High Strangeness: UFOs Over Earth!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

UFOs Over Earth!

Today I was supposed to be writing about my interview with MUFON Field Investigator #3xxxx, but he had to postpone our appointment until later this week. There will be a lot to write about then, but in the meantime, I need filler.

When I joined MUFON this summer, I was impressed by the organization's mission. “The Scientific Study of UFOs for the Benefit of Humanity” seemed like a noble goal, an effort in which I would be happy to take part. I got the distinct impression that MUFON was all about proving to the world that people who see UFOs are not frauds or wack jobs.

Then a few weeks ago I caught a few episodes of "UFOs Over Earth," a 2008 Discovery Channel series about MUFON Field Investigators, and I got a much different perspective on the organization's objectives. Going by the TV show, the mission of MUFON seems to be: "Let's expose the frauds and wack jobs ourselves so we'll look serious and credible." As a mission statement, I'm not sure if this is sustainable... 

The episode that most troubled me had the MUFON gang traveling to Mexico to investigate some sightings that had recently been making headlines. The narrator tells us that in Mexico it is much more commonplace than it is in the U.S. for people to see UFOs and to report their sightings, and in fact, there seems to be a boatload of unexplained phenomenon in the sky over Mexico on any given night; all you have to do is step outside and look up, and there will be a UFO waiting for you to see it. Why this is so is never explained. Wouldn't you think the producers of the show might have given a few moments to mulling that over? Why do more people in Mexico see and report UFOs? I want to know, but MUFON doesn't seem to think it's important.

Turns out, there is a popular TV show in Mexico in which an affable, elderly host discusses UFO sightings reported by people from all over the country, often accompanied by spectacular photographs. The MUFON gang went straight to this guy's TV studio and said, "Show us your most amazing unexplained sightings."

First, the MUFON team met a young man who had taken five spectacular photos of a gigantic circular chrome object that had recently hovered over his neighborhood in Mexico City for two minutes. At first, the MUFON gang thought this was "The Big One," and so did I. The photos showed an object that seemed to be huge and massive and solid... You could see the roofs of buildings and the tops of fences in the photos, and the landscape seemed to be reflected in the chrome belly of the UFO.

But there were problems with the second photo. It showed the same craft from a greater distance and at a higher altitude, and when the MUFON photo analyst pixilated the image, he found traces of a rectangular shape surrounding the UFO, as if it had been clipped from another image and pasted onto the photo. Not only that, the different photos had time stamps showing that they had been taken hours apart, not within the reported two-minute time span. It didn't look good for the young man with the camera. He was unable to explain the time stamp discrepancy or the rectangular shape in the photo, and so the MUFON team decided he was a hoaxster.

But there was conflicting evidence. I admit, I doubted the kid for one simple reason: he said he watched a huge chrome flying saucer hover over his neighborhood for two minutes and he only took five photos. Five? Five? If it had been me, I would have taken about 15,000 shots. But the kid insisted that his phone battery was dying, which is entirely credible, and the TV host's own photographic expert disagreed with the MUFON photo analyst about the pixilated rectangle.

In this case I have to say I agreed with the MUFON gang that were questions about the photos, but I couldn't completely dismiss the kid as a hoaxster. And, man, was it sad to see the three knowledgeable Americanos calling the Mexican kid a liar and the Mexican TV host a gullible fool.

Undeterred, the TV host took the increasingly annoying MUFON team to investigate the real "The Big One." This case involved an entire village that had seen -- and videotaped -- a glowing white light in the sky in the nearby mountains for several nights in a row, while night after night the electric power in the village would blink out. 

The team quickly sank its collective teeth into this one, interviewing all the villagers and accumulating a massive body of testimony that seemed impossible to dismiss. And yet they did.

First the MUFON special effects wizard composed a computer animation of what he thought the glowing light might have looked like over the mountains. The villagers all thought the computer animation looked really cool, but it didn't look anything like what they had actually seen. So I'm not sure what the point of that was, especially since there already was video of the incident, but it kept the special effects guy busy.

But things were looking good. The TV host was rebounding, the villagers were happy and excited, the MUFON gang was all set to take this case to the UN... then the whole thing went UFO shaped.

Someone noticed that there were lots of powerlines in those mountains outside the village... and wasn't there an electrical transformer in just about the spot where the floating light was sighted? What if the floating light was actually an electric transformer on a pole burning itself out? That would certainly explain the power in the village blinking out whenever the floating light was sighted.

So of course the MUFON Field Investigators contacted the local electric power utility and asked if they had any transformers burn out on the nights in question, resulting in power losses to the area. Oh, no, that's right: they didn't do that at all. What they actually did was send one of the team members -- I can't remember what he did on the team; he wasn't the cerebral mastermind or the zany photo expert or the quiet special effects guy, so he must have been Sleepy or Sneezy -- to Los Angeles with some of the eye-witness video. Sleepy took the video to a retired guy in LA who used to work for some power company. The retired guy watched the glowing light on the video and said something like, "Yes, that is unmistakeably a Model 27P/46 transformer burning itself out.... over the course of several nights."

And that was that. This was not "The Big One" after all. The entire village had been fooled by the old electric transformer burning itself out ploy, and the MUFON gang once again had to give the TV host the sad news that he is, in fact, a gullible old fool. Even if I could get past the cultural snobbery of the Americanos from MUFON treating pretty much the entire population of Mexico as though they were idiots or liars or both, I just can't agree with their methods or their conclusions. Why would you not contact the local utility and ask about a burned-out transformer in the area, if that's your operating theory? Why would you not drive over to the spot where the light was seen to see if there is, in fact, an electrical pole with a transformer on it at that exact spot?

Most of all, why would you be so dismissive of the TV host's insistence that the human element is at least as important, if not moreso, than any "scientific" analysis that the MUFON gang can conduct? In both cases, the TV host admitted that, yes, there were serious questions about the physical evidence of the sightings, but because he found the witnesses to be so sincere and so credible, he could not dismiss their testimony. By the end of the show, I was in complete agreement with the TV host, and couldn't wait for the MUFON gang to clear out.

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