman got me a little further. While she didn't remember the cabin sighting specifically, Jennie reminded me that Hynek also mentioned his sightings in the Introduction to his 1972 book, The UFO Experience:

"On two separate occasions in the past 20 years," he wrote, "I have seen an object and light, respectively, that I could not readily explain..." That means these two sightings took place between 1952 and 1972, while the sighting that took place when he was eight was in 1918. That brings us to three UFO sightings in all for Dr. Hynek!

But details about the cabin sighting remain elusive. Over the past week I have re-scanned a whole bunch of my materials and checked in with several of my most trusted UFO historians, and still haven't solved the mystery. Still, two of Hynek's CUFOS colleagues have confirmed that Hynek did report seeing a UFO at the Ontario cabin, so I know I'm on solid ground here.

And I know I've got the goods somewhere in my office... It's just a question of where.

Monday, April 16, 2018

UFOs and the Pulitzer Prize

Well, my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, The Close Encounters Man, did NOT win the Pulitzer Prize for biography. Are you surprised to learn that it had been nominated?

Don't be: I nominated it! Myself!

It' a funny little secret in the literary and journalism worlds that to be in the running for a Pulitzer, either you or your publisher can nominate you. I just found this out last fall, and when I realized that the deadline was only days away, I asked my editor at Dey Street Books what he thought of me entering my book. He thought it was a great idea and a deal was struck: he said that if I paid the entrance fee, he would ship a box of books across Manhattan, from his office to the Pulitzer office at Columbia University! So, that day I got a check for $50 out to the awards office and then settled in for a long wait...
The strangely disc-shaped Pulitzer Prize

Now, you may wonder why I would think that a biography of a scientist and UFO researcher would appeal to the Pulitzer people, and the honest answer is that I really had no idea. It occurred to me that my book was most likely outside the norm of what they usually consider for the Prize. But I thought that maybe, just maybe, their judges would be tired of bios of dead presidents and literary figures, and this could be the year they said, "Let's do something completely different and unexpected and give the Prize to this nifty biography of J. Allen Hynek." This year could have been the year to shake it up. It could have happened.

But it didn't. The winners were announced today, and the top dog in the biography category was Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser, a bio of that "Little House" gal, Laure Ingalls Wilder, who, I am quite sure, never saw a UFO in either the prairie or the big woods. Just to be clear, I have nothing against Mrs. Wilder. Her books have been family favorites in our house for many years, and Nellie Olesen is one of the most compelling villains in literary history, as far as I'm concerned. So, hats off to Ms Fraser for her win.

Still, it's not like nobody's ever written about Laura Ingalls Wilder. And the finalists in the biography category were a bio of Richard Nixon -- like anyone was asking for that -- and a bio of a poet with bi-polar disorder. Aside from William Butler Yeats, a poet who has been described as "brilliant but peculiar," I'm not a big poetry fan, so I have no comment on the poet bio, but I'm pretty sure Hynek's story is way cooler and way, way more positive than Nixon's.

If I wanted to, I could start describing my book as a "Pulitzer Nominee," which some authors and publishers do, but the Pulitzer people frown on that practice, for obvious reasons. You might as well put a "Pulitzer Loser" sticker on the cover of your book.

So, while I'm bummed that I didn't win the big Prize, I take some comfort in knowing that, statistically speaking, at least one of the Pulitzer judges has probably seen a UFO, and that person maybe, just maybe, enjoyed my book and maybe, just maybe, cast his or her vote for The Close Encounters Man.