Friday, October 17, 2014

Paranoiapalooza

Well, it happened again. No sooner had I posted here about being shanghaied by the Bigfoot Contact Movement and then subjected to some very disturbing and NSFW erotic alien art as a result of belonging to the wrong Facebook group at the wrong time, than I get another notice from another Facebook UFO group telling me that I've just missed the "2014 Secret Space Program and Breakaway Civilization Conference"...

Let me repeat that so it has a chance to sink in: 2014... SECRET... SPACE... PROGRAM... AND... BREAKAWAY... CIVILIZATION... CONFERENCE...

Now, that's a title that makes me sit up and pay attention. It's diabolically engineered to appeal to the most paranoid reaches of my lizard brain... Secret Space Program? I knew it! Breakaway Civilization? I knew it! Conference? I knew it!

Once I followed the link to the very slick SSPABCC website I knew this was something extraordinary. It's got deep, deep questions. It's got a beautiful starry background. It's got a Swedish host. He's a guy, though, but still. More than that, it's got absolutely no trace of who built it, who is running it, or why... which is either very fitting or very ironic for such an elaborate and well-crafted monument to paranoia.

All you can do is follow the clues and hope they lead you to some level of understanding... I decided to start with those deep, deep questions on the "Intro" page:
  • Is there a secret space program?
  • Where did the money go?
  • Is the UFO the hidden factor in modern history?
  • Breakaway consciousness (that's not a question! how did it get here? - Ed.)
  • What is really going on out there?
Here are my answers:
  • Yes, and I'm running it!
  • Not to me! Otherwise I'd have my first rocket in space by now!
  • Yes, only the UFO can help us make sense of modern history; it completely explains last week, for instance!
  • That's not a question!
  • Are you kidding? I can't even figure out what's really going on in here, much less out there!
As you can plainly see, this leaves me no better off than when I started. Which, I have concluded, is exactly the point! The SSPABCC is all about deep and profound confusion... The more you think you understand, the less you actually do understand -- black is white, up is down, Coke is Pepsi! -- which makes me extremely grateful that I didn't attend; imagine my confusion if I had been there in person.
This woman got to be a presenter. Why not me?

Here, for example, is the opening paragraph from that same "Intro" page I cited earlier:
Join us as we present a carefully selected group of speakers gathered to ask some serious questions about the “deep state” and what is really happening in the world and beyond. We expose the most powerful invisible mechanisms behind global geopolitical and financial trends.
Did that make one iota of sense to you? And where are the UFOs?

In an effort to get to the bottom of this, I located the "Comments" section of the SSPABCC website and sent the mysterious organizers an email. In it, I said that I would like to be a speaker at next year's conference, because I know a thing or two about secret space programs and breakaway civilizations. I'll report back as soon as I hear from "them."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

UFO Erotica

Facebook... You can't live with it, you can't kill it.

So, what do you do? I just got a very weird email today telling me that someone had added me to his new Facebook group, and I was taken aback by this. I was taken aback because no one asked me if I wanted to join the group, and because the group in question is called... get this:

"Bigfoot Contact Movement"

The group is described thusly:  
"Do we really have to kill a Bigfoot for proof of life? This group will be dedicated to stop the savage ways of thought when dealing with these beings and trying to establish contact in a non-threatening manner. Everybody is welcome to share there Opinions and Research and spread the message and contribute."
Okay, I'll admit that despite my taken-abackness, I think this is great. Really. It's time to stop the violence and bloodshed where Bigfoot hunting is concerned, and get back to a more humane, non-threatening approach of making contact with this hairy biped creature.
Does this creature look violent? Why take chances? I say kill it now.

Now, having said that, before I can really commit I need to know where Bigfoot stands on this. Is the 'Squatch willing to make peaceful contact as well? Is he willing to sign his 'X' to a formal non-aggression pact? Frankly, I think he's a bigger threat to us than we are to him.

I also need to know what's behind this "movement," if a Facebook group with 38 members, at least one of whom is not exactly willing, can be called a "movement." Has there been a history of "savage ways of thought" when dealing with Bigfoot? Are there Bigfoot hunters out there who are really trying to kill the big guy? I haven't been aware of anything. I know the Hendersons were always pretty decent to Harry, even when his hijinx turned their household on its head; that's really all I have to go by...

Anyway, now I'm faced with a interesting decision: do I remain a member of a very silly group that has forcibly shanghaied me as a member? Staying in the group promises all kinds of cheap entertainment, and it's not like I care what people think about my Facebook profile, littered as it's been these past three years with endless, untold UFO geekery. But it's also a matter of principle. I don't like that someone made me join his group without asking me, and furthermore, I don't like anyone thinking that just because I'm in all sorts of weird UFO groups that means I want to be in every weird group Facebook has to offer. I mean, just because someone in one of my UFO Facebook groups posted an article today entitled "The Erotic Art of a Painter Who Claims an Alien Took His Virginity" that doesn't mean I'm ok with people associating me with Bigfoot. I do have my standards.

On the other hand, if I leave the group and someone kills Bigfoot tomorrow, will it be my fault?

Who could live with that on their conscience?




Saturday, October 11, 2014

Arthritic Neanderthal! Part II

I have now written a few posts about "Archeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication," the free NASA eBook about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), and I am pleased to say that I have finally read the "epilogue," and it was worth the wait...

"Mirrors of Our Assumptions -- Lessons from an Arthritic Neanderthal" is a fitting wrap-up to this book, as it illustrates how badly the most well-meaning, scientifically-sound attempt to interpret and understand incomplete information from outside our frame of reference can go. Here's how author Douglas A. Vakoch sets up the problem:

"By the nature of the instrumentation we use to process signals during SETI, we may well be able to detect distinctly artificial signals without being able to extract any information-rich messages within those signals. We could know that extraterrestrials are out there but have no direct way of knowing much about them.

"In a sense, we are faced with challenges akin to those of anthropologists who reconstruct extinct species from fragmentary evidence."

Here's where our arthritic caveman friend enters the story (and as Arthritic Neanderthal is actually reading and commenting on this blog, I hope he'll chime in with his or her thoughts on Vakoch's comments...).
What science gets wrong, Hollywood gets right...

When the remains of Homo neanderthalensis were first discovered in Germany in 1856, the immediate conclusion of the anthropology community was that the hunched-over creature was "uncouth and repellant," "peculiarly ungraceful," and "a thoroughly unattractive fellow." Soon our old friend Neanderthal Man was being portrayed in illustrations in both scientific journals and the popular press as a brutish, stooped, knuckle-dragger, and that pretty much cemented his place in human history: an evolutionary mistake that conveniently died out and made way for our own majestically upright and relatively clean-shaven species.

One problem: the skeleton that was used to create the popular image of Neanderthal Man was from an individual, Vakoch writes, "who just happened to suffer from arthritis." This mistake was actually discovered in 1957 and yet, over 50 years later, most of us have never gotten the memo... The authors who uncovered the lapse went on to state that "...if (Neanderthal man) could be reincarnated and placed in a New York subway -- provided that he were bathed, shaved, and dressed in modern clothing -- it is doubtful whether he would attract any more attention than some of its other denizens"

I'm not sure if that tells us more about Neanderthal Man or the New York City subway system, but it all comes down to the same thing: we need to be careful about making assumptions about extraterrestrials based on incomplete data.

Think of it this way: if a superior alien from an advanced civilization landed on earth and I was the first human it encountered, it would undoubtedly deduce that humans are just like them, but the minute it encountered the rest of you, it would be faced with the crushingly disappointing reality of the situation. It would then just go on back to its home planet and that would be the short history of man's contact with extraterrestrial life...

Conversely, Vakoch points out that if we encounter an alien civilization, "...we should anticipate that this particular observation -- this particular civilization -- is influenced by a panoply of biological, cultural, and historical factors that we will be able to sort out only after many years, if ever."

Vakoch concludes by saying that we must guard against "...imposing our presuppositions on extraterrestrial civilizations," and therefore "making our images of extraterrestrials not so much reflections of their true nature but rather mirrors of our assumptions." 

What does that say, I wonder, about the popular conceptions of aliens as "greys," "reptoids" and "mantises?" I'll have to think on that a while...






Sunday, October 5, 2014

ET: Intergalactic Stalker?

I wrote recently here about "Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication," the fascinating eBook I downloaded from NASA -- for free! The book is a series of papers written by scientists who are interested in both the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI), and it is both an entertaining and a challenging read.

I have finally reached the much-anticipated Epilogue of the book, entitled "Mirrors of Our Assumptions -- Lessons from an Arthritic Neanderthal," but before I read it -- with all due respect to Mr. Neanderthal -- I wanted to toss out some thoughts about the book thus far...

There's so much to consider when one wants to reach out and contact aliens on other worlds... Can we assume that an alien civilization is capable of communicating with us (or would want to communicate with us at all)? Can we assume that physical "laws" are consistent throughout the universe? Should our search be active (in which we send out messages) or passive (in which we simply listen for messages from others)? If we conduct an active search, do we target certain areas of the sky or send out a signal with the widest possible spread? If the human race makes contact with ETI, how do we decide who gets to do the talking? Are the fears of the Disclosure-oids even remotely realistic? Is simply sending a message to ET sufficient, or will we also have to send a message announcing that we are sending a message? Can the Drake Equation lick the Fermi Paradox in a fair fight? Can't we all just memorize the words "Gort, Klaatu Barada Nikto"? And what the hell is the Voynich Manuscript about, anyway?

Several of the authors, to my supreme delight, have made the point that if we are sending out signals to distant alien civilizations, we should take the precaution of not letting them know where we live. Turns out there are stalkers in space... Think about that.

Will first contact be bike this...
...or this??
It's also interesting to have it driven home over and over again that, while people who believe that UFOs are extraterrestrial in origin pretty much have no choice but to believe in ETI as a prerequisite, the opposite is not true: people who believe in ETI do not need to believe that UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin, and they would be pleased us punch if the UFO phenomenon would simply suck it up and crawl back under the rock from whence it came.

With that in mind, I decided to search for the term "UFO" in the text of the NASA book, and what I found was quite sobering... "UFO" comes up exactly three times, and I quote:

"While the SETI program had always suffered from a 'giggle factor' that derived from its association in the popular press with searches for 'little green men' and unidentified flying objects (UFOs), the congressional pressures intensified in 1990," reads the first entry, from Chapter Two: "A Political History of NASA's SETI Program."

"Yet we do not see them, so 'where are they?' Many scientists concluded in the 1970s and 1980s that this argument provided strong empirical evidence that extraterrestrials do not exist--'empirical' because we do not observe them on earth (unless one accepts the evidence for UFOs, which SETI enthusiasts studiously avoid)" reads the second entry, this from Chapter Three: "The Role of Anthropology in SETI; A Historical View."

"In 2004, the NASA Astrophysics Data System listed more than 600 SETI-related articles in refereed journals (Mark Moldwin, 'Why SETI Is Science and UFOlogy Is Not: A Space Science Perspective on Boundaries," Skeptical Inquirer 28, no. 6 [2004]: 40-42," reads the third entry, this one a footnote to Chapter Six: "Learning To Read: Interstellar Message Decipherment from Archeological and Anthropological Perspectives."

Not exactly a big pat on the back from the SETI community, is it? I mean, in a very real sense, we're all on the same side, so it's a little silly that the SETI people feel the need to maintain such a snooty attitude towards the UFO people. It was silly back when SETI pioneer Carl Sagan was ridiculing UFO witnesses on national TV, and it's silly now. Offensive even.

Wouldn't it be great, then, if the first real breakthrough in contact with extraterrestrial intelligence came about from a solitary Certified MUFON Field Investigator -- say, me -- slogging it out in the wilds of Wisconsin, chasing down reports of a daylight disc and coming face to face with an alien entity? A friendly one, I mean? I'd like to see what the SETI folks would be writing their papers about then...




Friday, October 3, 2014

UFO Interview Bombshell!

For all the readers who think they know who I should be interviewing for my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, I have some news.

No, I didn't interview Allen Hendry, although one of you seems to be actively encouraging me to stalk the man, which is getting to be really creepy...

No, the big news is that I recently had the pleasure of interviewing one of Dr. Hynek's children, Paul Hynek, for the book, and it was a fantastic experience. Paul gave me a mountain of wonderful material about his dad's personal and professional lives, and I'm happy to say that I was able to share a few things I've learned about his dad that he didn't know.

We talked for about 90 minutes, and have corresponded a bit since then, so it's going to take me a while to make sense of all the new information and to decide how to use it.

Here are a few highlights:

Paul still owns the astronomy textbook that his father read in 1917, and that is said to have inspired young Josef Allen Hynek to become an astronomer. With Paul's help I was able to look the book up on the Library of Congress' website and flip through the very pages Dr. Hynek had read as a child...

To my surprise, Paul had a lot of vivid memories of the famous Father Gill sighting (illustrated above), a genuine Close Encounter of the Third Kind that took place in Boianai, New Guinea in 1959. He had a chance to meet Father Gill on one occasion, and he said that Gill stood out among all the UFO witnesses he had met as being among the most genuine and believable.

I told Paul about a conversation I had recently peeked in on at a UFO chat forum, in which the central theme was Hynek's alleged craven need to be in the limelight. Some people still really think that Hynek was the ultimate media whore, and I was interested in Paul's take on that. Not surprisingly, he disagreed with that portrayal, saying that while his dad rarely shied away from interviews or media coverage where his UFO work was involved, he never went out chasing publicity. In fact, Paul recalled many times when reporters would call or drop by for an interview and his dad would shoo them away. This all gibes with what my research tells me, and maybe people will actually believe it if it comes from a family member.

So, it's been a very good week for the book, but not such a good week for Allen Hendry lovers. But their day will come.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Arthritic Neanderthal!

Once again, there's some funny business been going on in the comments section, and I feel the need to comment myself.

Let me start with a BIG thank you to Arthritic Neanderthal for chiming in! It's an honor and a pleasure to have you as a reader, AN. Don't be a stranger!

The other commenter making things interesting has chosen to remain anonymous, as is his or her right. This person has taken it upon himself or herself to "recommend" certain people I should interview for my J. Allen Hynek book and to subtly critique my interview selections. This is all good fun, and I do appreciate reader suggestions, but these recent conversations with Anon have been, well, odd...

Anonymous: Any luck contacting (Allen) Hendry?
Me:  None yet, but I haven't been looking too hard lately. The Hynek story becomes very complex when it reaches the CUFOS period, and when the time comes I will be doing extensive research on the parties involved, including Hendry. 

Then on the same day, this...

Anonymous (presumably the same person): Did you interview Ted Phillips for your Hynek book?
Me: Not yet, but I plan to when the time is right.

Followed by this delight...

Anonymous (presumably still the same person): No Hendry and no Phillips... hmmm.
Me: Yes? And your comment is...?
Anonymous: *Crickets*

I'm not going to go into a whole lot of detail about Hendry or Phillips, except to point out that Hendry seems to be a hermit who no longer talks to anyone about UFOs, and Phillips has a very scary website that attacks you relentlessly with virus alerts and pop-up ads -- it's so nasty I'm not even posting the link, because I care so much about you, my readers... So, yeah, those are things I take into consideration when I decide who to interview for my book -- or who not to interview.
I won't settle for the usual suspects. Neither should you.

I'm about to come up on the two-year anniversary of starting this book project, and in two years I've learned that there are two ways to decide who to interview for a book: you can rely on trusted "authorities" to steer you in the direction of who you "should" interview, or you can let your own research and instincts guide you. Two years ago I leaned more towards the former, mostly out of ignorance and necessity, but now, two years in, I'm much more liable to go with the latter.

The last time I attempted to interview someone who was recommended to me by an expert, it was a complete waste of time. I knew 90 seconds into the talk that this person had absolutely nothing of value to tell me about Dr. Hynek, and when he finally wound up his lecture 45 minutes later I hadn't taken down a single note. It was that worthless. Strangely illuminating and entertaining, yes, but of no value whatsoever for my book.

Letting my research and instincts guide me, however, has been amazingly effective, especially over the past six months or so. I've gotten some truly unique material about Hynek's life and work, and the bottom line is that it's way more fun and satisfying to dig up your own interview subjects, or to come across them by sheer dumb luck, than it is to have them suggested to you. Or pushed on you, as the case may be. I'm looking at you, Anonymous.

Besides, if I wasn't going to look for new and unexpected people to interview -- people who have new and unexpected stories to tell about Hynek's life -- there wouldn't be much point in writing the book. I want my book to tell stories and consider opinions that no one has ever heard before, and for that I have to bring as many new voices into the book as I can. And I am happy to say that this strategy is succeeding beyond my wildest dreams...

This doesn't mean there won't be familiar old voices in the book. It just means that, any chance I get, I'll be challenging the conventional wisdom that those old voices so often represent. At the same time, I have to admit that those old voices can sometimes surprise the hell out of you with some totally off-the-wall insights, as I have now discovered on more than one occasion.

So, Anonymous, I repeat my invitation to reveal to the world why you are so concerned that Hendry and Phillips be represented in my book. In the meantime, trust me when I say that my interview choices will be sound. In fact, in the "beyond my wildest dreams" department, I've just lined up an interview that is a pretty incredible coup, in my humble IMHO... with someone deep, deep within the Hynek camp whom I believe has never ever been interviewed on this subject ever before.

Stay tuned for more fun...

Oh, and if it turns out there actually are three of you Anonymous-es out there posting comments, my apologies! You all look the same to me! But, hey, you are really good at coordinating your efforts.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

UFOs & Couples

How many witnesses is the ideal number of witnesses in a UFO sighting? One? Two? Five?

Back in 1952, in an address to the American Optical Society, Dr. J. Allen Hynek declared that the ideal UFO sighting was:
  • one that had not yet been explained; 
  • one with more than one witness, at least one of whom was a trained, practiced observer; 
  • and one that lasted more than one minute. 
All well and good, but in the case of the "more than one witness" thing, it better be more than two, and they better be complete strangers..

Why do I say this? Because the famed Ballester-Guasp "Report Evaluator" (or the BGE, as we pros call it) that my bosses at MUFON use for determining the "Strangeness Index" for a UFO sighting gets a little weird where two witnesses are concerned. For instance, under the category "Familial/Social Relationship between witnesses," your choices are 1) Unknown, 2) Professional/Co-workers, 3) Friends, 4) No Relationship, and 5) Family or Single Witness.

Get that? If you have 53 UFO witnesses, that's a lot of witnesses. But if they're all related, they count as one witness on the BGE. Thank God I have never had to investigate a case that took place at a family reunion...

Further down the Evaluation form, the category titled "Geographical Relationship at time of sighting" you have these choices: 1) Unknown, 2) Together/Single Witness, and 3) Independent/Separate. So this time your 53 witnesses aren't family members, so they count separately, which is great! Unless they're all "Together," say, attending a UFO conference, in which case, once again, they become a single witness.

Very strange.

This has become an issue over the past few months as I've investigated a rash of UFO sightings in my small town in southern Wisconsin. We have been in the middle of a genuine UFO flap all summer long, and every time a new case has been reported to MUFON, I'm the guy who gets the case.

Here's the weird thing. All four of the sightings I've investigated here in my town have had odd similarities. Not enough to qualify as a pattern, not enough to creep me out, but enough to have me scratching my head a lot...

First of all, the four cases all involved married couples as witnesses, so you know right away that the BGE is going to make them all single-witnesses cases, which is stupid. But then there's this: in all four cases, the witnesses observed fairly similar objects at about the same time at night that all appeared at approximately the same altitude and distance, and all behaved in remarkably similar fashion. In two of the cases, the witnesses reached a point when they "freaked out" and thought the objects were watching them. In all of the cases, the objects were discovered in essentially the same manner and all disappeared from view not so much by flying away but by more or less fading out of the witnesses' awareness.

Then it gets weirder: In three out of the four cases, the husband worked in the IT field and the wife was a licensed or certified healthcare professional. How the hell do you explain that? There's no setting for that on the BGE. Believe me, I checked.

There's a great old saying that I'm sure was said by someone very wise but that I remember from the James Bond novel "Goldfinger." When the secret agent and the super criminal cross paths for the third time, Goldfinger declares that: "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action."

If three times is enemy action, what is four times?
Is that what's going on here? Is there some kind of enemy action taking place? Does it, like so many things in life, revolve around me?

I for one, would like to find out. My problem is, I have no way of doing so. As I pointed out earlier, the Ballester-Guasp Report Evaluator doesn't come close to helping me with this, and in fact makes the situation harder for me to deal with because it arbitrarily cuts my witness pool in half!

This is serious. What I'm confronting is the fact that there really are no evaluation tools available to the UFO investigator that can adequately address the manifold weirdness of the phenomenon. The BGE is held up to be the ultimate strange-o-meter, but it simply can't explain what I've been encountering this summer... There must be an answer: either I need to invent an expansive new evaluation tool or come up with a way of investigating a UFO sighting that just accepts as default that the weirdness factor is going to be off the charts all the time, every time. I'll let you know what I decide...