High Strangeness: October 2015

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The 19 Year-Old T-Shirt

I recently saved a favorite old t-shirt from the trash heap and the donation bin, and I'm glad I did, because it marks a unique anniversary for me... Exactly 19 years ago today, what was then quaintly called "The Sci-Fi Channel" hosted what it billed as the first-ever online science fiction convention. Because I was writing for Star Trek at he time, I was invited to be a "guest expert," and my payment was... the t-shirt!

All in all, it still looks pretty good for a 19 year-old t-shirt that has gone for some verrrrrrrrry long stretches stashed away in a dark dresser drawer.

The online science fiction convention took place in a thing called "cyberspace," which was at the time a pretty alien place that William Gibson wrote about. I honestly don't remember a whole lot about the experience, except that I spent a few hours in a chat room talking with a few dozen hyper Trekkies, and it was pretty fun. Goofy, but fun. Not like the time I appeared live at GenCon in Milwaukee and sat next to actor John DeLancie, who played the omnipotent superbeing "Q" in Star Trek: The Next Generation, on the celebrity Q&A panel; but that's another story...


And then there's the shirt... It still looks pretty cool, although I can't for the life of me remember what that big "D" in the middle of the logo was supposed to stand for...

It's fitting that I've just rediscovered this shirt, as my new publisher is talking about sending me to Comic-Con to publicize my Hynek bio. If I can keep the shirt in good shape until next year, maybe I'll wear it to the Con!

Friday, October 30, 2015

My Hynek Book is Real (and so are UFOs)

It's official:


Expected publication in autumn 2016.

UFO Memo-Mania!

Did you know Roswell was still a thing? I was surprised this morning to find that it was being written about at the UFO Conjecture(s) blog, in response to it being written about in Roswellite Kevin Randle's blog.

What could they possibly be blathering about? What new Smoking Gun could there possibly be? And, anyway, didn't I already write about this?

Turns out this week's chatter concerns the Ramey memo, that little piece of paper that "proves" that Air Force General Roger Ramey wrote to his superiors telling of a crashed disc and the "victims" of the crash found outside Roswell.

Here are the posts, if you're interested:

UFO Conjectures

http://ufocon.blogspot.com/2015/10/kevin-randles-moby-dick.html

http://ufocon.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-ramey-photo-and-copyright-issues.html

http://ufocon.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-problem-with-early-ramey-memo.html


Kevin Randle

http://kevinrandle.blogspot.com/


What I find so funny about all this is that these guys all want to argue 'til doomsday about what the memo actually says, or who owns the copyright on the photo, but no one addresses the most basic question about the photo, which is this:  
Why the hell is Ramey holding that memo in the first place?
That's what I can never get past. Why would this General be carrying around such a sensitive document, one that details his role in an ongoing government cover-up, and carrying it so obviously, so casually, so carelessly, while a photographer from the local paper was taking pictures? On a more basic level, why would that memo have ever been taken out of Ramey's offices ever, under any circumstances? I don't care how you try to explain it, there is no possible reason for Ramey to have been holding that document in a public space in such an open and casual manner with a press photographer snapping pictures if it contained any sensitive information at all.
Good thing this Air Force General knows how to conceal sensitive documents when pictures are being taken.

That's a real problem with so much of UFOlogy: people get crazed with something they think they see, but never ask -- or answer -- the obvious question about why that thing they think they see is even visible in the first place. I'm not saying I think I know what the Ramey memo actually said, or that I can prove it wasn't a sensitive document about a crashed disc and alien crash victims. But I am saying that before it can be accepted as evidence of anything, someone needs to explain why it's in the picture in the first place. Which, of course, no one can.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

UFO Witnesses Say the Darndest Things -- Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about a curious case I had just investigated for MUFON. The case started out looking as though it may have some interesting twists to it: it involved some UFOs that had physical and psychological effects on the three witnesses, and allegedly transformed reality and caused some missing time... But then when I interviewed the woman who had reported the sighting, I quickly learned that the only strange effect the UFOs had was to terrify the woman and her two companions before they disappeared.

The witness had told me that she would try to get the other two people -- her fiance and her best friend -- to talk to me, and so last night I talked to them both, separately. I would like to say that the two new interviews helped to clarify things, but in fact they have only muddied the waters. Which is not to say that I wasted my time. I'm actually quite fascinated with the way the three accounts fit together, and what they can tell us about eye-witness testimony.

The first version of the story from Witness #1 appeared here yesterday, and if you haven't already read it you should, because the rest of this will make more sense if you do.
There's never any traffic, is there?

Last night I talked to Witness #2, the best friend, and she was, if anything, even more excited and agitated when she told the story than the first witness had been. She talked a mile a minute and told me all about the "extreme fear" of evil space aliens from which she's suffered all her life, then seamlessly segued into her sighting report...

She told of a terrifying ride in a truck after dark on a country highway. She was in the right rear seat of the truck with the two sleeping kids, and was able to see three lights in a straight line up in the sky. Then a fourth light appeared and all the lights were behind the truck now, chasing them down the road. Somehow the four lights formed a triangle at this point, then they veered off to the south and could be seen beside the truck, still giving chase. She and Witness #1 were screaming in fear the whole time and telling Witness #3 to drive faster to get away.

Witness #3, who had been heading east all this time, suddenly turned south to parallel the Lake Michigan lakeshore, when one of the UFOs was seen "whooshing over a field." They entered a state park and suddenly the road was filled with "a horde of animals" from the park running away from the UFOs and trying to get the truck to stop. You can bet my ears perked up at the mention of rampaging deer, elk and beavers fleeing from UFOs and trying to flag down a speeding SUV, but on further questioning the witness clarified that there were only raccoons involved... Still, there was a horde of them, and they were fleeing from the UFOs and trying to stop the truck.

She told me they finally reached the gas station and got out of the truck, only to see "a whole cluster" of UFOs in the sky, at least 4, 5 or 6 of them. She said they were "bright orange-y, reddish, yellow." These UFOs vanished from sight, and that's when Witness #2 realized that their 15-minute drive to the gas station had actually taken an hour and half. Damn, there's your missing time, right there!

I got off the phone with #2 not sure what to think. Her story had matched up with that of #1 in many important ways, but would Witness #3 back them up as well?

Growing more and more intrigued, I called #3, the fiance driving the truck, a short time later. I couldn't have been more surprised by his version of the events...

He began by telling me of watching the UFOs from the side of the road, before the "chase" began. He said that when his truck's lights were off, the UFOs would start moving, but when his lights were on, the UFOs would stop moving. This was the first I had heard of this.

Then he described the "chase" down the highway. At first he could see the three lights in his left-hand mirror; they were above the treeline, and were casting light on the trees. Later he saw the four UFOs directly behind the truck in his rear-view mirror, but when they veered off to the side of the truck he lost sight of them. At this point he was driving faster and faster in response to the screaming of the other two witnesses, and it was all he could do to keep the truck on the road, so watching for UFOs was out of the question.

Of course, this completely controverts what he had just said about the experience at the side of the road. At that point, the UFOs allegedly stopped moving when he turned on his truck lights, but he would have had the lights on when he took off down the road, so why would the UFOs start to move then? Puzzling...

He then told me that when the truck headed south they came upon of "a family of raccoons" on the road, and he had to slow down to drive around them. Funny how one person's "horde" can be another person's "family." Soon after, they reached the gas station and it was over. I asked him to specify the last moment at which he saw the UFOs, and he said it was that last look in his rear-view mirror during the "chase." I then asked him how much time had elapsed between the first sighting of the UFOs and their arrival at the gas station, and he said "10 minutes."

Those last two points were the kickers for me. Witness #3 did not see the second appearance of the UFOs once they were at the gas station, and he did not experience any missing time. By the time we wrapped up the conversation, I wasn't even sure if he had been in the same truck as the other two witnesses. He even said, "I couldn't see what they were looking at" for a lot of the time.

Normally, three witnesses would be a bonanza, but here they were a mess. There was just enough agreement among their stories to almost make the whole tale plausible, but just enough disagreement to make me seriously question the whole thing...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

UFO Witnesses Say the Darndest Things

One of my recent MUFON cases brought up an interesting topic: When reporting her sighting, a witness indicated that the UFO she saw actually "Transformed Reality."

As you can imagine, this box is seldom ever checked by UFO witnesses. What made this instance even more interesting was the fact that the witness had also checked off "Affected You Physically" and "Affected You Psychologically," so this case was a rare trifecta of unusual qualities in a UFO sighting. 
 
UFOs chasing cars? What else is there to say but "WTF"?

And yet, when reading her account of the event, I saw very little to indicate any physical or psychological effects, and nothing at all to indicate any transformation of reality... But since my State Director indicated on the report that I should check for missing time, I was duty-bound to look into it.

The case involved three adults in a car late at night with two sleeping children; the adults saw three or four objects that at various times looked like lights, a star, orbs, the flame of a cigarette lighter, and discs, and these objects seemed to chase the car the witness was riding in. She reported that she and her two friends spent much of the duration of the sighting screaming "WTF?" but only one of the kids woke up and he fell bask asleep immediately. When they finally pulled over at a gas station there was only one object left in the sky. The final object disappeared but none of the witnesses actually saw it disappear. Later they saw something over Lake Michigan that they thought was the same thing they had seen earlier.

When I interviewed the witness, her account of the sighting stuck pretty closely to what she had written in her original report. There were so many "WTF?"s I felt as though I was right there in the car with her! But, as in the report, there was no actual mention of any missing time... no blackouts, no abductions, nothing. I was puzzled. So, I asked her how exactly the UFOs had affected her psychologically, and she said, "Well... I was really scared!" Then I asked her how exactly the UFOs had affected her physically, and she said, "Well... I was REALLY scared!"

Feeling like I was onto something, I plunged ahead into the big question: "How did the UFOs transform reality?"

She hesitated a moment, then said, "I kept screaming 'WTF! IS THIS FOR REAL??'"

Who knew it could be that simple?


 


Friday, October 23, 2015

UFO Book Tease

What the hell, now that my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek is in the hands of my agent, I'm going to give you, my faithful readers, a small sample of the book proposal.

The full proposal (with sample chapter) is a little over 100 pages, so I'm not going to share the whole enchilada, just a few tantalizing tidbits. For today, I'll share an excerpt that talks about the "target market" for the book.

Keep in mind that this is a sales document, and it's written for book editors who in all likelihood have never heard of Hynek and know very little about the UFO phenomenon. Because of this, some of the writing may seem exaggerated in some respects and oversimplified in others; I have only a few pages with which to make a maximum impact with an editor, so you just have to accept it for what it is...

Chances are, you know someone who has seen something unusual in the sky. Chances are, they’ve never told a soul about it.
But it’s also fairly certain they want to know more about it; they want to know what they saw, and they want to know if anyone else has seen the same thing.
This is where the market for “The Close Encounters Man” begins: the millions of people who have seen something, but don’t know what.
They want to believe. And they are the reason for two of the biggest stories to come out of Hollywood in 2015: The return of “The X Files” to television and a sequel to the 1996 big-screen alien invasion hit “Independence Day.”
The new “Independence Day” movie, which will take up the story 20 years after earth defeated an alien attack force with a computer virus in the first film, is reported by CinemaBlend.com to be "Part 1 of a new series.” This suggests that, in art as in life, humanity may never be fully rid of the aliens.
Perhaps more significant is the return of “The X-Files,” a show that, at its peak, boasted over 27 million viewers. The internet boiled over with the news that Fox TV is bringing back the original cast and creative team behind the Peabody Award-winning series, which Fox’s eager PR department describes, not incorrectly, as “…a worldwide phenomenon that shaped pop culture” (Entertainment Weekly went even further in its July 3, 2015 cover story, saying that “The X-Files” facilitated “the geek takeover of mainstream pop”).
Show creator Chris Carter recognizes that after 13 years off the air, his characters and stories remain as relevant as ever, perhaps more so: “The good news,” he says, “is the world has only gotten that much stranger.”
And who does he have to thank for that high strangeness?
In large part because of Hynek’s pioneering work, UFOs and aliens have become inextricably woven into the fabric of global pop culture. They are ubiquitous on TV and radio, in movies, on the internet and in bookstores, and even in the daily news. And, while it is abundantly clear that millions of Americans hunger for more information on the topic, and that the market for new UFO media continues to grow at an astonishing rate, the sad fact is that most of the information that is being fed to this global audience is dubious at best. Roswell is an entertaining story. So is Area 51, and Hitler’s captured UFO, and Hangar 18. They are all entertaining stories, but they are, by and large, based on rehashed and discredited information, unsubstantiated rumor and unverifiable “deathbed confessions.” They are all sideshows to the main event.
The real story begins with Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s not-so-secret official study of the UFO phenomenon. Based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, the project began in 1948 under the moniker “Project Sign.” In an indication of its early floundering, it became “Project Grudge” in 1949, and then, finally, “Project Blue Book.” The project came under the leadership of an endlessly rotating roster of low-level Air Force functionaries, but for nearly the entire span of its existence one and only one astronomer was employed as its scientific advisor: Dr. J. Allen Hynek.
“Ridicule is not a part of the scientific method, and the public should not be taught that it is.” Dr. Hynek, then a little-known professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University, delivered this profound message in 1952 to a gathering of physicists. Hynek was there at the invitation of the Optical Society of America; he was one of three scientists who were to offer their views on the phenomenon that had swept the country in 1947 and that showed no signs of conveniently going away. After the first two scientists dismissed the phenomenon as nothing more than atmospheric aberrations, Hynek put his budding career at risk and made a plea for the serious scientific study of UFO reports—not all of them, mind you, just the twenty percent that defied explanation. Then, since he was going so far out on a limb already, he publicly chastised the other two speakers for their closed-mindedness on the subject!
For many other scientists, this might have been the moment at which their careers ended. But Dr. J. Allen Hynek was a special case, and the book “The Close Encounters Man” will be the first to explore why he alone was able to walk so surefootedly on both sides of the boundary line of science.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Scully, Scully, Scully!

So, we all know how the name Scully is associated with UFO lore.

There's FBI Special Agent Dana Scully, a made-up person, the skeptic-in-residence on the classic TV series The X-Files.

Then there's Daily Variety writer Frank Scully, a real person, who pretty much created the UFO industry with his bombshell 1950 book "Behind the Flying Saucers."

The book that started it all... for better or worse.
Scully's book sold like hotcakes, in large part because it told of the alleged recovery by the government in 1948 of not one but three downed flying saucers in Arizona and New Mexico, with accompanying alien corpses. The story was revealed as a hoax in short order, but by that time the damage was already done. "The fact that ("Behind the Flying Saucers") was a loudly bad book was beside the point," wrote a reviewer in the September 1952 issue of True Magazine. "It affected, in some degree, one way or another, the thinking of millions of people."1

We all know how that ended up.
 
Now, for most UFO fans, the Scully story ends there. But, wait: there's more!

There is, in fact, a third Scully associated with UFO lore, but to find him, we have to go all the way back to the 1890s, the time of the Great Airship Mystery. For several months in 1896-1897, inexplicable, impossible airships were spotted in the skies above Sacramento, San Francisco, Omaha, Chicago and Milwaukee. The aerial ships, seen by thousands, took the appearance of flying cigars, elongated ovals, eggs, giant cones or great balls of light. They were noisy contraptions, powerful enough to fly with considerable speed into the wind and to illuminate the ground below them with brilliant electric light. One was even said to have kidnapped a cow.

And then, in April 1897, one of the mystery airships crashed in Aurora, Texas. According to a news report in the April 19, 1897 Dallas Morning News, the craft exploded after hitting a windmill, and the wreckage was scattered over several acres. In due course, the disfigured remains of the pilot of the craft were recovered, but there was something odd about the body. The dead pilot was identified, without a doubt, as a Martian, and buried in the Aurora town cemetery, where, as far as anyone knows, he still rests in peace.

Was the Aurora crash a hoax? In 1967, seventy years after publishing the report of the craft, the Dallas Morning News revisited the story, and proposed a fascinating hoax theory: the new narrative said that the Aurora crash story was dreamt up by a scrupulously honest employee of the Texas & Pacific railroad company named... wait for it... Joseph “Truthful” Scully.

Scully allegedly concocted the story of an airship crash on a lark and found a most efficient way of spreading the tale by word-of-mouth among the vast nationwide brotherhood of railroad brakemen. Frank Tolbert, columnist for the Morning News, theorized that the hoax succeeded precisely because it had been propagated by a man known for and actually nicknamed after his integrity.2

So, there you have it: three Scullys, two of them alleged UFO hoaxsters and one of them a die-hard skeptic. Isn't UFO trivia fun??
 





1 "The Flying Saucers and the Mysterious Little Men,” by J. P. Cahn, September, 1952 True Magazine

2 “Tolbert’s Texas” by Frank X. Tolbert, January 4, 1967, Dallas Morning News

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

UFOs from Outer Space

Ok, I know I'm 20 years behind the rest of the world in watching The X-Files, so forgive me if this is old news to you...

Last night we watched the 3rd season episode "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" and I thought it was one of the best critiques of UFO world ever.  Which is kind of amazing, considering it was made 20 years ago.

For those of you who have watched even less X-Files than I have (there must be some of you out there, right?), the episode concerns a novelist writing a "non-fiction science fiction" novel about a bizarre UFO abduction case. The framing story involves the writer interviewing Agent Scully about the case, and we see the story unfold in past tense, told Rashomon-style by multiple witnesses. It's messy and confusing and non-sensical, and makes a complete mockery of the show's famous catch-phrase "The Truth is Out There," but it's a joy to watch.
Agent Scully: still not buying it.

First, the casting is a hoot. Charles Nelson Reilly as the novelist? Crazy. Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek as the sinister Men in Black? Insipred.

Second, David Duchovny and Gillan Anderson have so much fun with this story that you can't not love them both. I swear, Gillian Anderson's lips must have hurt like hell by the time they wrapped this episode, because she was pursing them in disapproval with so much gusto in every scene...

Third, the science-fiction and UFO references are hilarious: the story takes place in "Klass County," named after UFO skeptic Phillip Klass, and the two doomed Air Force pilots are named "Vallee" and "Scheaffer" and one of the military men is named "Hynek." One of the witnesses is a power company lineman, a la Roy Neary in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and in one scene one of the pilots sits in a diner and carves a little Devil's Tower out of his mashed potatoes...

The episode is chock full of so many throw-away in-jokes that I lost track of them all, but then just when I started to think that the whole thing was a joke, there comes a jarring moment of truth -- well, "truthiness," maybe -- when Agent Mulder has a tense conversation with the lead Man In Black, played by Jesse Ventura:
MIB #1: "Some alien encounters are hoaxes perpetrated by your government to manipulate the public. Some of these hoaxes are intentionally revealed to manipulate the truth-seekers, who become discredited if they disclose the deliberately absurd deception."

MULDER: "Similar things are said about the Men In Black, that they purposely dress and behave strangely, so that if anyone tried to describe an encounter with them they come off sounding like a lunatic."

MIB #1: "I find absolutely no reason why anyone would think you crazy if you described this meeting of ours."
At which point MIB #2, played by Trebek, puts his hand on Mulder's shoulder and says, "You're feeling sleepy. Very relaxed..." After which Mulder and Scully wake up the next morning with fuzzy memories of what happened the night before.

Never let it be said that the writers of The X-Files were blind to the amount of pop culture power nd influence they wielded in the show's heyday. These guys know what that were playing with, and they played the hell out of it. I mean, insert any of the names of the "Roswell slides" hoaxters into that Mulder/MIB conversation and it would ring completely true... Makes you wonder.

Oh, and along those lines, there was one more treat in this episode full of treats: the UFO geek who responds to every attempt to muzzle him by screaming "ROSWELL! ROSWELL! ROSWELL!" My wife and I were both ROFLing like crazy...

Friday, October 16, 2015

Alien Megastructure!

Wow, it's been an amazing 24 hours for UFO fans!

First came the announcement of the new UFO imaging system called UFODATA and spearheaded by a very impressive team of scientists and researchers. Similar in concept to Douglas Trumbull's UFOTOG project, UFODATA is envisioned as a global network of skywatching robots that will scan the skies 24/7 for UFOs.

According to the UFODATA website, planning and design of the first imaging unit is well underway:
This station will have a core optical unit with cameras capable of detecting and recording both an image and spectra, a magnetic sensing unit, instrumentation to detect microwave and other radiation, and other sensors to record atmospheric and local environmental data. Alarm triggers will initiate recording by all the equipment, permitting capture of a broad range of physical data that can then be analyzed by experts. 
The realization of this plan is a long way off, but what's important and exciting is that the plan a) exists, b) is feasible, and c) represents a whole new paradigm in UFO research.

The other fantastic news of the week is that scientists studying images from NASA's Kepler space telescope have discovered a star in our galaxy that appears to have an "alien megastructure" orbiting around it. The star, currently known as KIC 8462852 but undoubtedly soon to be dubbed something far more interesting like "Diablo" or "Deathstar" or "Harbinger" (Trade Mark!), is, from our earthly perspective, in the constellation Cygnus, the swan. It is, from all accounts, a pretty ordinary star, except for the fact that its light is continually obscured by something passing around its disc very, very, very often. Like an armada of orbiting starships, or the remains of a destroyed comet, or... an Alien Megastructure!
Dyson sphere...?

What form would this alien megastructure take? Many reports I've read today speculate that it could be a Dyson sphere, an artificially-constructed globe around a star first hypothesized by physicist Freeman Dyson. The idea is that beings could dismantle their home planet and use the materials to build a habitable sphere around their star, the radius of which would nearly match their planet's distance from the star (I say "nearly" because the planet's orbit would be elliptical and the sphere would be perfectly round). So, if we built a Dyson sphere out of out earth, we would all live on the inner surface of the sphere, and because we'd be capturing every photon given off by the sun, we'd never run out of clean, free energy. Also we'd create enough additional living space for the human race that we'd be able to get rid of every rental storage unit ever built (Of course, since some light from Harbinger is getting through to us, this Dyson sphere is obviously under construction, and thus has a lot of holes the light can get through).
...or Ringworld? Which is more "mega?"

As cool as that is, I'm rooting for the megastructure to be a Ringworld, as envisioned by science fiction author Larry Niven in his confusingly-titled novel "Ringworld." The Ringworld, as Niven imagines it, is like a Dyson sphere "lite." Instead of a sealed sphere around the star, it's a simple ribbon spinning around the star, so lots of light still gets through, from certain angles. The Ringworld has all the advantages of the Dyson sphere, but, because it's not an enclosed sphere, it's a lot easier to get out of if your star goes supernova. Something to consider.

But I'm getting picky. I should just be happy that we've possibly discovered an alien megastructure and not worry about what kind of megastructure it is, right? More than that, the simple fact that media outlets around the world are using the term "alien megastructure" in their headlines, without any embarrassment or qualifiers, is kind of amazing.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fifty Years of Swamp Gas -- Part II

I love it when a plan comes together.

Just yesterday I wrote about the Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan next March to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Dexter-Hillsdale "Swamp Gas" UFO case, and how excited I am to be taking part in it. You may also remember from earlier posts (way earlier) that I had actually been invited to two Dexter-Hillsdale conferences, this first one in Ann Arbor put on by the Michigan MUFON chapter, and the second put on by the alumni association of Hillsdale College itself, in nearby Hillsdale, MI.

Well, for months I've been trying to get the two organizers together to discuss some sort of cooperative effort whereby the attendees of the MUFON event could spend at least part of that weekend at Hillsdale College. As I learned from my recent visit to  Kelly, Kentucky, there's nothing like being at the actual spot of a UFO incident to make you feel truly connected to the history of it.
Some of the Hillsdale College co-eds who saw the "UFO"

I guess it just took a little patience, because today the connection between Michigan MUFON and Hillsdale College was made! Email addresses and phone numbers have been exchanged, and barring an alien attack I am confident that these two will be talking very soon.

The gentleman from Hillside actually sweetened the pot today. He mentioned that the College has just opened a beautiful new conference center that would make a perfect venue for the conference. Then the gentleman from Michigan MUFON said he'd love to talk to the man from Hillsdale ASAP, as his group wants to start publicizing the event fairly soon... It just seems kind of perfect for the connection to be made today.

It would mean a lot more to me to be able to give my talk right where the Hillsdale sighting took place... We could all tromp out to the college arboretum and see the exact spot where nearly 90 witnesses saw what they thought was an honest-to-God alien spacecraft! How cool is that?

(Even cooler: I've suggested that the Michigan MUFON Director lobby MUFON HQ to dedicate an episode of its cable TV show "Hangar 1" to the Michigan "Swamp Gas" Conference, and he seems to think it's a great idea!)

I have another big conference on my calendar for 2016: the "Roswell debate" at next year's Milwaukee Paranormal Conference. You may recall that Roswell Slides impresario Donald Schmitt recently challenged me -- not directly but through the Conference organizer -- to take part in a debate about "Roswell" at next October's event. Well, since I've been in reaching out mode this week I shot the organizer a note to ask how the planning was coming along, and to ask if we could meet to discuss just how the debate will be handled.

He said he wanted to meet, then mentioned something that struck me as a little odd... He said that since he notified Schmitt that I had accepted his challenge, he hasn't heard back from Schmitt at all.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fifty Years of Swamp Gas

I am psyched. I just got word that the Conference in Michigan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the infamous Dexter-Hillsdale "Swamp Gas" case is on for March 19, 2016, at the Wyndham Garden hotel in Ann Arbor!

I know most of you know the major points of the case, but for those who don't, here's a quick recap:
For several nights in March 1966, UFOs were being sighted over southeast Michigan by cops out on night patrol. The sightings culminated with an alleged UFO landing in a marsh behind a Dexter Township farm belonging to Frank Mannor, followed by another alleged landing the very next night in a college arboretum, witnessed by 87 college coeds and their housemother from the windows of the women's dorm at Hillsdale College. Because there were so many witnesses and their descriptions were all so similar, the event made national headlines and the UFO faithful were convinced that Dexter-Hillsdale was "The Big One," the one case that would provide incontrovertible proof that UFOs were real physical objects, and were in fact spaceships from another world.

Bowing to public and political pressure, the Air Force's "Project Blue Book" sent its scientific consultant, astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek, to Michigan to investigate. Three days later Hynek was pressured into holding a press conference at the Detroit Press Club to reveal the results of his investigation. To the dismay of nearly everyone, Hynek declared that, based on the facts at hand, the witnesses may have seen simple "Swamp Gas" dispelled by the decaying early Spring vegetation in the Mannor swamp and the college arboretum. The citizens of Michigan were outraged at what they saw as an insult to their honor, Hynek's colleagues and supporters were outraged that he would "lie" about The Big One supposedly under orders from the Air Force, and Hynek himself called it "The low point of my career."
Dr. J. Allen Hynek does some UFOsplaining at the Detroit Press Club
That's the story that's been reported and repeated faithfully for the past 50 years, but the thing is, that's not how it actually happened. That version of the story leaves out huge pieces of the puzzle that have been forgotten through the mists of time, but that actually turn the entire Dexter-Hillsdale story on its head... and I have been invited to the conference next March to talk about some of my findings about the case, and I can't wait.

For as much as this case has been investigated and written about, it is astonishing how much of the story people continually get wrong. Case in point: Hynek arrived in Michigan the Tuesday after the farm and dormitory sightings and held his press conference that Friday, three full days later. And yet knowledgeable people still insist that Hynek gave the press conference and made the "Swamp Gas" statement less than an hour after arriving in Michigan, without even conducting any investigation. Even the well-known UFO "historian" and Roswell slides promoter Richard Dolan got it wrong. In his 2014 book, UFOs for the 21st Century Mind, Dolan wrote that, "Immediately upon arriving in Michigan, Hynek gave a press conference." Well, sure, if you leave out the intervening three days.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem with the story is the devious and diabolical machinations people still ascribe to how Hynek came up with the "Swamp Gas" hypothesis, and why he offered it as a likely explanation for the Dexter-Hillsdale sightings. And I can tell you, it's not what you think.

Want the full story? Come to the Wyndham in Ann Arbor next March and you'll hear it direct from the source!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Little Blue Fuckers" -- a Movie Review


"The whole movie is clouded and obscure and pretty much inexplicable"
                                                                                                          - Hal Hinson
                                                                                                            Washington Post Staff Writer

 "In aiming for the widest popular appeal, the film ends up in no man's land."
                                                                                                          - Time Out London

These two reviews pretty much sum up what has got to be the strangest alien abduction movie ever made, the 1989 Phillipe Mora film "Communion."  (I'm not saying it's the worst; I think "Fire In The Sky" and "The Fourth Kind" share that honor). "Communion" is, of course, based on the 1987 book of the same title by horror and science-fiction writer Whitley Strieber, supposedly based on his own experiences as an abductee. The book was, of course, a massive best-seller (which, I freely admit, I loved) and helped introduced readers to a whole new kind of alien abduction, the kind in which the aliens appear at the foot of your bed in the middle of the night and spirit you away to some kind of exam room to be probed and implanted...

On paper, the film had everything going for it, and, based on the popularity of the book alone, it should have been a smash hit. But then things happened...
What's wrong with this revealing still from the movie "Communion"? Pretty much everything.

Because so many of my MUFON cases recently have involved aspects similar to those portrayed in the book and the movie, I decided to watch the movie again. I had only seen it once before, when it first came out, and watching it last night I remembered why I've never bothered to sit through it a second time. It's weird. It's self-indulgent. It's a mess. And -- surprise, surprise -- it's not available on Netflix or Amazon; I had to watch it on YouTube. Maybe that explains this summation on the "Communion" Wikipedia page:
It received a mostly negative critical reaction due to Walken's performance and was panned by Strieber himself due to its non-factual portrayal of him. The film was considered a box office failure.
Let's pick that apart, shall we? Whitley Strieber wrote the book. He wrote the screenplay. He wrote himself as a character, wrote his his own dialog and story arc. He even produced the movie. And yet he allegedly complained about a "non-factual portrayal of him"? How does that work, exactly?

Aside from that, I have three main gripes with the movie, two of which involve its dramatic structure and one of which involves its treatment of the UFO phenomenon.
  1. Casting Christopher Walken as Whitley Strieber may have seemed like a good idea to the filmmakers, but they overlooked one crucial detail. A big part of the story is how Strieber starts out a fairly normal, if eccentric, guy, and slowly becomes unhinged as he realizes that he is being visited on a regular basis by aliens. Walken, however, portrays him as a whack-job from the get-go so that crucial dramatic transition is completely lost. He starts out kind of crazy and then gets a little crazier. Whoopee.
  2. What should have been the biggest dramatic moment in the story gets thrown away, and because it gets thrown away the rest of the story makes no sense. After Strieber realizes he is being abducted by aliens -- or "little blue fuckers" as he so eloquently describes one of the alien breeds -- and finally reveals this to his long-suffering wife, she thinks he is lying to her. All well and good. But a few days later their son confides to his mom that he has been seeing "little blue doctors" and other entities in his bedroom. At this point, the son knows nothing about his Dad's abduction experiences, so the only way he could know this is from direct experience. Wouldn't you think that would be enough to prove to Mrs. Strieber that her husband isn't making this shit up? I would think so, but instead she has no reaction at all to this bombshell. When she does act, it's to haul her husband's sorry ass to see a psychiatrist, because for some bizarre, never-explained reason she still doesn't believe him. And because Mrs. S. ignores her son's testimony, from this point on in the movie nothing else that transpires makes the slightest bit of sense.
  3. Finally, I hate what this movie has to say about UFOs and aliens, which, in the end, is nothing at all. I get the sense that the filmmakers (and that includes Strieber) are trying to say something important, but their message gets so bogged down in a bizarre mix of cutesy, self-indulgent, surreal nonsense -- at one point Streiber and the aliens seem to have been transported to Rio at the height of Carnival -- and preachy, somber, staring dramatically at the camera pseudo-profundity that the whole thing just falls apart, and in the end has nothing to say. 
Which is a pity, because "Communion" the book has played such a dramatic role in the history of UFOlogy. It's a very strange coincidence to me that Strieber's book appeared, along with Budd Hopkins' "Intruders," in 1987, the year after Dr. J. Allen Hynek died. I almost feel as though Hynek's death signaled the end of serious UFO research and opened the door for the modern UFO for-profit industry exemplified in so many ways by those two books.

And, sadly, in the end, the movie had nothing to tell me that could help with my current crop of potential UFO abductees. In trying to say too much, the movie said nothing of any value.

Give me Richard Dreyfuss and a pile of mashed potatoes anytime...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

UFO Cause & Effect

Still trying to catch up on my backlog of MUFON cases to investigate, but it's slow going. Although my life has settled down a lot since the end of the summer, my schedule is still irregular enough that scheduling interviews can be tricky...

The person I'm trying to schedule a talk with this week has an interesting story to tell. In fact, he has two stories to tell, which caused me some confusion at first. Like so many people I've come across reporting to MUFON lately, this witness made two separate reports, very different in character, and so at first I thought I'd be talking to someone who saw some strange lights in the sky with his girlfriend but it turns out I'm going to be talking to someone who has had a lifetime of strange experiences, many of which seem to stretch the definition of a UFO encounter...

Once again, the subject of strange dreams comes up in this witness' story. Like the case I recently wrote about in which the witness remembered childhood dreams of alien abduction and watching swarming tornadoes outside her picture window and feeling that they were looking for her, this new witness remembers dreams throughout his lifetime that have a similarly eerie feel...

His story begins on a chilling note:
As a child I was always very interested in UFOs and aliens. Not unusual; what little boy wasn’t fascinated by them? But – and I don’t know if this was concurrent with my fascination or if there was some abrupt change – I was also terrified by them. I had recurring nightmares about seeing UFOs or begin taken by alien beings. They are among my earliest memories, these dreams, and they so affected me that I began to dread the night.
Whitley Strieber, what have you wrought??
As you can see, the witness can express himself well, and seems very sure of what he is describing... things that impress me but that you don't often come across in a MUFON report. After telling about how his fascination with UFOs and aliens grew throughout his childhood, and how his discovery of Whitley Strieber's "Communion" was such a revelation to him, he describes more of his dreams:
There are three that I remember specifically: 1) Being with my father in his truck driving at night and getting picked up by a UFO, the classic saucer-shape. 2) Standing outside my old house at night, before a large bush that grew near the driveway, and talking to or hearing something in the bushes speaking – something I somehow knew was not human. 3) Being in a large white room with other children and alien beings who were sort of like caretakers. I remember being very frightened of them, though the other kids seemed fine, and of trying to run away by climbing a kind of ropey structure, like you would find on a playground. One of the beings was following me, trying to calm me down, I think. These dreams have always seemed to me to be dreams, yet they’re more vivid than most memories I have from the same age.
Like that last sighting I wrote about, this witness' experience also involved a remote lake cabin. In his report he tells of a night at the family cabin when he snuck out late at night to see if he could summon a UFO just by concentrating... I'll skip the Steven Greer jokes and just say that the next day the witness' Dad was aware that he had snuck out the night before:
He told me that late last night he had been aware of a “presence” in his bedroom, but saw nothing. My sister then told us about a dream she had had that same night: she was in a sort of hospital room with lots of beds, occupied by girls her age, some of whom she said she recognized from school. There were doctors there placing a box-like device over their stomach area to see if they were capable of becoming pregnant. It’s possible they both knew I had gone to look for UFOs the previous night and had conspired to mess with me the next morning; I don’t know. My sister seemed upset, though, and just as frightened as me.
Weird stuff, all right, and it raises all sorts of questions... Like how much the witness' childhood obsession with UFOs and aliens, and his reading of Strieber's book, might have influenced both his dreams and his waking experiences -- and not just his own but those of his Dad and sister as well. What kind of cause & effect is going on here?

Because I was kind of obsessed with UFOs and aliens when I was growing up, I do have a strong sense of shared experience with this witness, so I'm looking forward to interviewing him later this week. Stay tuned...