High Strangeness: November 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

UFO Counselor

I did not sign up to be a Certified UFO Field Investigator to counsel troubled teens, and yet... When I got home from my Thanksgiving travels I found my inbox filled with UFO correspondence, all of which I will be writing about in the coming days, but one letter in particular jumped out at me. It was from Sxxxxxx, the 16 year-old girl who's UFO sighting I had investigated last month, and it started out with a bang:

"Hey Mark,
This is Sxxxxxx again (she really said that). I think I spotted another UFO yesterday..I know what I saw. I just dismissed it as I feel crazy now for seeing more things like this. My dad and stepmom already make jokes about the previous UFO incident to me since it happened. Everytime I mention the word UFO my dad just shakes his head and laughs."

Oh man, what are you doing, dad? This is your daughter! When the dad called me last month to offer more information for my investigation, he seemed to be taking the whole thing seriously, and now he just shakes his head and laughs??? This is the kind of shit we're up against every day folks. The people who you know will ridicule UFO witnesses are bad enough, but dads who say they take their daughters' UFO sightings seriously and then shake their heads and laugh whenever their daughters mention UFOs are a blight upon the earth.
Sxxxxxx (right) and her mom showing me the site of their first UFO encounter. The object they spotted and then tracked  first appeared in the wooded area to the right. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to publish official photographs of an investigation in progress, but neither do I want to be accused of a coverup.
And apparently stepmoms are just as bad, because this latest sighting took place while Sxxxxxx was riding in the car with her stepmom, and she didn't dare point out the strange lights in the sky to said stepmom because she knew it would be a lost cause.

So instead she wrote to me, her friendly neighborhood Certified UFO Field Investigator.

After describing the sighting to me in detail, and sending me a link to a YouTube video that looks like the object she saw, she ended with this plaintive message: "Please tell me..Why do I feel like I am seeing them more now? Do they 'know'? Are they following me? Do they know I believe?"

Wow. Nothing in my Certified UFO Field Investigator prepared me for this. Ask me where babies come from, I can describe the miracle of life without blinking an eye. Ask me if UFOs are following you, I'm clueless.

But I couldn't let the girl down. She has no one else to talk to! So I sat down and wrote her this:

"I'm not surprised that you saw another strange object in the sky, and I think it means something that you found a video of something else just like it. Now that you're aware of what's up there, you're looking at the sky more and you're noticing when something doesn't fit in. I'm not willing to go so far as to say that you're being watched or followed, but I do think that in a way you're watching and following them, whatever they are. I told you that I see a lot of case reports come in from your area, so if there really is a UFO hotspot in that area and you're keeping your eyes open, it stands to reason that you'll see them again. I don't want you to feel disappointed by that, but I also don't want you to feel that you have something to be afraid of, because you don't! Just consider yourself lucky that you get to witness these strange things that keep appearing when you're around"

Did I send her the right message? Not sure, but I know what I wrote to her was a lot better than shaking my head and laughing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CROPCOM Responds

In my last post I wrote about a crop circle appearance here in Wisconsin in 2003 that had attracted the attention of my fellow UFO Investigators, and since we here in the US are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, which is all about crops and grains and such, it seems appropriate to follow up on that post.

When I got the first email that alerted me to this, the links did not work, but since then I've gotten a new link that has led to more information, and, I have to admit, a massive let-down.

I am accustomed to the kind of crop circles they get in the UK; big, spectacular, complicated, breathtaking crop circles like these:
That's some pretty good stuff. No matter who made them, no matter how they were made, they are impressive. But when I heard there was a Wisconsin crop circle my first thought was, "Oh yeah, now we can finally show the Brits how a proper crop circle is done!"

Then I saw the Wisconsin crop circle...
I hang my head in shame...

It's not just that the Brits have better crop circles than us. They have better crops than us! Look at that mess. What rancid crop are they growing there? Whatever it is, it better not show up in my Wonder Bread.

Then it got worse. In the account of the investigation of this eyesore, the "research team" describes how they started to realize that they were being watched by the "U.S. Air Force Special Crop Circle Investigation Unit," or as I call it, CROPCOM. The researchers realized their investigation was being monitored when a miltary helicopter started circling over them... This is the photo presented as evidence:
I hate to break it to these guys, but that symbol on the side, that white square with the big red cross, that means it's a medical chopper. Maybe they were circling over you because they mistook you for a hospital?

Then our intrepid researchers noticed a CROPCOM officer watching them through binoculars from down the road, and they present this photo as evidence:
Are you, like me, getting more and more convinced with every new photo??

There's more to the story. The "Air Force" man comes over to talk to the researchers, and they make some small talk about the crop circle. The researchers pump him for information about the helicopter and find out that the "Special Crop Circle Investigation Unit" is based out of an Air Force Base in southern Illinois, but somehow they fail to get the guy's name even though it's sewn onto his shirt. Then they file a Freedom of Information Act request to get documentation about CROPCOM, which seems kind of silly when you already had a guy from CROPCOM right there telling you everything. Sadly, there is no evidence that they got anywhere with their request, or that CROPCOM has ever appeared anywhere since 2003.

So, while I still support MUFON getting involved in crop circle investigations, I will have to file this particular report in the "Stoopid" file, and never look at it again.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crop Circles! Finally!

Finally, I am writing about crop circles!

I have a thing for crop circles. Crop circles are strange and wonderful images -- usually circular but not always -- that mysteriously appear in farm fields when no one is looking. They're created by the systematic flattening of crops by forces unknown... They've been a big deal in southern England for decades, where they appear all over the landscape every summer.
Crazy, right? This circle appeared overnight in May, 2007, in England.
I got into them when I first learned the story of Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, a couple of old British blokes who became world famous in 1991when they took credit for creating every circle that had ever appeared in England. That was clearly impossible, but the British press was so happy to have a reasonable explanation they went with the story and made celebrities of Doug and Dave. I thought the story was so charming that I wrote a screenplay about it, and back in 2006 it looked as though the movie might get made at Disney with Bill Paxton directing. That didn't happen (although someone named M. Knight Shyamalan made a dopey alien invasion movie around that time that had crop circles in the story), but people still get excited about the script every now and then and I have maintained an interest in "cereology," which has nothing to do with Cap'N Crunch and everything to do with the study of crop circles... Mostly I just like them because they're so beautiful and so strange, and nobody has ever come up with a better explanation for them than Doug & Dave.

The reason I bring this up now is that I got a flurry of emails over the weekend from Vxxxx, my State MUFON Director, about a crop circle that appeared in 2003 in Polk County in northern Wisconsin. As near as I can understand, one of the state's Certified UFO Investigators came across an article about a US Air Force Special Crop Circle Investigation Unit, and in the article the USAFSCCIU is investigating this crop circle in northern Wisconsin, and now my state UFO investigation colleagues are seriously wondering whether crop circles fall under our venue...

This brings up some serious questions, such as, should we investigate something that doesn't necessarily involve UFOs? I say yes, because Bigfoot. Also, should we stick our noses into something that the US Air Force is already involved in? I say yes to that too, because I simply don't believe that the US Air Force Special Crop Circle Investigation Unit exists. Because I don't believe that the US Air Force would ever form an investigation unit with such a stupid, obvious name. If you were the US Air Force and you were going to form a special crop circle investigation unit, would you call it the Special Crop Circle Investigation Unit? No, you would give it a clever -- but not too clever -- decoy name, like the US Air Force Directorate of Unremarkable Tedium. Or Unit 9. Or CROPCOM.

If we do end up investigating crop circles I'll be a very happy guy. And if there is a connection between crop circles and UFOs, you'll read it here first.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Strange Case of the Duplicate Alien

I spent some time this week once again combing through the archives of CUFOS, the UFO research organization founded by Dr. J. Allen Hynek in 1973, and as always I came across some real bombshells that I may or may not share with you at some point. What was different this time was that I had a research companion. Txxx the English professor was there doing research for the poetry he plans to write about the 1961 Betty and Barney Hill UFO abduction case.

After our many emails, it was great to meet Txxx in person! He had recently returned from a very fruitful research trip to the Betty Hill archives in New Hampshire, and we had a lot to talk about. At one point in the conversation, Txxx mentioned an odd little story that I had forgotten... In all the hoopla round the Hill's abduction case when it became public knowledge in 1964, some skeptics tried very hard to prove that the Hills had just imagined their experience, and one skeptic, I can't remember who, suggested that the Hills got the whole idea from an episode of "The Outer Limits" TV series that had just aired the week before.

Now, I'm no stranger to "The Outer Limits." It was a very eerie, atmospheric science fiction anthology series that ran on ABC TV from 1963 to 1965, and it scared the living crap out of adorable little 3 year-old me. Nightmares. Bed-wetting. Piercing screams in the dead of night. You name it. This show had some scary-ass monsters...

The episode in question was called "The Bellero Shield," and it featured a glowing humanoid creature made of light that was trapped on earth. It's a particularly creepy episode, and the luminous alien is pretty memorable. Here it is, in all its glory...
Yes, this thing gave me nightmares when I was three.
So this skeptic notices that this show aired on TV just the week before Betty and Barney Hill underwent their first session of time-regression hypnosis and remembered the aliens who abducted them, and back then you only had three channels, so odds are pretty high that the Hills had this tuned in the previous Saturday, so it fits, right? The Hills obviously remembered the "Outer Limits" alien and imagined that they had encountered a whole spaceship full of similar beasties out on that lonely detour back in 1961.

Txxx and I had a good laugh going over the story, and Txxx told me that when Betty had been confronted with the accusation that she and Barney had simply recreated an alien from "The Outer Limits," she said, "I don't even know what the hell that is!" You go, Betty! Then I mentioned that that particular "Outer Limits" episode was actually a science fiction retelling of Shakespeare's "Macbeth," and Txxx got really excited about seeing it. What do you expect from an English professor?

But I've been thinking about the strange case of the duplicate alien for the past few days, and something just isn't right. I decided to look up the ABC TV Saturday night lineup for 1964 and discovered that immediately after not remembering watching "The Outer Limits" at 7:30 the Hills would have not remembered watching "The Lawrence Welk Show" at 8:30... so, if their TV set had been turned on and if the TV show connection is valid, the Hills actually would have gone under hypnosis and remembered being abducted by a spaceship full of this:

Lawrence Welk, alien
Actually, this would explain a lot...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Who's Dime Is It, Anyway?

Today I had one of the most enjoyable experiences of my entire UFO career. Today I had the privilege of interviewing William T. Powers for my book about UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek, and honestly I'm not sure who had more fun.

I discovered Bill Powers in an odd way. A few weeks ago I was researching Dr. Hynek's career in the archives at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, just north of Chicago, and I kept coming across Bill's name on all sorts of correspondence. Now, Dr. Hynek got a lot of letters, and every time he popped up on TV or in newspaper headlines, the volume of mail mushroomed...

People from all over the world wrote to Dr. Hynek to describe their own personal UFO encounters, and let me tell you, these people couldn't keep it brief and to the point if they were dangling above a vat of boiling oil with a candle burning through the rope. The letters go on and on, and some of them are pretty intense... Dr. Hynek couldn't possibly answer them all, so he had his right-hand man at the Northwestern observatory, Bill Powers, answer a lot of them. And here's the thing: Bill's replies to these letters were unfailingly polite, thoughtful and respectful. Someone would write in saying, "Dear Dr. Hynek, I need to tell you about my theory of reality! But first I have to tell you my entire life story so you can understand exactly how my life experiences led me to my theory..." Bill would write back, "Dear X, thank you for your interesting letter. I found your ideas fascinating. Let's begin with your comment on page 302..." And then he would go on himself for two or three or ten pages.

I found this extraordinary, and decided I needed to interview this man. I had no leads, nothing to go on, but after a little online detective work I found a number for a William T. Powers and decided to take a chance. It turned out to be the right guy, and he turned out to be incredibly charming and tickled pink that I wanted to interview him. When I told him how much I admired the letters he sent back to the UFO folks way back when, he said, "I just always figured that if a person has an idea, they deserve to be listened to." I was hooked. We set up a date to talk this morning, he suggested we talk on Skype, and we were on!

He told me a mothershipload of stories, and I wish I could tell them all here but then you would have no reason to buy my book and I need the cash. But there was one story that really got me, and I will share it here. Bill had started working for Dr. Hynek as a sort of a gopher/office assistant/observatory repair man around 1960, but from the start there was always a little UFO work mixed in, even though the university didn't approve. So one day in 1964, to keep the university off his case, Hynek sent his young assistant out to investigate a UFO sighting. In New Mexico.

Nobody ever could figure out what Officer Zamora saw outside Socorro, New Mexico, but the amazing Bill Powers has a pretty good idea what it was...
Turns out that this was a pretty famous and important Close Encounter of the Third Kind. It involved a small-town cop named Lonnie Zamora who saw what he first thought was a crashed car in an arroyo, then realized was a strange craft with two occupants outside it. As Zamora watched, the creatures got inside the craft and blasted off into the sky.

I was stunned. Hynek trusted this guy a lot. Not only did he entrust his correspondence to Bill Powers, but he sent him across the county to investigate a really significant UFO case. When I got over my shock I said to Bill, "So, he sent you to New Mexico to investigate a UFO sighting  on Northwestern's dime?" Bill chuckled and said, "To tell you the truth, Mark, I was never really sure where all his dimes came from..."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities

A few days ago I posted about the huge collection of UFO books I have amassed over the past several months, and writing that post reminded me that I should stop buying new UFO books and read the ones I have. So I went out the next day and bought more UFO books.

The first is called "The Everything UFO Book," and it is just as silly as it sounds. Just imagine a scholarly treatise on UFOs that has somehow been trapped inside Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy World and you'll get the idea. Apparently there exists a "Complete Idiot's Guide to Extraterrestrial Life," but I doubt it could be more simple-minded than "The Everything UFO Book." 
What would Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm do if they saw a UFO? "The Everything UFO Book" can tell you!
Oh, don't get me wrong; the book has its sublime moments, such as this passage: "If you have the opportunity to visit a cattle mutilation site to inspect the downed animal, remember, don't touch the carcass with your bare hands." That's good stuff. But in general "The Everything UFO Book" is everything that's ever been wrong with UFO literature, in that it desperately tries to make the UFO phenomenon accessible and acceptable to non-believers and wanna-believers, and in the process it just dishes up page after page of pseudo-information that makes the whole topic ripe for ridicule from the very people it tries to impress.

So why did I buy it? Because it's silly, and I have a blog to write.

The second book caught my eye because of its title: "UFOs." It kind of took me by surprise. Very search-engine friendly.

The book also has a great subtitle: "Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities," and it has a foreward by Dr. Jacques Vallee, which makes me think that Vallee liked it. And it has four pages of "Advance Praise" blurbs written by minor UFO celebrities who were lucky enough to read the book before it was published and knew enough to say good things about it so that they could get good blurbs back when they publish their books. Four pages! So that's all good.

Then I started reading it, and whoo-boy is it dynamite! Seriously, this is a UFO book that dares to say, "Hey, you know all that stupid shit you believe about UFOs? Well, you're stupid, because none of it is true." No, the author, John B. Alexander, Ph.D., hasn't actually called anyone stupid in the first 50 pages, but I think it's coming any page now...

Government coverup? Stop being so stupid.
Area 51? Stop.
Disclosure? Stop. Now.

I love this guy, and I love this book. Alexander worked deep, deep within the deepest layers of military intelligence work for a very long time and he never found any trace of any secret knowledge the government had about UFOs. And he looked hard. It's just not there. And I'll say it if he won't: you're stupid to believe it is.

Which is not to say that he dismisses the UFO phenomenon. He just favors a clear-eyed, intelligent approach to the subject, something that I have been promoting here in my own ass-backwards way for the past year and a half. So if you want to get smart about UFOs, you should read this book. While at the same time continuing to read this blog. Because they go hand-in-hand. No, actually, they go fist-in-glove. I believe I am the fist, but I will settle for glove. I should point out, though, that the book costs money, but you can read this blog for free anytime.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Final Reckoning, Almost

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I really like the people I meet on my UFO case investigations. Today I met Dxxx and Sxxxxxx, the mother-daughter team behind this UFO video. We hopped in my car and we retraced every inch of their sighting, and you know what? It was a blast. They were earnest and funny and genuine and wanted to share every little detail about their sighting, and I ate it up.

The locale of the sighting was interesting, to say the least. Within a 100-foot radius there's a cell phone tower, an abandoned quarry, an electrical substation and a water tower, with a railroad track a half mile down the hill as a bonus. What UFO wouldn't want to hover over all that infrastructure? With one well-aimed laser blast the aliens onboard could deprive the whole community of electricity, water, cell phone service, railroad service and decorative stone.

Now one thing in the video that had caused me some doubt was the loud, thrumming noise I heard that made it seem that Dxxx and Sxxxxxx were watching a helicopter. While we were out retracing their sighting, I heard the sound again, and it was coming from a freight train passing by on the nearby tracks. I'm not sure, but I could end up being the Sherlock Holmes of UFO investigating.

Trouble is, I still can't say for sure what they saw. According to my astronomical software, it could have been the planet Jupiter or the stars Capella or Alebaran. All three were visible in the sky that night, right in the general area and at the rough elevation where they saw their UFO. But what they saw moved, or at least seemed to move, and it moved fast. And it came towards them and then retreated, and then rose up very high in the sky, so it could have been a vehicle. Then again, they were in motion a lot of the time, and it's easy to think that stars are moving when you view them from a moving car...

And the sketch that Sxxxxxx made of the object doesn't really look at all like Jupiter, Capella or Aldebaran:

This does not look like Jupiter. For one thing, where are the moons?
Meanwhile, Sxxxxxx's video is getting tons of views on YouTube, and some dude took a screen shot from the video and blew it up to get this:

I don't know what the hell this is, but I guess I have to include it in my investigation.
What does it mean? Right now I'm wavering between "Unknown" and "Identified - Natural Occurrence." But since I have to submit my report to Vxxxx, my State Director, before I decide what it was, I have to hold off on deciding what it was until she tells me what to decide. What it was.

Speaking Up For UFOs

In a few hours I will be meeting up with Dxxx and her daughter Sxxxxxx to see the exact spot where they saw their UFO just two weeks ago. Will there be scorch marks? Deep depressions in the ground from where the UFO's landing gear settled into the dirt? Mutilated alien corpses? Better yet, will the UFO make a return visit?

More likely, we will tromp around in the wet grass for a while, they will point to places in the sky where they saw the object, they will struggle to find the right words to describe its appearance and motion, they will each draw a picture of the object for me and the drawings will be identical, and I'll come home, file my report, get my State Director's feedback, and classify it as an "unknown."

What I'm really hoping for is to get a better idea of the fear Sxxxxxx was feeling when she pleaded and begged her mom to drive away fast when it looked like the UFO was coming after them. In the video she submitted, the poor kid was scared shitless and wanted to get away just as the mom decided she wanted to stay put and get a closer look. It makes for some real drama, which you can hear at about the halfway mark in the video. Both of their reactions were very human and understandable, but it's really fascinating to hear the tension between the voice saying, "It's coming closer! Let's stick around and get a better look." and the voice saying, "Holy shit, it's coming after us! Let's get the hell out of here!" Then the first voice laughs and says, "Oh, stop! Look at it now!" and then the second voice loses it completely and begs, "Mom, PLEASE! Let's GO!"

Fascinating stuff.

Unfortunately, when I file that report later today I must also file a few others that disappoint me. I have four other cases that I am going to have to close for "Insufficient data," which is a nice way of saying the jerks never called me back or didn't put complete contact information on their report. One of these people was even cheeky enough to list the town where he or she lives as his or her name. We really need a category for "Insufficient courtesy."

These four cases involved:

"VERY bright white light, large, no sound, same intentsity (sic) all direction"

"Looked like fireball, sudden directional change light slowly faded off until we couldnt see it."

"Pulsing orbs 3rd night in week, and one triangle ufo on the 2nd night observing orbs"

"just happened to look just above the tree line and saw a very bright glowing solid ball of light falling straight down until it went past the tree line and could no longer see it."

Unfortunately, that's all we will ever know about these occurrences. They are now relegated to the dustbin of UFO history.

I would like to contact each of these individuals and thank them for wasting not only my time, but humanity's time. Where would we be today if Galileo never called back? Where would be today if Einstein forgot to put his email address on the theory of relativity? Where would we be today if Stephen Hawking just ran away whenever someone wanted to ask him something?

Does this guy ever duck out of his responsibilities to mankind? No way.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Four thousand, four hundred and seventy one. That's how many pages of UFO reading I have in front of me... It's a horrendously tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

Here's what 4,471 pages of UFO books looks like:

Here's another view:

I have bought the vast majority of these books just in the past six months. Amazon has got my number.

Feel sorry for me yet? I'm not sure you do, and even you do I'm not sure you do deeply and sincerely enough, so let me continue: Not only do I have to read all these books, I also need to catalog them. I need to find perfect quotes on every one of these four thousand, four hundred seventy one pages for the pages of my own book, so my reading comprehension level has to be very high. Like college level. That's tiring.

And then, once I've comprehended it all, my work is only beginning! Why? Because then I have to make writing magic happen, and making writing magic happen is very demanding. The air up here is very thin, my friends. Have you ever written a sentence? You have? Now imagine writing page after page of sentences, each of them meaning something, each of them flowing from the sentence before it, each of them -- and this is the really hard part -- each of them saying something that hasn't already been said in any of these other books!

My God. And I'm only going to get paid, what, six figures for this? Then another six figures for the film rights?

Also, do you realize how many UFO books are not available on kindle? It's a travesty. It's also discrimination.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Problematic Carl Sagan

The other night I had dinner with a bunch of writer, filmmaker, actor and otherwise creative friends, and I was talking about my J. Allen Hynek book project with Cxxx, a documentary filmmaker. I mentioned that I was trying to track down a video copy of the November 8, 1973 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, but wasn't having any luck so far...

The episode of this classic American TV talk show is important to my book research because it brought together Dr. Hynek, Dr. Carl Sagan, best-selling author and creator of the PBS TV series "Cosmos," recent UFO abductee Charles Hickson, recent UFO witness and helicopter pilot Army Capt. Lawrence Coyne and UFO witness and NASA astronaut James McDivitt to talk about the "flap" of UFO sightings that had been sweeping the nation for months. The program is perhaps most notable for bringing Hynek and Sagan together, as Hynek had become known as a proponent of serious UFO research and Sagan had become known as a proponent of serious UFO skepticism.

Sagan had been systematically picking holes in Capt. Coyne's account of how a UFO had pulled his Army helicopter up nearly 2,000 feet in altitude during his encounter, and Dr. Hynek came to Coyne's defense, saying "Altimeters don't hallucinate." To which Dr. Sagan replied, "I don't mean to attack Captain Coyne, but people who read altimeters hallucinate."

Ouch... That had to have left a mark.

So at dinner, my friend Cxxx asked what TV network the show had appeared on. Turns out that in his work making documentary films, he frequently requests archival footage from TV networks, and they happily oblige. So he's offered to approach ABC and request access to this episode of The Dick Cavett Show... which is just amazing. Thank you, Cxxx!

My best idea up to that point had been to write to Dr. Sagan's widow and ask if she had a copy of the show that she could give me access to, but that was a tricky letter. How could I explain that I wanted to see the video so I could write in my book what a knob her husband had been to everyone on the show? Clearly that wasn't going to work, so I just wrote her a very bland, generic letter. I think Cxxx's approach is better.
Why is Carl Sagan smiling? Maybe because he thinks he knows exactly when extraterrestrial civilizations have visited the earth.
So, yeah, I'm conflicted. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for both Dr. Hynek and Dr. Sagan, and I hate to see them fight. But here's why Sagan's disdain for the UFO experience is so problematic. He believed that life almost certainly must exist elsewhere in the universe. And he believed that at least some life on other planets must be technologically advanced and capable of interstellar travel. And he believed that some of those civilizations could very well have visited earth in the distant past. But he ridiculed people who believed that they were still visiting the earth in 1973...

His logic was that the time and distance between our world and theirs must be so great that they would only visit us every couple hundred thousand years or so. But it seems to me that he was making some very big assumptions there, and engaging in what Dr. Hynek was fond of describing as "temporal provincialism," or the belief that an alien race would have to be locked into the same developmental timeline as we are.

I love you Carl, but I think you blew it on this one. I don't mean to attack you, but people who accuse people of reading altimeters of hallucinating hallucinate.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Complaint Department

I regularly complain here about the way my UFO organization, MUFON, operates, and I usually make light of my complaints. But tonight I have some serious complaints that will be very difficult to make light of, because they're pretty serious. I still hope to make light of them, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to.

There's been a flurry of worrisome emails this weekend from my State Director, Vxxxx, about reporting standards for case investigations. The weirdness started a few weeks ago, when MUFON's new management sent out a new form us Certified UFO Field Investigators  to use when reporting on our UFO sighting investigations. The trouble with that is that the new reporting forms pretty much duplicate the old reporting forms, and the trouble with that is Management is making us add the new reporting forms to the old reporting forms. If you're thinking, "That's dumb. They're making you report the same information twice!" you would be absolutely correct. It is dumb.

But now it's worse.

Up until now, when I fill out an investigation report, the last thing I do is to mark the report "Complete," and then indicate the "Case Disposition." Basically I'm saying "The report is done and I think this person saw a (fill in the blank)." The catch is that the MUFON online Case Management System doesn't let you fill in the Case Disposition until you've marked the report Complete. So far, so good, but now my State Director is instructing us not to mark our reports Complete until she's had a chance to look them over. Which means she can decide what the case disposition is... Which means she gets to decide what the witness saw. Which means she gets to have all the fun. Why am I doing all the investigating if she gets to do all the solving?

As always, I blame the Captain.
But then it gets worse.

Then Vxxxx sent out an email talking about "Categorization," which is what we do when we decide on the disposition of the case. Here's what the email said:

"Sometimes the hardest part of the whole report process is trying to determine whether it's an unknown, man-made, natural object or insufficient information. According to the statistics that have been done nationally, only about 5-7% of our reports should be unknowns. I got a peek at some of the statistics for Wisconsin and we are way over that (I'll ask to see if they'll forward the study to me). Everyone else is struggling with this as well and they are working on definitions and examples for us so that we have better guidelines but I have no idea when they'll be coming out. All I'm saying is that you need to keep this in mind when you make your decision when checking the final categorization and provide your thinking on how you came to that conclusion. If it's a toss-up in your mind, it's better to lean away from an unknown. One of the things I look at is whether there are anomalous movements. To me, it's much more likely that it's an unknown if there are erratic movements as opposed to something that glides across the sky with no change in direction. Something to consider."

According to the national statistics, only five to seven percent of our reports should be identified as "Unknown." So now we're on a quota system. But we won't know what "Unknown" actually means until HQ sends us the new guidelines. But Vxxxx has no idea when the new guidelines will be coming out. But we have to start changing our reporting now.

I'm sure this will all make sense someday. No it won't.

I don't mind doing the work. I just want it to mean something.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Bit of Balony

I wish I had known years ago how much fun it would be to write a book about the career of a famous UFO researcher! Had I know what a pleasure it would be, I would have made this my career fresh out of college. Which would have been weird, just having gotten a film degree, but what the hell?

My latest fun experiences have just unfolded over the past few days. First, I've been in correspondence with a couple of gentlemen in Kalamazoo, MI, both of whom have done exceeding amounts of work in documenting the history of UFO research, and both of whom have been graciously allowing me to interview them via email.

One of these guys, in particular, is a real hoot. He's a cantankerous retired college professor who is extremely particular about how he will and will not help me:

"I dislike long talks on the telephone and don't want to do that;"
"This probably is not feasible, but coming to Kalamazoo for a day [+] would be not only much more comfortable for me, but doubtless far more informative for you;"
"I am willing to write short responses to specific questions via e-mail, or possibly landmail, but more than that is onerous;"
"Should you want to stay in Kzoo more than a day in a nearby motel, I could deal with a couple of days of inquiries or files mining if that was within your scope"

After some haggling, we agreed that if I stood on my roof and sent short questions to him via semaphor, he would happily respond with monosyllabic answers in Morse Code. So far it's working, but my arms are getting tired.
This is no way to conduct an interview.
Seriously, he has been a peach, in part because I have deliberately asked him questions designed to arouse his ire, and so he can't help but send me long, detailed, irritated responses refuting my questions :) See? I'm kind of a genius that way.

Then there's the lawyer from Mississippi... I love this guy!

While writing about the Close Encounter of the Third Kind that took place in Pascagoula, MS, back in 1973, a case that has been written up a billion jillion times, I was quite understandably looking for a fresh angle. I kept running across references to Joe Calingo, a local lawyer who was called in after the Close Encounter to look out for the best interests of the witnesses, Charlie Hickson and Calvin Parker. After a little internet scrounging, I found a phone number and called it. After a few rings it was picked up and I found myself, against all reasonable odds, talking to Joe Colingo.

Turns out I got lucky. Joe had recently been hospitalized and thought I was the hospital calling him. That's the only reason he answered. It helped that I identified myself as Dr. O'Connell from the hospital. But when he realized his mistake he was not rude to me at all. In fact, he started rattling off memories of Charlie and Calvin and Dr. Hynek faster than I could jot them down.

The first amazing thing he told me was that, despite what 50 zillion babillion UFO books not written by me have maintained over the years, he had not been hired to represent Charlie and Calvin at all! SCOOP! In actuality, he represented the shipyard where they worked, and the morning after the incident the shipyard was being overrun by nosy reporters and pesky TV crews. Joe told me that "(Shipyard owner) Johnny Walker called me up and said 'Joe, you've got to come down here and help me figure out how to keep these reporters from getting in the way!'" 

Joe also told me that, while he never got to know Charlie and Calvin very well, he never doubted their sincerity. He also had a high opinion of Dr. Hynek, telling me, "There wasn't a bit of balony to that man."

And that, folks, might just end up being the title of my book: "Not a Bit of Balony -- The J. Allen Hynek Story."