High Strangeness: March 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013

UFO, CIA, NSA?

I have in the past written about the amazing book "UFOs and Government," an amazing history of the government's involvement with the UFO phenomenon. It's been a tremendous help to me as I research my book about Dr. J. Allen Hynek, and this past week I got the chance to meet one of the contributing authors, Richard Thieme.

Richard was giving talk on the new book at a local library the other night, and he and his wife were kind enough to meet me for a quick bite to eat before heading to the library. We had a great talk about our mutual interests, and I quickly realized what an interesting guy he is.

First of all, because the book, "UFOs and Government" is so dry and factual, I expected Richard to be a pretty dry, no-nonsense guy. But I was wrong. He's serious about UFO research, but he's also very funny and frank and even playful when he talks about UFOs, which I liked very much.

And he's an author. He writes science fiction and a whole lot more, and you can find it all at his website, www.thiemeworks.com

Then there's the amazing story of his career trajectory: Episcopal priest... writer/lecturer on the effects of technology on spirituality and society... consultant on cybersecurity issues to the CIA and NSA... UFO historian. Makes sense, right? I didn't think so, either, but somehow, with Richard, it works.

Read "UFOs and Government" and learn all about our captured flying discs. Or not.
After we ate and talked, I followed him and his wife over to the library for the talk. The librarians were ecstatic; Richard brought in the biggest crowd they had ever had for one of their evenings talks. It must have been close to 100 people, which was impressive--turns out that even in an affluent suburban area there are a lot of people interested in UFOs. And Richard had them all in the palm of his hand.

It was a great talk, and he covered a wide variety of topics, although the main thrust of his presentation was about the book, how it came about and why he thinks it's an important read for anyone interested in UFOs (which it is).

My favorite story of the night had nothing to do with the book, however. When he gave his bio, he talked about how he was interested in UFOs all his life, but didn't become serious about studying them until he was a priest. This came about when he was assigned to his first congregation, in a small town in Utah just outside of a large U.S. Air Force base. A member of the congregation who worked closely with Richard in running the church was a retired Air Force officer who had served at the local base for many years. One time in 1977 Richard was talking to this guy about the new movie they had both recently seen, called "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and Richard made a comment that it was crazy to think that there are unidentified things flying around in our airspace and the Air Force can't catch them... His friend grew very serious and said, "Oh, these things are flying around up there... And we can't catch them."

And that's how a priest becomes a UFO hunter.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

O, What a Tangled Web We Weave

I started the say today with a lot of questions about the UFO sighting report that I got involved in last week:

Would my State Director seriously make me try to get my hands on the oil filter and old motor oil from the witness' dad's SUV? Would the witness' grandmother agree to share a copy of the mysterious letter she's been hanging onto since 1952, describing a captured flying saucer and dead aliens at a US Air Force Base? Would some Canadian "news of the weird" website post the original UFO sighting report online and turn the whole affair into a three-ring circus?

The answers, in order, are: Yes; Yes; and Oui.

So, while it's good to get those questions answered, it's not good that this whole affair has now become so confused and treacherous... And believe me, it has become treacherous. It's become a minefield of synchronicity and cause-and-effect anomalies that has had my head spinning all day....

Let's start with the first bombshell of the day, shall we? First thing this morning, I get an email from my friend Mxxx, who is the director of Dr. J. Allen Hynek's Center for UFO Studies, or CUFOS (where I've been doing the lion's share of my research for the book about Dr. Hynek). Mxxx has just seen a report of a Wisconsin UFO case on a Canadian website called Who Forted? and he wants me to look into it for him because the case involved the vehicle's dash lights flickering, and Mxxx has spent a lot of time researching cases where UFOs have had physical effects on cars. This was a bombshell because he had no idea I was already investigating that very case!

So I wrote back to him and arranged to call him later to tell him about my case report. Then the second bombshell hit: the witness' dad wrote to me to say that his mother had decided it was ok to send me a scan of the 1952 UFO letter, on the condition that I not copy it or reprint it anywhere. The bad part of that is I agreed to the mother's terms and so I can't tell you anything that's in the letter, but it turns out it's not actually all that bad after all, which I will get to later.

Then comes bombshell #3: My State MUFON Director seriously wants me to get the oil changed on the witness' dad's SUV. This guy has already shared the vehicle's VIN with us, so that we can examine an identical SUV and see if it displays the same magnetic anomaly that I found in the first vehicle. But now he seems to think enough's enough, and he no longer wants his SUV to be part of the greatest discovery in human history. So that could be a problem for me down the line, and I'm really not sure what to do about it.
Shocking fact: a UFO that can go undetected on the world's most sophisticated radar can be revealed by magnetic anomalies in used engine oil. It's always the little things...
Okay, so... Normally I would draw the line at three bombshells per post, but today has been a very strange day so I find I must smash my own preconceptions and add more: When I talked to Mxxx at CUFOS this afternoon, I gave him the details of the UFO case report, which he thought was interesting, if not spectacular. But then I started to tell him about the letter from 1952 that described the flying saucers and the aliens and the magnets and the teeth, and it was really hard because I'm not supposed to share it with anyone but I had to share it with Mxxx, don't you see? Because he knows this stuff, and if anyone's going to be able to tell me if this is something worth investigating, it's him.

So, I started to give him the narrative in carefully selected bits and pieces, because I'm really not supposed to tell him anything, and he stops me and says, "Holy cow, I think I've read this very same thing in a book!" So he goes and grabs a book from the CUFOS archives, and starts reading a passage that is almost verbatim what is written in this mystery letter that's been lost in this woman's attic in Wisconsin since 1952!

The book is called Behind the Flying Saucers, written in 1950 by a guy named Frank Scully, and if I have to tell you how weird that is you should just stop reading right now, because the rest of this will be lost on you. Anyway, aside from the astounding facts that A) Mxxx recognized the passage from an obscure book written in 1950 and B) just happened to have that book at his fingertips, it's pretty stunning that this book actually does describe almost the exact events in this letter written two years later, and in virtually the same language!

Mxxx and I then tried to figure out how this strange coincidence could have occurred, and Mxxx, brainiac that he is, quickly narrowed it down to four possibilities. Have I mentioned that he's a statistical analyst? That gives him a slight edge in this whole figuring-things-out business.

Anyway, here are Mxxx's four possibilities:
  1. The person who wrote the letter had read Scully's book and was pulling the leg of the person he was writing to.
  2. A friend of the person who wrote the letter had read Scully's book and hoaxed the writer, who then repeated the story as if it were true.
  3. The person who wrote the letter had been subjected to a strange psychological study by the Air Force, in which he was shown either real evidence of an alien landing or fake evidence of an alien landing, or a combination of real and fake evidence, to sow confusion in his mind and in the minds of the American public about whether UFOs were real or not. The fact that he was allowed to write and send the letter could indicate that this is exactly what the Air Force was hoping to accomplish. And here it is, 60 years later, still messing with people's minds, so bravo, Air Force!
  4. Everything that the writer described in the letter was true.
Mxxx felt pretty strongly that #4 was the least likely possibility, which is disappointing, but I understand his reasoning. In the end, we both felt that #3 was the most likely, and the most compelling, and, to be frank, the creepiest.

And, damn, if it is #3, there must be a hell of a lot more to the story... Stay tuned, folks.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Aliens Are Nice People

I was thinking today how cool it is that I keep meeting such nice people in the UFO biz. It came about today because I had to call the police in the town of Sxxxxx as part of my current UFO sighting investigation. I needed to find out if the police had gotten any reports from people about odd things in the sky on the night of the sighting I was investigating, and to be honest, I felt a little silly telling the officer why I was calling.

There was no reason to feel silly, because the officer took me very seriously and seemed genuinely happy to help. He was out on patrol when I called, but promised to check the log book when he got back to the station and call me. Sure enough, an hour later he called to say that there were no reports of unusual things in the sky this past week, but he added that I should call him again any time I needed help.

So why did I feel silly? I've been doing this UFO Field Investigation thing for almost a year now, and I still hesitate to tell people that I'm a MUFON Certified UFO Field Investigator, because to be honest I'm a little embarrassed by the whole thing. I'm always afraid I'm going to get a derisive laugh and be labeled a kook.

But I never do. That's what this case has reminded me of. Last night when I talked with the witness' parents and then again this morning when I talked with the police officer, I was surprised to find that they were all very interested in my work and wanted to know more about me, MUFON and UFOs in general.
Are aliens nice people? Could Hollywood have gotten it all wrong?
There are more people out there who are curious about UFOs than you may think, and that's probably because there are more people out there who have seen UFOs--or have a close friend or relative who has seen a UFO--than you may think. And they're all unfailingly nice people. That's been the best part of this whole gig.

And all of this makes me wonder if the aliens--if and when I ever meet them--will be just as nice. I think they will be. If they exist. And if I meet them.

Friday, March 22, 2013

UFO Surprise!

A few days ago I blogged about my newest MUFON investigation assignment, and I'm happy to day that as of today I have positive results! I think I can even safely say that my results far surpassed my expectations...

I interviewed the witness over the phone earlier today and he told me a very short, succinct story: three nights ago he had been driving west down a two-lane country highway at about midnight. He was passing the outskirts of the small town of Dxxxxxx, so he had slowed to about 40 miles an hour. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something luminescent moving off to the south side of the highway. Being a Wisconsin driver, he assumed it was a deer with a death wish, and that that the luminescence was the reflection of his headlights in the deer's eyes.

But this was no ordinary deer. In fact, it wasn't a deer at all. In fact, it wasn't ordinary at all. It was a glowing thing that floated or hovered a few feet off the ground as it flashed across the highway in front of the witness' car. In that moment he saw that it was cylindrical, and about five feet long by two feet wide. In streaked past the his car and in five seconds disappeared into the woods on the north side of the highway.

There was one other thing: as the whatsis flashed past the front of his car, the car's dash lights flickered on and off a couple times, but the headlights were not affected...

He told me that the car would be available for inspection tonight, so I decided to drive the 30 miles to take a look-see. It just so happened that my route took me right past Paradise Road, a lonely, narrow, twisty little country road that has the distinction of being the creepiest road in our county. They say that if you park along Paradise Road at night, you can hear strange whispers coming from the woods...

I tend to believe the stories, for I have already had a strange experience on Paradise Road... A month ago, the day after one of our fierce winter storms, I took my wife for a drive on Paradise, and it was terrifying. There weren't voices; there was thick snow and ice, so slippery that my 4WD wagon nearly slid off into the ditch about a dozen times. It was then that we realized the truth: the county road guys are too scared to plow Paradise Road! Then we realized an even worse truth: if we skid into the ditch, no tow truck driver in the county will come out to rescue us!

We made it home, somehow, but we're scarred. So it was an act of pure bravery for me to venture down this horrible highway again. This time the road was clear, the sun was still out, and I was able to get a better look at the scenery. It's just a county highway, sure, but if you open your senses you can feel something...weird, and whispery.
The eerie sun through the eerie trees in the eerie woods along an eerie road... This is one Paradise that Eddie Money would not want two tickets to. Or one, even.
And now the story is about to get even eerier, if you can believe it.

I get to the witness' house and talk to his mom and dad, and they are very gracious and, like most lay people, they are curious to know more about my work as a Certified UFO Field Investigator. I explain to them only what I think their simple minds can absorb, and then the dad starts telling me a confusing story about an old letter that his mom wants him to show me... Uh... what?

Dad starts waving around an ancient US Postal Service Air Mail envelope and pulls out a ten page letter written to his mom in 1952 by a close friend of hers who happened to be an airline pilot. The letter describes how he had recently flown to an Air Force base where he had seen flying saucers and alien bodies. Dead alien bodies. Damn. I give the letter a quick look and it sure as hell seems legit. The dad says this letter has been a bit of a family legend, but that his mom had re-discovered it during a recent housecleaning, and gave it to him as proof that it had really happened.... I asked the dad to scan it and send me a copy, and as soon as he does I'll write about it here.

Anyway, so I'm still all dizzy from the dead alien letter when the dad leads me out to the driveway to where the car is parked. I walk around the car with my compass and everything looks kosher.... until I reach the driver's door. Suddenly the compass needle jumps 30 degrees west and points directly at the door. I try it again: same results. A third time: same results, only this time the dad was watching and saw it himself.

So, there is something in this car.... something weird and magnetic and possibly alive and possibly also atomic. It could be dwelling in the oil filter, or possibly one of the door pockets. My State Director just called and she wants me to go back and do the full FBI on this vehicle ASAP.

Oh, and she also wants me to be to Chief Investigator for the state of Wisconsin. Lord, what have I gotten myself into?


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Close Encounter Kid

I'm in for it now. Today I was assigned a new UFO investigation that may require me to more or less impound a car, get its oil changed, and sprinkle something called magna powder on a sheet of glass in the car's vicinity.

You might think this is all in a day's work for a Certified UFO Field Investigator, but it's actually pretty unusual to have to get a witness' car's oil changed. In fact, this is the first time it's come up. Oh, I've had witness' cars' tires rotated and done the odd valve job, but getting the oil changed is new. And the magna powder thing, believe it or not, came clear out of left field.

What's the reason for all this car care, aside from the fact that it's always a good idea to change your oil regularly? Well, my new case involves a low-level fly-by with physical effects to the witness' car. The witness saw a strange lighted object, about the size of a refrigerator, floating in the sky in a field alongside the highway he was driving down. He stopped to look; the object flew over his car and made the lights flicker... The low-level fly-by makes it a Close Encounter of the First Kind, by the way, and the physical effects on the car make it a Close Encounter of the Second Kind, so I'm kind of becoming the Close Encounter Kid, or, as my wife calls me, the Interstellar Columbo.
For the record, Columbo never investigated a UFO sighting, but he did investigate a murder once in which Robby the Robot was part of the killer's alibi. Awesome alibi, but Columbo still caught the killer.
I'm not sure yet when the investigation will happen, but when it does I am to take a compass along, and test the car for magnetic disturbances. That means I have to find my compass.

IF there are signs of magnetic disturbance, it starts to get tricky. That's when I am to sprinkle some magna powder on a sheet of glass to see what it does. I don't recall anything about this in my Certified UFO Field Investigator training; in fact, I just looked magna powder up in the training manual and it's not mentioned at all. So that's a bit of an issue.

I asked Vxxxx, my State Director, about the mystery substance, and here's what she wrote back to me today:

"Fletcher (he of the national S.T.A.R. Team) suggested that a police uniform shop might carry magna powder.  Sometimes you have to buy a whole kit but it's more likely in this kind of store that you could buy just the black magna powder and a brush.  You aren't going to brush the powder on to the glass but twirl the brush 3-4 inches from the glass - which could rest on top of the hood/roof...then take a picture.  Here are some stores you could call:  Of course there is no need to go through all of this unless you can pick up magnetic effects.  If you do find them, however, we're going to want to either have you do an oil/filter change on the car  or take it in some place.  You'll need a sterile jar (baby food or ?) to catch a small amount of oil in and something to put the oil filter in - like a clean paint type can you can find at Home Depot where you can also pick up a piece of glass.  Chuck thinks 8.5 x 11 for the glass would be big enough if you've honed in on an area.  I'll reimburse you for any costs incurred."

Does the description of what to do with the magna powder make sense to you? It doesn't to me. I've read it and reread it and I have no idea what I would be watching for to take a picture of... Also, is there such a thing as a "police uniform shop?" And if there is, wouldn't they not be allowed to sell me anything? Especially anything potentially dangerous? And exactly what part of a police uniform consists of magna powder? I also wonder about getting some oil into a sterile container, like a baby food jar. The only place I've ever put motor oil straight out of a crankcase is a metal or plastic drain pan and then an old plastic milk jug. The idea of trying to get hot, runny oil into a little glass jar from underneath a car does not appeal, and I'm at a loss as to how it will tell us anything about the UFO sighting.

Still, I have to do it. Because if I don't do it and this guy takes his car to Jiffy Lube and some Jiffy Lube grunt ends up finding incontrovertible evidence in the oil filter that UFOs are interstellar vehicles, I will kick myself. Good and hard.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Strange Markings

Things have been pretty slow in the UFO investigation business lately. But, having just been assigned my first new case in three months, I thought it would be a good idea to look in on what's been going on with my fellow Certified UFO Field Investigators at the Mutual UFO Network...

So it was that, while catching up on recent issues of the MUFON Journal, I came across an article with the intriguing title, "Abduction Study Complete." When I saw that the article was written by Kathleen Marden, niece of celebrated UFO abductees Barney & Betty Hill, I decided it was definitely worth a look.

A while back, Marden and a MUFON colleague un-ironically named Stoner decided to study the reports of UFO abduction "experiencers" to see if there were any patterns or commonalities among them. Aside, of course, from the obvious commonality that they've all been abducted by freaking aliens, which I was able to deduce without studying anything at all. Anyway, to conduct their little study, Marden & Stoner invited abduction experiencers (AEs) and non-abduction non-experiencers (NAEs) to fill out some surveys on their websites. All good so far.

They asked the AEs and NAEs alike about things like: How many times have you been taken? Did you have conscious recollection of being taken? Were non-human entities present? Are you a happy person?

Here's what they learned:
  • Twice as many AEs are female as are male.
  • Most AEs are in their 50s (NOTE: I am 52!) (But I am a guy) (whew!).
  • Over half of AEs have been experienced at least 10 times.
  • Most AEs had conscious recall of the event, most were within 1,000 feet of an alien craft, most encountered non-human entities, and most recalled being examined onboard an alien craft.
  • Most AEs were happy people, although most reported having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.
  • 53% of AEs believe they can feel an implanted device inside their body, while 83% awoke after their experience to find strange markings on their bodies. And in this context, "strange" really means something.
  • 79% of AEs said that they developed new psychic abilities after their experience.
There's a lot more, and it's all pretty interesting, but my favorite finding, the one that excites me most, is this one: 68% of AEs reported that, after their experience, lights, TVs, radios and other electrical devices malfunctioned in their presence. Shit just turns itself off when one of those 68% of abduction experiencers walks into the room. They're like human Clappers.
The Clapper: alien tech?
This has given me an idea. When I'm done watching TV, it takes forever for me to find the remotes for the TV, the cable box, the surround sound system, the Blu-ray player, and then shut everything off for the night... If I had one of those 68 out of a 100 abduction experiencers in the family, I'd be living on easy street. I could just call them into the living room, watch all the electronics shut off, and then tell my personal AE that it was all a mistake and they can go back to doing whatever they were doing when I called.

Sadly, Marden and Stoner did not think to ask those AEs if their electric device turning-off abilities had had a positive effect on their lives. That would be worth studying.




Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Secret Life of UFOs

Yesterday one of my UFO research contacts sent me a link to a very interesting article that has given me a lot to think about... The article is called "The Secret Life of J. Allen Hynek." Which is not the same as the secret life of UFOs. So I lied. The fact is, I tend to get way more pageviews when I use the term "UFO" in the title of a post, so there you go. Be thankful I didn't title it "UFO, UFO, UFO."

Back to business: The article appears in the latest issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, the official publication of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which sounds like the most depressing group in the world. Basically, you only get to be part of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry if you don't believe in anything. When these people were kids and Peter Pan begged them to clap so that Tinkerbell would live, they sat on their hands. They would have let Tink die.

Their publication, the Skeptical Inquirer, is essentially the anti-matter version of the National Enquirer. National Enquirer runs a headline about the Bat Boy; Skeptical Enquirer runs a headline saying "Can't be!"

So what was the secret life of J. Allen Hynek? Aside from being one of the world's foremost experts on UFOs, the world knew him as an accomplished astronomer and longtime director of the astronomy department at Northwestern University. But that's not all...

He was also interested in... The occult! The paranormal!! Parallel dimensions!!!

This is the big scoop in the article, and the writer uses Hynek's interest in strange pseudoscience as some sort of evidence of intellectual fraud. How can anyone take Hynek's call for a serious, scientific study of UFOs seriously, the writer asks, if the guy was secretly reading about psychic phenomenon?
Wouldn't it be cool if you could just know when someone else was thinking about ESP?
I think he's off base. Hynek was always interested in finding the limits to science... He knew that science could explain a great deal about our universe, but it couldn't explain everything. And so it was worth his while to consider any fringy science that held out at least the possibility of letting us peek around the corners of our reality and see what else was out there. And in the later years of his life he considered that the UFO phenomenon was just as likely to be a psychological phenomenon as a physical phenomenon. I don't see that as inconsistent at all. I see it as the logical byproduct of an inquisitive mind.

And then there's this: CERN scientists eye parallel universe breakthrough. Yeah, that would be the same CERN that just discovered the Higgs boson.

Take that, Skeptical Inquirer!

Here's the thing, though: the article was great! It was very well-researched and tightly written and very enjoyable to read. I don't agree with all the author's points, but I respect the way he made his case. I wrote to him to compliment him, and I hope to hear back. I think he would be a good guy to be talking with as I move ahead with the Hynek book.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

CE4K!

I've always been pretty much ok with the fact that there are three types of "Close Encounters" one can have with a UFO. To review, a Close Encounter of the First Kind involves seeing a UFO within a distance of 500 feet. A Close Encounter of the Second Kind is just like a CE1K, with the addition of physical evidence left behind by the UFO, like scorch marks on the ground, mutilated cattle, radioactivity, etc. A Close Encounter of the Third Kind is like a CE2K, with the addition of UFO occupants, like this little fella here:

It's a Close Encounter, all right, but which Kind? 3rd? 4th? 5th? 8th?? No, definitely not 8th.
This system has always covered all the UFO encounters I regularly investigate and/or experience myself, so it came as a surprise to me that someone had come up with a Close Encounter of the Fourth Kind and then one of the Fifth Kind! And, I just checked wikipedia and they are up to Eight Kinds of Close Encounters!

Enough!

Do we really need eight Kinds of Close Encounters? Let's look at the facts, as we Certified UFO Field Investigators are fond of saying: A CE4K, they tell me, involves an alien abduction. A CE5K involves a human having a bilaterally-intentional interaction with a UFO occupant, otherwise known as hanging out in a flying saucer. A CE6K results in the human witness' injury or death, which often happens to people who are stupid enough to hang out in a flying saucer. A CE7K involves human-alien breeding, resulting in the creation of a hybrid being. A CE8K also involves human-alien breeding, but in this case both the human and the alien are really hot, and you would so want to be the human.

Myself, I'd happily stick to the original three, but suddenly I find that I can't. I've just been assigned a new UFO sighting to investigate, and my MUFON State Director thinks it might be a CE4K! Of course, that's what she thought about the last case she assigned to me, and that didn't go anywhere.

Here's the case, in a nutshell: Way back in September, 1997 a guy was driving home from work late at night on a deserted country road. As he neared his neighbor's farm, he saw a huge black triangular object hovering just below the tops of the trees behind the farmhouse. It had bright colored lights on each corner, and made no sound. The witness parked and got out of his car, then immediately got back in his car, terrified, as the object flew overhead and then disappeared out over a cornfield.

He says the sighting has haunted him since then and he finally decided he had to tell someone. He also adds this chilling note that I feel obliged to share with you, because it could make a difference in your life someday: "People always say they want to see a UFO up close like I did," he says. "NO YOU DON'T. It's not cool, it's scary as hell, it's not how you imagine it, trust me."

I still don't know where the CE4K abduction thing comes in, but I'll find out. I'm an Investigator, and that's what I do.


Spock: Teenage Outcast

I'm going to take a short break from writing about UFOs to write about something that's a little bit different. This morning I received a tweet on my phone from Huffington Post that simply said: "Another Reason to love Spock and "Star Trek."

I can always use another reason to love Spock and Star Trek, so I clicked and found this story on the quite brilliant blog, "My Star Trek Scrapbook" about a 1968 exchange between a teenage Star Trek fan and actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in the original TV series and most of the ST theatrical movies. The fan was a young mixed-race woman who was having a hard time fitting in, and who drew comfort and inspiration from Nimoy's portrayal of Spock, who was half-human and half-Vulcan.

She wrote to Spock that she was the child of an African-American mother and Caucasian father. "The Negros don't like me because I don't look like them," she wrote. "The white kids don't like me because I don't exactly look like one of them, either. I guess I'll never have any friends."

The young woman, who signed herself "F.C." sent her letter to fan magazine Fave, and the editors of Fave reached out to Nimoy and asked him to reply. The fact that he responded at all is kind of amazing, when you realize that the actor had grown to hate the Spock character during the course of the 1966-1969 TV series--he even hinted around at his true feelings about the character when he titled his 1975 autobiography "I Am Not Spock."

But apparently responding to F.C.'s letter was the only logical course of action, so Nimoy channeled his inner Vulcan and penned a lovely note to the young woman...

"Spock learned he could save himself from letting prejudice get him down," Nimoy wrote to F.C. "He could do this by really understanding himself and knowing his own value as a person. He found he was equal to anyone who might try to put him down--equal in his own unique way."

Nimoy drew a direct comparison between F.C.'s plight and the struggles young Spock faced growing up on the planet Vulcan. "So Spock said to himself: 'OK, I'm not Vulcan, so the Vulcans don't want me. My blood isn't pure red earth blood. It's green. And my ears--well, it's obvious I'm not pure human. So, they won't want me either. I must do for myself and not worry about what others think of me who don't really know me.'"

It's a pretty amazing letter, and I want you to go to "My Star Trek Scrapbook" right now and read it.

Seeing this today reminded me of a moment last summer when my own Star Trek connection brought about a similar encounter. A friend of mine, Jxxx, teaches at an acting summer camp for 8-12 year-old kids in Chicago, and last summer he invited me to give a talk to his students about writing for Star Trek. It sounded like fun, so I accepted. When the day came, I found myself facing a huge, unruly mob of kids, but once I started talking and giving them science fiction writing exercises it all came together. The kids were wonderful, charming, loud, goofy, curious, brilliant, as all kids are, and the hour went by so quickly I thought I was caught in some kind of temporal anomaly--

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
The Spock family portrait: uptight, logical Vulcan dad; inconsistent, emotional human mom; screwed-up half-breed kid.
After I gave my talk, a kid who was on the older end of the scale for this group approached me to say hi. He was overgrown and awkward and looked like he spent a lot of time in comics shops--he wore a hilarious Star Trek t-shirt that said something about how quickly James T. Kirk would have kicked Wesley Crusher's ass off the bridge of the Enterprise, and I liked him instantly.

He thanked me for my talk and said, very earnestly, "I just want to tell you that Star Trek has played a huge role in making me the person I am today." I smiled and said, "Me too!" We both had a good laugh, I complimented him on his shirt, and then he had to go on to the next class. Nothing more needed to be said: Star Trek, created by the visionary Gene Roddenberry, had made us both better, smarter, more confident, more tolerant, a little less screwed-up people, just like it did Leonard Nimoy and F.C.

It's a good bunch to be a part of.

Oh, one more thing. After thinking it over for a while, Leonard Nimoy wrote a second autobiography. He called it, "I Am Spock."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Study in Puzzlement

"Chasing UFOs"... "UFO Hunters"... "Ancient Aliens"... "UFOs Over Earth"... It's kind of a golden age of goofy TV shows about UFOs and aliens and chasing and hunting them. Which is odd, because we haven't had a real flap of UFO sightings since 1973.

It wasn't always that way. Back in my day, when we only had 5 TV stations and TV Guide was actually useful, shows about UFOs were as scarce as aliens' teeth. So when one of the TV networks gave up an hour of prime time to talk about UFO's it was a big flipping deal. And when that network, CBS, trotted out its superstar news anchor to host the show, it was an even bigger deal.

That's exactly what happened in April of 1966, when Mr. Walter Freaking Cronkite hosted the CBS Reports prime-time news special entitled: "UFOs: Friend, Foe or Fantasy?" The report was in response to the rash of UFO sightings all over the United States that had everyone a wee bit jittery. The flap had been going on since the summer of 1965, when a small-town cop in New Mexico saw a white, egg-shaped ship with two occupants blast off into the air. Ever since then, UFOs had been spotted everywhere, and the country was scared enough that it needed Walter Freaking Cronkite to assure them that everything was ok and the Air Force had everything under control. Which was a lie, but when Walter F. Cronkite tells a lie so the American people can sleep at night then it's not really a lie.

Anyway, I watched this old show the other day as part of my research for the book about J. Allen Hynek, because Hynek was one of the guests. Man, he was a hoot. The interviewer kept asking him the Wrong Question: "Are UFOs really spaceships from other planets?" and Hynek wouldn't answer that because to him the Right Question--the Only Question--was "Are UFOs worthy of serious scientific study?"

But the reporter kept on with the Wrong Question and Hynek finally replied, "You might call me a study in puzzlement. But among the tremendous noise, or static, or crud, or whatever you want to call it—the tremendous number of unreliable reports that are easily explained—there is this residue of most interesting cases that intrigue me, the same way a good mystery intrigues me, and I’d like to get the solution."

It's a miracle they left it in the show, it was such an unexciting, scientific thing to say, even though it was exactly the Right Answer to the Wrong Question.

Never trust a one-eyed astronomer.
Matters were made even worse by the fact that the last word on the show was given to Dr. Carl Sagan, who just becomes more problematic for me with every passing day. Sitting next to an astronomer who wore an eye patch--which I would think would disqualify you from being an astronomer--Sagan blasted the UFO believers of the world to smithereens, reducing the belief in “the UFO myth” to a rather demeaning need for humans to believe in benevolent, omnipotent beings “in long white robes” that will save us from ourselves. Cronkite seemed to agree, closing the program with this chiding wisdom: “We might remember, too, that while fantasy improves science fiction, science is more often served by facts.”

And that night. every man, woman and child in America slept well.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Has the Public Been Tricked?

In general I would say yes, badly and quite often, but that would be counterproductive. We're not talking in generalities here: we're talking about one very specific incident in which the public -- and that includes you, bub -- may have actually been tricked.

It's all on the cover of a UFO book I picked up this week. It's an old used paperback that I bought for a few bucks from an Amazon reseller, and the old-school cover blurbs are so ripping that I'm afraid reading the actual book will be a big let-down.

First is the title. This book has the best title ever: "UFOs? YES!" which, coincidentally, is the exact conversation my wife and I have every time I sit down to blog.

The subtitle reads: "Where the Condon Committee Went Wrong." Then the other subtitle reads: "The Inside Story by an Ex-Member of the Official Study Group." I'm hooked! I love reading about Committees gone wrong!

It gets even better on the back cover. The back cover doesn't just say "Has the Public Been Tricked?" It also says, "This is the real UFO story--the one the public hasn't heard!" Apparently by not having heard the real story we have been tricked! Makes sense.

Never name your committee after this guy.
It also says some stuff about the rest of the book that's very wordy and kind of tiring to read, but the thrust of it is that in 1966 the U.S. Secretary of Defense announced the formation of a scientific panel to study the UFO phenomenon in depth. This was called the Condon Committee. And that's where it went wrong. You see, Condon didn't believe in UFOs, and neither did his wife. He thought the study was a waste of time and money. $500,000, to be exact.

In this age of sequestered cuts it's difficult to imagine the U.S. Government ever having given a cool half a mill to a bunch of scientists to study UFOs, but that's exactly what they did.

But, the book cover tells me, in 1968 a "near-mutiny" disrupted the scientific staff, two Ph.D.s were "dismissed," and the project's administrative assistant resigned. That's where it gets really interesting, because this book was written by one of those two dismissed Ph.D.s! According to the back cover, this dismissed and pissed Ph.D. has become convinced that UFOs "are likely to be vehicles from outer space."

So, here's the question: could the insides of the book possibly be as exciting as the outsides? That is what I, reluctantly, intend to find out.

Friday, March 1, 2013

That Wasn't No Hullabillusion!

I must confess that I have an addiction. Over the past few days I have become hopelessly addicted to working on my J. Allen Hynek book, and have been ignoring my work, my wife, my children, my puppy, housework, paying bills, eating, drinking, sleeping, grooming, hygiene, reality, pretty much everything. And I don't care.

I am currently writing a sample chapter that deals with the amazing events of 1966, specifically the Michigan "swamp gas" case that simultaneously led to the downfall of the Air Force's Project Blue Book UFO research project, the national lampooning of Dr. Hynek, and, miraculously, his resurrection as the nation's most sought-after authority on UFOs. It's a hell of a story, and I am enjoying the hell out of putting it all down in words...

To recap: In March, 1966, there was a flap of UFO sightings in southern Michigan. Policemen chased strange lights in the sky, a farmer and his son stalked strange lights that floated above the swamp behind their house, and 87 coeds at a college watched strange lights appear and disappear in the Arboretum outside their dormitory windows. In case you didn't catch it, people were seeing a lot of strange lights.

The press got hold of it, and the strange lights became a national sensation. The Air Force, under pressure to come up with an explanation, sent Dr. Hynek to Michigan to investigate. He walked into a circus. Not a circus with clowns and elephants and anacondas, but a circus with reporters and Sheriff's Deputies and lots of crazy people. Hynek quickly decided that he could only realistically investigate the sighting behind the farmhouse and the sighting outside the college dormitory, and he spent the next three days doing just that. When the Air Force forced him to hold a press conference to announce his findings, he told the Air Force he didn't have any findings yet. The Air Force said, "Dammit, man, come up with some findings. The press conference is tomorrow."

It was at that time the biggest press conference ever held at the Detroit Press Club. Everybody was there to hear what the strange lights really were. Hynek said the strange lights may have been "swamp gas," and everyone went wild. He explained that this was only one possible explanation, and that he could not prove it in a court of law, but nobody really listened to that part, because they didn't like hearing things that weren't fun and sensational. Within hours, everyone in the country heard about the press conference and everyone in Michigan hated Hynek, because he basically said they were all fools.

"I'm just a simple fellow. I seen what I seen and nobody's going to tell me different," the farmer, Frank Mannor, told a reporter for LIFE magazine. "That wasn't no old foxfire of hullabillusion."

Why did Hynek say swamp gas? That is the crux of the story. Conventional UFO wisdom is that he made a colossal mistake and overlooked overwhelming evidence that the strange lights were in fact "flying objects," and perhaps even extraterrestrial vehicles. That is certainly what most UFO experts believed, as did just about every newspaper and TV network in the country. Many still feel that way, as I saw just today in another UFO blog, which makes a reference to "the famous Hynek 'Swamp Gas' gaff" (sic).
Frank Mannor, wordsmith.
But after all the research I've done, I'm thinking more and more that it wasn't a gaffe. I think the dude was spot on. The strange lights were swamp gas, or marsh gas, or foxfire, or will-o'-the-wisp, or whatever you want to call them. The strange lights at both the farm and the college appeared over marshland. They displayed identical properties as far as color, intensity and movement. At both locations they blinked out and reappeared in a different spot whenever anything approached.

And -- ta da! -- the most credible witness of them all, the local Civil Defense Director, the only man standing between Michigan and a Soviet nuclear attack, told Dr. Hynek that when he first saw the strange lights from the women's dormitory room (don't ask how he got there), he identified the strange lights as... marsh gas! (Then after the press conference, he crucified Hynek for identifying the lights as the same thing he identified them as. Classy.)

I am, I confess, surprised that I feel this way. For years I have believed the conventional story that Hynek had screwed up royally, and had missed a golden opportunity -- perhaps the only opportunity ever -- to finally prove to the world that UFOs were real. But now I'm pretty sure that he was right, and that those strange lights in Michigan were hullabillusions.