High Strangeness: 2017

Friday, December 29, 2017

The UFO Story That Can't Be Killed

Have you been having fun watching the current UFO news blitz since it was kicked off by the now-famous New York Times article co-written by Leslie Kean? I know I have!

Half the fun for me has come from monitoring the chatter between UFO people, following along with their thoughts on the news and trying to square the flood of information with what they (we) think or thought we knew not just about UFOs but about our government's response to the phenomenon.
One of the two "Nimitz videos"

I'm in the middle of a great correspondence with UFO scholar and blogger at https://ufopast.com/ Professor Greg Eghigian about the UFO story that won't die, and I thought I'd share some of our talk here on High Strangeness.

Greg directed me to a story he just penned for the Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine that you can read here, and he told me that he is, like many of us I think, approaching the news cautiously... In other words, he finds it interesting but he has a lot of questions.

Greg then asked for my take on the story, and here's what I wrote to him:
hi Greg,
I'm having a hard time sorting it all out. On the one hand, I'm happy that UFOs are now headline news in the mainstream media, and that the story does not seem to be dying out. Hell, even Neil deGrasse Tyson is sounding a little on guard and off balance these days. On the other hand, I'm disappointed that most "experts" and commentators have had the classic knee-jerk reaction of going directly to the extraterrestrial alien spacecraft hypothesis to explain what's going on. That's not the only possible explanation, simply the easiest and most acceptable (relatively speaking).
This doesn't really seem to be a case of the Pentagon discovering incontrovertible proof that we are being visited by aliens from other worlds. Rather, it seems more like a somewhat deniable admission that the military has been keeping its eyes open, and has seen some inexplicable things as a result, which is hardly "Disclosure," and hardly shocking. I find the Nimitz videos more confusing than confirming. Why does one pilot say, "There's a whole fleet of them" when only one object is visible? Why does the object shake and wobble in unison with the body of the camera, as if locked to the camera? Why does it never grow closer, or recede?

And the list of people involved is insane.... Robert Bigelow? Tom DeLonge? Harry Reid? Leslie Kean? How do we make sense of that list of players?? I made the point on tv last week that Bigelow had a similar partnership with MUFON around the same time frame as the Pentagon study, and that in his deal with MUFON he would get to keep any artifacts or technologies recovered from their UFO investigations. Did he have the same deal with Reid? (and did he use some of Reid's $22 earmark to pay off MUFON?) Again, this approach to the story presupposes that they're dealing with "nuts-and-bolts" technology, and that the UFOs are manufactured objects. Where's the proof of that?

It also seems to me that the story in its entirety is being very carefully and very professionally managed. I have no idea who might be doing this or why, but my gut tells me that this may the most important aspect of the story, as we know it thus far.

Maybe it's Fox's way of publicizing the upcoming return of The X-Files! Could it all be smoke and mirrors??
 Now, readers, what's your take?

Monday, December 18, 2017

UFOs and the Secret Pentagon Study

By now most of the world has heard of the top secret $22 million Pentagon UFO study revealed in the December 16 New York Times, and I'm sure a lot of us are scratching our heads over the article and asking a lot of questions about this so-called "Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program," or AATIP.

Here are some of my questions:

  1. If, as the report states, the bulk of the $22 million AATIP budget went to billionaire aerospace entrepreneur Robert Bigelow to construct buildings in which to store captured alien technology, does that mean that Bigelow retained the right to keep whatever technologies or artifacts might be discovered/recovered by the program? Remember that when Bigelow struck a deal with MUFON around this same timeframe, he insisted that any physical evidence of a "nuts and bolts" object recovered by the MUFON STAR Team would belong to him.
  2. Was the supposed shutdown of AATIP in 2012 due to a lack of results, a lack of money, or both? 
  3. If the mission of AATIP was/is to determine whether UFOs pose an "Advanced Aviation Threat," doesn't that presuppose that UFOs are real and are intelligently controlled physical objects? On what basis would AATIP have decided this?
  4. What has this "whistleblower" Luiz Elizondo, who claims to have been in charge of AATIP from 2007 to 2012, been doing for the past five years? Why release this bombshell news now when he could have done it in, say, 2012, when the project was defunded?
  5. U.S. Senator Harry Reid claims that AATIP is one of his proudest accomplishments, which implies that the program produced results, so exactly what results does he think it produced?
  6. If you listen to today's Times podcast about this story, reporter Helene Cooper says at about the 11:35 mark that "...the people who operate (AATIP) tend to be true believers," but we know from the fate of the Air Force's Project Sign in the late 1940s that when "true believers" are running a UFO research program the results and conclusions are going to be skewed towards the extraterrestrial hypothesis and ultimately rejected by the Pentagon brass. Did the AATIP meet this same fate? And if so, can its conclusions be trusted?

I'm not dissing the reporting at all. There could very well be something very big and exciting going on here. But I think it behooves us to keep asking questions and demanding answers.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Worry About UFOs

Regular readers of High Strangeness may have noticed that my blogging has been sparse of late. There are several reasons for that.

Even six months after the release of my book, The Close Encounters Man: How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs, I still often find myself needing to just take a step back from UFO world and decompress. It's hard to explain how focusing on one singular topic for five + years can affect your feelings about that topic. Not that I've lost interest at all, I just need to limit my exposure to it sometimes, for my own mental health.
The book is only the beginning...

And although this may sound contradictory, I'm more inclined these days to put my UFO energy into other media projects building off the success of my book. I've been working with a new manager, and I'm loving the energy she's bringing to my writing career. The projects themselves are pretty top secret, so I can't say anything more about them, but they are sure to be entertaining -- at least to me!

Another thing: for the past 2 years I've been teaching screenwriting as an adjunct professor at DePaul University and I really love it. My students are so talented and so positive, and I'm privileged and honored to help them find their voices and become better writers -- which I'd like to I think I've become fairly good at. So, this fall I've also been devoting a lot of energy to applying for full-time teaching posts. I don't have a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) or a Ph.D., which puts me out of the running for many faculty positions, but every now and then a college is willing to waive that requirement if you have what they call "equivalent professional experience." Fortunately for me, my Star Trek writing experience and the publication of my book qualify, so when I find one of those opportunities I have to pounce on it.

Then there's the continuing craziness everywhere I look in UFO world:
  • I keep getting emails from Tom Delong's insipid "To the Stars Institute" or whatever the hell it's called, urging me to do my Christmas shopping at his website. So apparently his UFO Institute is just an e-commerce operation, nothing more. No, he is not getting a penny of my Christmas $$, and neither is MUFON, come to think of it.
  • Someone on Facebook recently pointed out that the upcoming International UFO Congress is featuring a talk by Don Schmitt on whether Dr. J. Allen Hynek had "discovered the truth about UFOs." Anybody who knows anything about Dr. Hynek knows that Hynek would have despised any suggestion that he might know the "truth" about UFOs. All I ask is that, if you plan to go to this lecture, please read my book first and then make up your own mind. And if you don't want to buy my book, for God's sake check it out of the library!
  • I recently saw on IMDB that the producers of the History Channel's "Blue Book" TV series have cast someone to play "General Hoyt S. Vandenberg." This made me chuckle and roll my eyes. Why they think this is worth noting is beyond me. Vandenberg's involvement with the Air Force's UFO study lasted about three seconds -- just long enough for him to reject Project Sign's extraterrestrial hypothesis-friendly "Estimate of the Situation," all (or perhaps almost all?) copies of which ended up being destroyed as a result. Does this casting notice indicate that General Vandenberg has been posthumously promoted?
So, yeah, I worry.

On the other hand, I am psyched about the return of The X-Files, and I did do a very fun interview last weekend with Howard Hughes, the UK's answer to Art Bell! As soon as Howard posts the conversation at The Unexplained with Howard Hughes, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, you can listen to my archived previous interview with Howard here

Monday, November 20, 2017

UFO Casting Call

Now, who could this guy play in a UFO show?
So it's old news now that the History Channel has announced the first casting selections for its planned TV series based on Project Blue Book. Dr. J. Allen Hynek will be portrayed by Aidan Gillen, that guy from Game of Thrones who played Littlefinger, and his wife Miriam will be played by an actress named Laura Mennell, from The Man in the High Castle.

Leaving aside for the moment the very excellent suggestion I made in my Rolling Stone interview that the great Martin Freeman should be playing Dr. Hynek, I thought it might be fun to make a few casting predictions/suggestions for the show... These are just off the top of my head, so don't judge, but I think they'd make for a pretty unique viewing experience:

Capt. Edward Ruppelt................Steve Carrell
Betty Hill....................................Wynona Ryder
Barney Hill.................................Idris Elba
Betty Hill's alien "leader"...........Emma Stone
William T. Powers......................Daniel Craig
Lonnie Zamora...........................Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Dr. Carl Sagan............................Christian Slater
Frank Mannor.............................Tommy Lee Jones
Philip Klass................................John Ratzenberger
Dr. Jacques Vallee......................Jean Reno
Jennie Zeidman...........................Parker Posey
"Lucky" Sutton............................Jim Parsons
Dr. Donald Menzel.....................Max von Sydow
Father William Gill....................Anthony Hopkins
Father Gill's "waving" alien.......Samuel L. Jackson
Donald Keyhoe...........................Mark Hamill
Joe Simonton...............................Anthony Bourdain
Major Hector Quintanilla...........Larry David

Some of these choices may strike you as weird but let me remind you that when the alien abduction book Communion was made into a movie, they cast Christopher Walken as Whitley Strieber. Christopher freaking Walken...

What say you? Who would you cast in these pivotal parts? And what other characters should be added to this list? (Remember, this deals only with the Project Blue Book years of 1952-1969, otherwise I would have had a field day casting Charles Hickson, Calvin Parker, Lawrence Coyne, Val Johnson, Travis Walton, etc. etc.).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

UFOs in the News

I've come across a couple of interesting articles recently that have given me some things to think about, UFO-wise.

The first was this article in WIRED, entitled Twenty Years After His Death, Carl Sagan is Still Right. Right about what, you may ask? Why, UFOs, of course!

The writer recalls a time twenty years ago when he interviewed Dr. Sagan, the noted UFO skeptic, in order to find out from Sagan "why people believed crazy stuff." When you've started the discussion out on such a low level, you can hardly expect any remarkable insights, and Sagan offered none:
“When UFOs became a popular subject and I was in early high school or something, it seemed to me great. We were just reaching out into space, and why not a much more advanced civilization reaching out to us?” Sagan said. “It seemed so heady and promising, such an interesting future. But as I learned a little bit more about the properly skeptical attitudes of science and how often we deceive ourselves, I began to look at this with much more skepticism.”
Later, the author quotes Sagan's idiotic saying that "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence" -- a stance that I pick apart in my book The Close Encounters Man. The interviewer simply accepted that as the final word on UFOs twenty years ago, and its clear from the new article that he still believes that today. It's a very frustrating read, and some of the commenters are even more closed-minded than the author.

Still, I recommend you read it, as it pretty much sums up what we're up against.
The massive radio antenna at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, listens for alien transmission. China is building one even bigger.

The other article I came across this week was much more fun, and much more uplifting. What Happens If China Makes First Contact? just appeared in the December, 2017 issue of The Atlantic, and although it's a very long article is is well worth a full read. The article tells the story of China's efforts to build a radio telescope nestled between mountains that is twice as far across as the one nestled between mountains near Arecibo, Puerto Rico, which is already pretty damn big.

Why are the Chinese taking on such a massive, expensive project? Could it be that they want that first UFO to land not on the lawn of the White House but in the middle of The Forbidden City? It turns out that is exactly right. The Chinese want to make first contact so badly that they have built the world's largest radio telescope and they have dedicated it exclusively to listening for signals from extraterrestrials.

And, get this: they've enlisted the aid of Liu Cixin, China's best-known science-fiction author and first-ever Hugo Award winner, to help publicize the dish and its mission. It's a massive, ambitious, exciting project (which, as far as I can tell, does not have a name), and the Chinese seem to be doing everything in their rather formidable power to make it a success. And I think that's really exciting and inspiring.

I suppose it's possible that there's a down side to idea of competition in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, but I also think that if that if first contact were made, the alien intelligence(s) would be wise enough to know that any signal they send to the Chinese dish would need to be simultaneously "cc'd" to the Arecibo dish.

They're the smart ones, remember?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

UFO Sweepstakes!

All this Tom DeLonge/To The Stars Institute stuff flying around the internet these days has got me thinking (reluctantly) about "Capital D" Disclosure.

I get it that a lot of people are desperate for someone to reveal "the truth" about UFOs, and I get it that a lot of people have an unshakeable belief that the government knows this "truth" and is going to reveal it to us all when the time is right. Uncertainty is unbearable for these people -- they need to believe something can be proven about ETs & UFOs -- excuse me: Advanced Aerial Threats (AATs) -- and it seems there's always someone ready to prey on their uncertainty.

That and recent comments here at High Strangeness have forced me to re-examine my beliefs about Disclosure. Don't worry, I still think it's a load of crap. If Disclosure were ever to take place (which it won't), it wouldn't be the government's call. It would be entirely up the the aliens -- assuming they exist -- to reveal their presence to the world, and since they haven't done it yet there's no reason to think they will anytime soon. If they exist.

So, what, then, does my new thinking entail? Well, over the past few days I've been asking myself this question:

"What if I could decide how and when Disclosure was to take place?"

It's kind of a fun idea, I have to admit. In this scenario, I alone have first-hand knowledge that aliens have been visiting the earth and have been influencing human events, and the time has come for me to spill the beans to the estimated 7.6 billion people of earth. How would I do it? Where would I do it? When would I do it?

The first idea I had was that I would present it as a global lottery or sweepstakes:

Win a Weekend With the Aliens! (No purchase necessary) 

We're all suckers for give-aways, so why not incorporate that into the Disclosure plans? I'd launch a year-long, world-wide, enter as often as you want online sweepstakes, and the Grand Prize winner would get to spend three days and two nights as guests of our new alien friends in a luxury suite aboard their UFO. The package would include sightseeing trips to the moon and our neighboring planets, an autographed copy of my book, The Close Encounters Man, and $500 cash.

I'm pretty sure the aliens would go along with it. Sure, it robs them of the long-anticipated landing on the White House lawn, but I think the fact that it would raise their cultural stature from "Visitor From Another Planet" to "Valuable Prize" would more than make up for it. And the winner could pretend to be Richard Dreyfus at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which would be kind of cool.

And I'm sure I could persuade the aliens to kick in a few items of advanced technology that they have lying around as awards for a few thousand runner-ups: ray guns! anti-grav devices! free energy!! Hell, I'd even persuade the aliens to personally present a real free energy device to Tom DeLonge.

As a huge added bonus, by making a big game of it, I ensure that none of that "societal breakdown" business that Disclosure fans worry so much about will come to pass. I don't know, I just think we need put the fun back in Disclosure, and this is the way to do it.

How about you, dear readers? If YOU were in charge of Disclosure, how would you announce the alien presence to the people of earth?

(P.S. Just a few minutes ago I got an email from Tom DeLonge advertising the great values I can find on To The Stars Academy products at his online store)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Best UFO books??

I got this great note on Facebook the other day, and I've been thinking about it a lot. Read the note and then I'll tell you why it's been on my mind...
Hi Mark, I loved your book, and I have mentioned it to several friends only to be met with that look you get when you admit that you believe that UFOs are more that just total nonsense, so I'm sure it's not easy to promote your book. Would you ever consider compiling a reading list for people who share your point of view on the UFO phenomenon? I just read "Passport to Magonia", and "Operation Trojan Horse", but I need to be pointed in the right direction.
First of all, thanks for the compliment, and thanks for trying to get your friends to see the light! Given them time; they might come around.

It is true, though, that it's not easy to promote the book. Just yesterday I was at a big Barnes & Noble and found my book in the far back corner of the store, on the bottom shelf of the last bookcase, in the "UFOs, Aliens and Conspiracy" section. Now, I will cut B&N some slack, as The Close Encounters Man was displayed cover out rather than spine out, so that's good, but still, it's not great real estate for a book that's intended for a mainstream audience.

Well, I am right next to Jim Marrs, which is cool.

But a few minutes later I was perusing the "Science" section, located in the more reputable part of the store, and I came across a startling discovery.

There, right next to a biography of Nikola Tesla and just a few feet from Hidden Figures and the latest from Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mary Roach and Neil deGrasse Tyson, is a book called: UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says.
Both books have "UFO" in the title, but this one is a "Science" book and mine isn't? Hmmm....
I'm not saying that this book doesn't belong here, because it does (and it looks like an interesting book, although, I confess, I didn't buy it). I'm just saying my book has an equal claim to being in the "Science" section. And the "Biography" section, for that matter. At times like this I wonder whether my subtitle should have read: "How One Scientist Made the World Believe in UFOs," instead of "One Person."

This is one reason a book like mine can be a challenge to market. But it makes me all the more pleased that my next speaking engagement is taking place as part of the Wisconsin Science Festival -- they got it right!

Anyway, back to the request on Facebook for the recommended UFO books. I must state up front that for the past five years I have only been reading those books that have pertained to J. Allen Hynek's life and work, so I'm not that well versed in more recent work (although I can enthusiastically recommend Leslie Kean's masterful UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record). For that reason, my list of recommended books is perhaps too old-school and outmoded for many, but here goes anyway....

That said, this reader already made a good choices with Jacques Vallee's Magonia and John Keel's Trojan Horse, and I would suggest reading anything by either of those two gents, because they are among the most entertaining UFO writers who ever put pen to paper. Also, even if I hadn't written a book about him I would be obliged to  recommend Dr. J. Allen Hynek's books, The UFO Experience, The Edge of Reality and The Hynek UFO Report, because they are so good. I also love John Fuller's two masterworks, The Incident at Exeter and The Interrupted Journey.

Then, in no particular order, I would recommend the following, all of which are very fun and informative reads, and particularly suited to a reader who desires a good grounding in the UFO phenomenon in its early days:
  • UFOs? Yes! by David R. Saunders
  • Communion by Whitley Streiber
  • Alien Dawn by Colin Wilson
  • A Common Sense Approach to UFOs by Betty Hill
  • UFOs a Scientific Debate by Carl Sagan and Thornton Page
  • Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky by Dr. Carl Jung
  • The UFO Handbook by Allan Hendry
  • The UFO Controversy in America by Dr. David M. Jacobs 
  • The entire digest of the International UFO Reporter, published by the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (cufos.org)
To be clear, I don't always agree with everything these writers have to say, but I did find these books all engaging and entertaining for a variety of reasons. Case in point: I recommend Communion simply because it is so gloriously wigged out.

How about you? What books would you have on your list?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

UFO Documentary Scam?

This really takes the cake...

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a young filmmaker who said he was making a short YouTube documentary about Dr. J. Allen Hynek based on my book, The Close Encounters Man, and he was offering me the opportunity to edit his script before he went onto production.

It took me a minute or two to absorb this guy's message. He was making a video based on my work... without bothering to ask my permission... but he was hoping I would edit and approve his script... and thereby put my seal of approval... on a product he was clearly filching from me.

Pretty cheeky of him, eh?

Do I want to take part in a UFO documentary? Hmmm...
I told him I had a problem with that, and that I would be consulting my attorney. He claimed that he was within his rights to use my book as source material under the "fair use" provision of copyright law, which is not really true, as he was basically basing everything in his script on my work, no one else's. That's a bit more than "fair use," IMHO. My attorney, meanwhile, was all set to send this guy a cease and desist letter, but I didn't really think he was worth that much effort.

Well, I got busy over the last week or two and forgot all about this guy and his video. Then yesterday he sent me this message:
"I'm aiming to have this video completed by the end of the weekend and will need to know if you'll be requesting any changes to the script."
Although it was the last thing I wanted to do, I took another brief look at his script and found three or four significant inaccuracies right off the bat. But did I want to spend a hunk of my day going over the whole thing and fixing this guy's mistakes? No, I did not. Getting his script right is his job, not mine.

So here's what I wrote back to him:

There are quite a few inaccuracies in your script, and frankly I don't have the time or inclination to edit your writing. You can utilize "Fair Use" of course, to cite The Close Encounters Man for very specific, limited quotes, but I do not give you permission to portray me as sponsoring, approving or participating in your video in any way. Furthermore, you do not have my permission to use any image of my book or of my person in your video.

First world problem, I know, but what a ridiculous waste of my time. And what, really, does it contribute to the discussion?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

UFO Criticism

As readers may know, I love to read reviews of my book, The Close Encounters Man. Bad or good, each review teaches me something, and sometimes they just crack me up. Case in point: the Amazon reviewer who panned my book but made the bizarre statement that he knows more about UFOs than the average person but that he had never heard of J. Allen Hynek before--that guy had me laughing all day.

Then there's this review on Goodreads... It starts out on a fairly positive note in the first paragraph, but then the reviewer writes:
"I had a problem with the way in which the 'landmark' cases that are presented, though - particularly the Socorro, New Mexico report of an alleged landing by patrolman Lonnie Zamora - which are not just discussed uncritically; most of them are presented as fact."
Obviously the reviewer means this as a criticism, but I don't take it that way at all. Of course I presented the landmark UFO cases as though they had actually happened; that was one of the basic concepts of the book, and one of the first creative decisions I made about how I would write the book.

This UFO was seen and photographed by J. Allen Hynek
When I was researching the UFO book market way back in the early days of the project, I came to realize that there are essentially two kinds of UFO books out there:

  1. Objective UFO books written by scholars and journalists--they're impressively researched and uniformly well-written, but because the authors want to maintain their critical credentials, they studiously distance themselves from the absurd and sensational qualities of the phenomenon, thus robbing it of its entertainment value.
  2. Subjective UFO books written by UFO enthusiasts and "experts"--they're chock full of fun UFO facts and details and anecdotes and they fully embrace the absurd and sensational qualities of the UFO phenomenon, sometimes to the extreme, but the sad truth is that UFO enthusiasts and "experts" are not always very good writers.
So I set out to write a book that would cut right through the middle, presenting the UFO phenomenon as a reality to the persons reporting the events while fully embracing the absurd and the sensational. I wanted to write something that was educational and informative, but unabashedly entertaining as well. I know that it's the absurdity and sensationalism that draw me the phenomenon, so why try to pretend it isn't a factor, or that it's beneath me somehow to take it seriously?

To that end I approached every UFO case I wrote about from as many of these sources as I could find:
  • The witness's first-hand account of the event
  • The media's depiction of the event
  • The Air Force investigator's report of the event
  • Dr. Hynek's investigative reports and conclusions
  • My own interviews with witnesses or people associated with the case or its investigation
Of course I didn't always have all five of these sources available for every case (the Air Force, for instance, did not officially investigate UFO cases after 1969), but this was my goal, and I could almost always round up at least three of the five for every case, because, guess what: UFO cases get written about a LOT (even lame ones)!

So, that means that throughout the book I present the UFO events as fact, in the eyes and words of the witnesses. I accept J. Allen Hynek's philosophy, often stated in his UFO case reports, that "the witness experienced something very real, although at this time we cannot say what it was," or, more simply, "I believe the experience was very real to the witness." To present the events any other way would, in my opinion, cast doubt on the witnesses and create a strong bias of disbelief in the reader, and in that case, why write the book at all? Much better, I think, to take the witnesses' testimony at face value and then see where Dr. Hynek's research led him in trying to explain and understand the witnesses' experiences.

Maybe you agree with my approach, maybe not, but I'm not going to apologize for presenting UFO events "as fact," because that's exactly how they were experienced by the witnesses.

Now, as to this Goodbooks reviewer's other knocks:
  • Fair call on me not catching that Carl Sagan's trademark "billions and billions" of stars originated in a Johnny Carson spoof.
  • Not fair call on me supposedly not knowing that Dr. Hynek had seen UFOs--read P. 332 of my book.
  • Also not fair call that I didn't read Dr. Hynek's book The Edge of Reality--I've read the book at least three times and I reference it on P. 311-313 and 354. I think maybe this reviewer just stopped reading my book at page 310! 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Surprise UFO Letter

I'm still kind of in shock from this...

Some readers may know that UFO and conspiracy author Jim Marrs wrote a cover blurb for my book a short time before he passed away this year. I was thrilled with his generous comments on The Close Encounters Man--but saddened that I never got the chance to get to know the man.

Well, the other day my editor Mxxxxxx forwarded me a letter he had gotten from Mr. Marrs' longtime assistant, Mxxxxxx, and I was bowled over by what she had to say. Here is her letter, reprinted with her kind permission:

To introduce myself, I am Jim Marrs' old assistant.
I just wanted to let the other shoe drop as the dust now settles over the Jim Marrs estate since his death on August second.
About three or so weeks before his passing, Jim handed me the envelope enclosing the manuscript of "The Close Encounters Man" and he didn't say much, just gave me a hard look over the rim of his glasses.  "Read this, it is good." is what he said.
I have just finished this fine work and I think one of the reason's he loved it so was that it was a desire of Jim's to have something done regarding his own life on this caliber.  He was most impressed with the tenor of the book, how well researched and the tenderness of dealing with the demise of Dr. Hynek at the end.  Jim was in this stage of decline when he read this manuscript and he had lost the use of his right eye before he finished this book and it wasn't easy for him to get to the end because of his failing vision, but he did.  This was the last book Jim Marrs ever read.  I just wanted you to know this point.  I hold this manuscript now as a priceless treasure!
Jim Marrs grew up from a young boy dreaming about UFO's, and even did a watercolor of one when he was 9 years old.  (I have that too.)  And it is interesting that the last book he read was the somewhat frustrating life of another UFO researcher, albeit a scientist and not a journalist like Jim.  This book brought Jim full circle. 
I cried when I read the last line thanking the aliens.  Nice touch!
Best regards,
I wrote back to thank her for her kind letter, and this is what she wrote back (also reprinted with her permission):
You are most welcome Mark.  I was Jim's assistant for over ten years.  You kind of know what he means when he looked you in the eyes after a time.  He couldn't say much toward the end...but he forcefully shoved that envelope with your manuscript into my hands.  I told him I would read it.  Took me a couple of months because we had his whole estate to go through and he was a collector!  The manuscript had become a comfort when I would go to bed and it was there waiting for me, page by page. (I am not really a single woman, the other side of my bed is filled with books)  Kind of hated to finish it (I read many manuscripts for him over the years)...each thing I do distances me from him.  He was lively and kind and almost always positive except when there was a slow car up ahead, then he would get angry!  lol

He did appreciate your book and I know he enjoyed the content and the flow of the biography.  Nicely done from my point of view as well.  I throughly enjoyed all the historic nuance you brought in like how all the UFO groups gossiped and quipped amongst themselves, which is still going on today. Most tenderly I love how you said that Hynek "entered the supersensible realm." I may steal that one in the future. I imagine Jim and Allen having a nice chat with each other with an audience!  Even enjoyed your acknowledgements, not just names mentioned but why and how they helped you.  Job well done and there were no mistakes I could see! I hope your sales go through the roof.  I have endorsed this book on my facebook. It was a book that needed to be written!
As you might imagine, I am quite blown away by this.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

UFOs and Politics

I just don't know where to go with this...

Florida Republican Who Once Claimed Alien Abduction Announces House Bid
Either Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera has been watching too much Syfy Channel or she’s really just that special. We’ll probably never know for sure.
That's the lead-in to a news article that was making the rounds yesterday. A self-professed alien abductee is running for Congress in Florida, and now it's open season on people who report UFO encounters. The crack about "watching too much SyFy Channel" is particularly obnoxious.

The article continues:
No matter, the 59-year-old Republican, who once recalled in an interview a visit from three blond-haired aliens who took her aboard their spacecraft, is running for Florida’s 27th District seat being vacated by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I went in. There were some round seats that were there, and some quartz rocks that controlled the ship — not like airplanes,” Rodriguez Aguilera said in a 2009 television spot, the Miami Herald reported.

Though Rodriguez Aguilera’s extraterrestrial tale is suspect, her political credentials and pedigree are not.
Of course, her "extraterrestrial tale is suspect," because that's the typical knee-jerk reaction by a reporter who needs to portray him- or herself as above it all.

Now, I'm not always thrilled with abduction tales, because they do strain the limits of the Strangeness scale, and they give reporters like this easy targets. But I know, and have written about, several people who have had similar experiences to this woman in Florida, and I have complete faith in their sincerity. And I give this woman credit for speaking openly about her experience in the political arena; that's not easy to do. But this aspect of her story could easily overshadow everything else from here on out. I just hope her opponent leaves it alone.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

UFO Disappointment

In the past two weeks I've given two public talks about Dr. J. Allen Hynek and my book The Close Encounters Man, and the contrasts between the two talks are kind of funny to consider.

The first talk was at a gathering of retired educators; my dad is a member and past president, and I was delighted that he invited me to address his group. It turned out to be a lot of fun to talk UFOs with 50 retired schoolteachers! They were an attentive, appreciative audience, and at least two of them were there somewhat reluctantly because their significant others were UFO fans (I had very nice talks with both of them!). When I opened things up for questions, I was asked about crop circles and foo fighters, so there are definitely a few retired teachers who have at least a passing interest in the paranormal...

Does anyone really know everything about Dr. J. Allen Hynek?
The second talk was at the Third Annual Milwaukee Paranormal Conference yesterday, and the contrast between this and the first talk was pronounced. This is my third time addressing the Milwaukee Paracon (last year was the great Roswell debate with Don Schmitt), and it was quite different from the first two years. Yesterday's presentation took place in a small conference room at the Shorewood, WI, village library, where I followed up on presentations by UFO writer and radio host Nick Roestler and MUFON Chicago's Sam Maranto.

There were about 20 people in the audience -- much smaller than previous years -- but there were a few familiar faces nonetheless. They were engaged and appreciative, but in a different way than the school teachers. For example, one guy sat in the front row and took copious notes and tape recorded my whole presentation. That didn't happen with the teachers. Also, when I took questions at the end here's what happened:

One guy really, really wanted me to declare that Disclosure is about to take place. He brought it up more than once, and each time I had to disappoint him. That didn't happen with the teachers.

A couple people felt compelled to let me know that they know things about Hynek and about various UFO incidents that I don't. That's par for the course with a UFO crowd, but one guy -- the one with the notes and the tape recorder -- helpfully pointed out to me that, "Oh, Dr. Hynek's wife's name was Miriam, not Mimi." Yes, I refer to her as "Mimi" in the book, but I pointed out to him that "Mimi" is the diminutive of "Miriam," and so people sometimes called her Mimi.

That didn't happen with the teachers, who are known for correcting people.

These things can take the fun out of making a presentation. Like I said, being "corrected" by UFO fans is par for the course -- we all know there are a lot of know-it-alls in UFO world
-- but there's something weird about knowing that you're disappointing a lot people in your audience because you're not validating their beliefs that I am still not used to.

But I guess I'd better get used to it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dr. Phil & UFOs

TV talk show host Dr. Phil apparently had a doozy on his show a few days ago. The headline on his website shouts:
"Actress Jan Broberg Claims At 12 She Was Kidnapped, ‘Brainwashed’ And Told She Was Supposed To Have A Baby To ‘Save The Dying Planet’"
Now, this woman's story is tragic, and I am in no way making light of her experience. Her captor, a family friend, apparently convinced her that they had both been abducted by aliens who expected her to have a planet-saving child by her captor. Pretty twisted...

I bring this up only because my agent was trying to get me on the Dr. Phil Show a few months back to talk about my book The Close Encounters Man, and I checked out the Phil's website to try to figure out why the show producers ultimately passed on my agent's pitch.

Initially we had pitched the idea of interviewing three of the most interesting UFO witnesses I met in course of my stint as a Certified UFO Field Investigator for MUFON. The three I picked were:
What made the military man's experience so fascinating, besides his amazing recollection of the event and his accounts of the way it has affected him personally, was the possibility that we could get him on national TV to appeal to anyone of the other servicemen who were on duty that night and saw the same object to come forward and tell their stories. A long shot, maybe, but still worth a try. How cool would it be to discover that one one of those men was watching the show that day and called in to share their memories?

What made the two young women's experiences so fascinating was the surreal, haunting aspects to their stories, and the fact that they had both had such similar encounters and had never met each other before. How cool would it be to have them meet for the first time on national TV to compare notes on their strangely similar contact stories?

Well, the Dr. Phil producer was interested in the two young women, but not the military man. But this producer wanted to know if either of the women's UFO experiences had affected their family relationships in the following ways:

  1. They don’t believe in the abduction
  2. They believe and are afraid
  3. They will attest her personality changed overnight
  4. They did/didn’t notice anything
  5. They think the abduction is symptomatic of a bigger mental problem
  6. They are angry with her for her claim

It just so happened that both young women attested to undergoing dramatic personality changes caused by their experiences--another odd similarity between them. The family of one accepted the change, but the family of the other freaked out over it, so there would be things for Dr. Phil to talk about for sure.

But that's as far as it went. Apparently the producer didn't see enough potential for family drama in these women's stories, so they passed. I was puzzled by this: why would they reject the pitch after we offered them exactly what they had asked for?

Well, looking over descriptions of recent episodes makes it pretty clear that the Dr. Phil Show really goes for family drama stories where someone in the family has kicked someone else in the family out of the house. So, even though one of "our" women had experienced some angst from her mom over her personality transformation, she hadn't actually been kicked out of the house by said mom, so it didn't count...

Too bad. Dr. Phil and his audience missed out on a really fascinating conversation.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

An Atavistic Fear of the Unknown

            In the wake of the news that Tom DeLonge will at last reveal his Big UFO News on October 11 (a.k.a. tomorrow), I find myself reflecting on why stories like this always grab headlines and stir our deepest yearnings to learn who or what is behind the UFO phenomenon.

To most people who were alive in the 1960s, the most significant NASA space mission of that decade would likely be the Apollo 11 moon landing. Neil Armstrong’s “small step” onto the surface of the moon, which took place July 16, 1969, marked the first time that human beings had ventured beyond Earth orbit and landed safely on another celestial body, and it forever altered our perception of our place on the cosmos.

The most important NASA mission of the '60s? Not this one.
It also completely overshadowed an earlier NASA mission that, it can be argued, played a much more significant and lasting role in defining the human identity. For, while Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s dusty lunar footprints established the human race’s status as space explorers, the Mariner 4 Mars fly-by mission of 1964/65 taught us the meaning of loneliness.

It is startling to be reminded that just over 50 years ago, well within my lifetime, it was a commonly-held belief among sane, educated humans that intelligent life existed on Mars. This was not a crackpot idea; it had been promulgated, promoted and reinforced for decades by sober scientists and journalists (and, admittedly, the occasional science fiction writer). Ever since Milanese astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli had first described the “canali,” or channels, he saw on the Martian surface in 1877 and American astronomer Percival Lowell then deduced in 1894 that Schiaparelli’s canali could only be irrigation canals constructed by intelligent Martians, we Earthlings have been intoxicated—indeed, madly in love—with the notion that life exists on other worlds, that we are not, in fact, the one and only, nature’s supreme accomplishment.

Yet Mariner 4 dashed our hopes, permanently (or so we thought at the time). Mariner 4, an unmanned probe resembling nothing more than an oversized ceiling fan, passed within 6,000 miles of our nearest planetary neighbor on July 14 and 15, 1965, and transmitted to Earth 21 “close-up” photographs (and a partial 22nd photo) of the Martian surface. It was at that moment that the human race learned, absolutely and definitively, that there were no Martians on Mars. For generations who had grown up wondering about the canals on Mars and reading the speculative fiction of Ray Bradbury and H. G. Wells, it came as a lonely shock to discover that the bleak, dry Martian landscape was incapable of supporting life, and that we had the solar system to ourselves. “There was disappointment among some scientists, and the public alike,” reported space.com with some understatement.

On the surface, this disappointment makes little rational sense, as the prospect of encountering alien life in any form tends to bring the worst, most primal type of human fear and loathing to the surface. Ever since the H. G. Wells’ 1897 novel The War of the Worlds introduced the concept of the alien invasion narrative to the human psyche, and the 1951 science-fiction film The Thing from Another World brought that horror to life on the big screen, humans have harbored a deep and abiding fear of alien life. And it isn’t just pop-culture narratives stoking the fire, either: for every space scientist today searching the skies for incoming messages from the stars or transmitting friendly radio greetings beyond our solar system, there is another warning us that attracting the attention of an alien race on some distant planet may not be our wisest move. “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans,” physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking famously warned in his 2010 Discovery Channel TV series, Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking. “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

And yet we humans keep longing for that contact.

            How do we recognize this ever-present yearning? Consider the fact that today UFO-

themed reality television shows crowd the cable TV listings, and amateur UFO investigation 

groups receive hundreds, if not thousands, of UFO reports every week. Consider the fact 

that when science fiction films came to the fore in the 1950s and 1960s, they became so 

immensely popular that film historian Patrick Lucanio wrote, “One might argue convincingly

that never in the history of motion pictures has any other genre developed and multiplied so 

rapidly in so brief a period.” Consider that the return of FBI special agents Fox Mulder and 

Dana Scully in a recent six-episode X-Files “reunion” was one of the top ten rated TV 

shows of 2016, and the series is coming back by popular demand in 2018. None of these 

cultural barometers operate in a vacuum; aliens repel us, yes, but they also 

attract us with a power that is a wonder to behold.

I was first alerted to this strange attraction when researching the life and work of Dr. Hynek (1910-1986). Hynek's call for rigorous scientific study of the UFO phenomenon—a study that called for categorizing UFO events and identifying potential patterns in the most phenomenal cases—put him in an awkward position as a scientist, but he never allowed fear of ridicule to divert him from his mission.

When in the 1970s Hynek developed his iconic “Close Encounters” categorization system for classifying UFO reports, he identified Close Encounters of the Third Kind as those involving the presence of a being or “occupant” in association with the appearance of an unidentified flying object. In the nearly four decades Hynek studied UFOs, he came across thousands of Close Encounter of the Third Kind cases, and the sheer number of these reports was deeply troubling to him, as he simply did not want to make room in his rational brain for the bizarre concept of UFO occupants.

      “I don’t know what makes me want to automatically look down upon these creature 

cases,” Hynek said in a 1978 interview in UFO Report magazine. “Maybe this involves an 

atavistic fear of the unknown, or of rivalry with another species. There is, upon closer 

scrutiny, another factor which I find difficult to sort out. It is odd that the creatures seen 

coming from these craft should resemble our own homo sapien race so closely.”

      And yet “creature” cases continued to abound, and Hynek was called in to investigate a 

great many of them. And the more time he spent with the witnesses in these CE3K cases—

many of whom claimed to have been abducted by these entities, brought onto their crafts, 

even flown off into space—the more he was forced to accept that the presence of 

unexplained, often humanoid beings in association with UFOs were a significant factor in 

the phenomenon.

      And those beings were not altogether unpleasant. In one 1959 case that fascinated 

Hynek for years, an Anglican priest named William Gill who ran a mission in Boianai, Papua 

New Guinea, witnessed, with some two dozen others, the appearance of a flying disc with 

glowing, oversized humanoid occupants visible on a top “deck” on the craft. On the second 

night the disc appeared, Father Gill and another witness waved to the strange occupants, 

and they waved back. For a few exciting moments, the disc approached the witnesses 

below, and Father Gill expected the figures to land their craft and say hello. But the disc 

reversed course and moved away, leaving Gill and the other witnesses feeling oddly 

frustrated and disappointed.

      Similarly, in the Hudson Valley UFO sightings of the mid-1980s, in which thousands of 

people reported nighttime encounters with V-shaped light formations traversing the Hudson 

Valley north of New York City, the desire to get close to an apparently alien presence 

overrode the witnesses’ common sense. In several instances, witnesses claimed to have 

wished secretly that the object would come closer to them, only to flee in terror when the 

object seemed to respond to the wish and approach the witness.

      Had a meeting between humans and aliens transpired one of those nights in 1959 or in 

the mid-1980s, what might it have meant for mankind? All we know for certain is that in 

more than one occurrence, numerous earth humans reported being at least momentarily 

giddy with excitement at the thought that they were communicating with beings that were 

quite possibly not from this earth, and that those beings might land and say Hi.

      I would argue that a great many of us—perhaps most of us—would feel that same thrill 

of anticipation at the thought of making contact with an alien life form, Stephen Hawking 


      But, why? Why was a great swath of the population of earth so at ease for so many 

years with the idea that Mars was populated with intelligent—and, let’s be honest here: 

possibly malevolent—beings? Why were we so disappointed when Mariner 4 transmitted its 

devastating photographs of Mars’ destitute landscape?

      Why do we fear being alone in the universe?

     My theory—and it’s a very simple one—is that if we are the only intelligent life forms in 

the universe, that makes us seem accidental. Believing that intelligent life has evolved 

elsewhere makes our existence—and theirs—seem intentional.

 So, yes, on a very basic level, we need aliens. We need them everywhere, and so we have them everywhere. I have an alien emoticon on my phone, for God’s sake, and I bet you do, too.

This much was obvious to Dr. Hynek as far back as the early 1980s: “UFOs are a subliminal theme in society,” appearing in “many of today’s video games, movies and in rock music,” he said in an interview. “It’s a new form of religion with some people—a dissatisfaction with the old-time religions in which people are looking for a scientific twist.” Of course, Hynek himself was a factor in these developments—he even appeared in a six-second cameo appearance at the climax of CE3K, cementing his role as a popularizer of UFO culture.

While I am not suggesting that belief in the reality of UFOs and their possible occupants constitutes a religious movement, I do agree with Hynek that there is a profound allure in finding a “scientific twist” to traditional religious beliefs. Many of us humans place as much or more faith in science as we do in our Gods, in part because for many of us science justifies our faith more often and more reliably than does religion.

And yet, science is not without its failings. When Charles Darwin placed us at the top of the evolutionary ladder, he neglected to consider that we humans have an innate drive to keep climbing. If there’s a top rung to the ladder, where do we go next? The aliens seem to know.

Maybe, then, our need for aliens is one part a need for comfort and reassurance and one part aspiration. We want company in the universe, and we want a procession of new goals, new hopes, new reasons for our existence. And the aliens just might be willing to help. Now, if only they could make their message a little more clear to all of us...

Understanding may not come quickly or easily. Dr. Hynek knew that the universe demands that we play the long game, but he also believed that our patience would be rewarded. “I would not be prepared to defend the thesis that UFOs represent visitors from outer space,” Dr. Hynek once mused. “Indeed, I think the answer may be even more interesting than that. I think the answer will be very exotic and beyond our imagination.”