High Strangeness: August 2017

Thursday, August 31, 2017

This Means Something...

Here it is, the day before the big 40th anniversary re-release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the greatest UFO movie ever made, and I don't have a ticket...

But I have good reason. I'll ba making a road trip with my two daughters, delivering the younger of the two to school in Connecticut. When I get back I immediately have to shift gears and prep for the beginning of my Autumn teaching gig at DePaul in Chicago -- I'm teaching "Writing the TV Spec' Script" to a group of 14 young writers, so I have to be prepped and psyched -- can't take time off for a movie screening, no matter how historic!

That leaves me with one day, next Thursday, September 7 -- the last day of its seven-day run -- to catch the movie. So I will be among the last people in the world to see the movie, and so help me God, nobody better spoil it for me!

A couple of cool notes about the movie premiere, though:

I read this week that the character of Roy Neary could have been portrayed by Steve McQueen, but McQueen didn't think he'd be able to cry on cue. Imagine Steve McQueen sculpting that plate of mashed potatoes... The mind boggles!

Paul Hynek, the second-youngest of Dr. J. Allen Hynek's sons, invited me to a screening party in L.A. on Friday, but I had to pass. Still, I'll be there in spirit, as my publisher is shipping a bunch of books to Paul to pass out to his party guests!

Dr. Hynek's long-time friend, colleague and confidant, Jennie Zeidman, who has become my favorite pen-pal, told me that her son surprised her with tickets to a screening this weekend, and she's over the moon: "I have been chortling ever since," she wrote to me. "I first read the script at the Hynek Ridge Avenue house in Evanston. If that version had prevailed, the film wold have needed an R rating!"

Then she ended her note with this tantalizing tease: "If you send me a mailing address, I will send you something I found in an old file folder..."

Wow... I sent her my mailing address immediately, and now I'm consumed with curiosity and anticipation... What could she be sending me??

On a related note, I just did a really fun podcast the other night, and I hope you'll give it a listen when it's posted. It's the Binnal of America podcast, hosted by Tim Binnall. Tim is a great host, and we had a totally entertaining two-hour talk about Dr. Hynek and UFOs -- well, I was totally entertained anyway. But one thing that struck me about the conversation was the way Tim described how he had reacted to my book. He said he learned a lot about UFO cases that he thought he was pretty familiar with, and with cases he hadn't read up on before. He said the book was full of surprises and drama, as though I had written it as a screenplay (I had!). And he said that by the end of the book he really loved Allen Hynek as a person. In other words, he reacted to the book on a both an intellectual and an emotional level, which was music to my ears. Thanks for the ego strokes, Tim!

Finally, a bit more good news. Over the weekend I got my best write-up so far, from the Los Angeles Review. "O’Connell provides a sweeping look at all things UFO, skillfully weaving Hynek’s investigative role throughout the various touched-upon cases." the reviewer wrote. "In the end, readers are left with a book that smartly refuses to simplify anything." 

Yep... as a great mashed potato sculptor once said, "This means something."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Damn You, Carl Sagan! -- Part II

I'm thrilled that my last post about "The Zeta Reticuli Incident" has spurred so many comments, both here and at UFO Updates on Facebook!

Are we still talking about this? Yes, we are!
There's so much to think about and respond to that I decided to put up a new post to address as much as I feel I can. First things first, though: I think -- at least I hope -- that we can all recognize and agree that "The ZR Incident" and the experiences of both Betty Hill and Marjorie Fish that form the basis of the "Incident" form an interesting chapter in the history if UFOs. You may not think it's an important chapter but I would argue that it's still pretty interesting, if for no other reason that that given in my book:
...the episode certainly illustrates the lengths to which scientists will go to defend their own particular interpretations of difficult data.
The first response to my post came from Robert Sheaffer, who said that what I had written about the ZR Incident, the segment of my book that had been edited out, was "woefully out of date," because I hadn't kept up on current thinking about Marjorie Fish's interpretation of Betty Hill's star map. I replied that because my book is a biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, my narrative ended when Dr. Hynek passed away in 1986, and that therefore any research, writing or debunking involving Fish's work that took place after 1986 was irrelevant to my book. I did write that Fish's work "remains unexplained and controversial," but I did not cite any "current thinking" for the reason stated above.

Which doesn't mean I'm not interested in current thinking. So, as I'm reading over the latest comments today, I have a couple of thoughts. First, I'm struck by Mr. Sheaffer's comments that "The Gliese catalog is now known to have major errors in its distance measurements." It reminded me that in his 1935 Ph.D. dissertation Dr. Hynek pointed our his discovery that astronomers at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California had mis-classified an entire category of stars. Which just goes to show that even astronomers make mistakes, and that what we think we know about the universe is always subject to revision, reinterpretation and even outright rejection upon the discovery of new data, whether it comes from a world-renowned scientist or a somewhat rebellious Ph.D. candidate. When Mariner V flew past Mars in 1965, the photos it sent back "proved" that Mars was lifeless. Up until that moment is was generally accepted that there were indeed Martians on Mars, but Mariner 4 blew that belief out of the water, so to speak. Today we know there is abundant evidence that Mars has, at least in the past, supported life, so we've essentially come full-circle: first there were Martians, then there weren't, now there are/were again....

So, who's to say, maybe tomorrow some new discovery will confirm some part of Fish's analysis. I'm just saying, it's not outside the realm of what's possible... When you consider how quickly our understanding of the cosmos shifts under our collective feet on an almost daily basis, I would not bet on any claim that we know all there is to know about the stars in Betty Hill's map.

But about that map. If we're going to question the legitimacy and accuracy of the map, where do we start?  In other words, if there is an error, where does it originate?
  • Does it originate from Marjorie Fish's interpretation of the map?  
  • Does it originate from Betty Hill's drawing of the map? Can we trust that she perceived the details of the map correctly and was able to accurately transpose her three-dimensional visual memory of that map into a two-dimensional drawing? This is not an easy thing for many of us to do (It's worth repeating here that at two times Betty violated the hypnotic suggestion and stopped to erase and revise something she had drawn on the map--that alone could be the key to this whole episode). 
  • Does it originate from memory loss occurring during the span of time that transpired between Betty seeing the map during her initial abduction experience in 1961, then recalling it some two years later under hypnosis, and then finally drawing it under post-hypnotic suggestions some time after that?
  • Did Betty ever even see a map? Did the abduction even occur?
If you're going to suspect one, you almost have to suspect them all, don't you? I think it's fair to question all of these things, but for the purposes of my book -- which is where this whole thing started -- my aim was to present the UFO phenomenon as though it was really occurring, and to tell the UFO story through the eyes of the witnesses and the investigators. That's because the book was primarily written for the "UFO curious," mainstream readers who are interested in the topic
but may not know a whole lot about it going in. 

I think I've succeeded there, but that approach obviously doesn't work for everyone!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Damn you, Carl Sagan!

I know I'm not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I've just reread one of the juicy passages that I had to edit out of my book for space, and I am once again royally pissed off at the late Carl Sagan! That man hated -- HATED -- UFOs, UFO witnesses and UFO researchers, and he didn't care who knew it.

And he REALLY hated star maps...

Many of you know the Marjorie Fish story, so I'll just give you the basics to recap (or you can go to page 213 in your heavily dog-eared copy of my J. Allen Hynek biography The Close Encounters Man and read about it there):

When Betty Hill and her husband Barney were allegedly abducted by aliens and taken aboard a UFO in 1961, Betty asked one of her alien captors from where he and his crew had come. The alien "Leader" showed Betty a star map of his race's trading and exploration routes (a map that the podcasters on Oh No Ross and Carrie hilariously think looks suspiciously like a sex organ), but the alien did not point out to Betty which was his home star.

Sorry, Ross & Carrie (and Sigmund), sometimes a star map is just a star map.
Years later Betty Hill recreated the map under hypnosis, and the map was reproduced in a popular book about the Hills' experience, John Fuller's The Interrupted Journey. An Ohio school teacher named Marjorie Fish read the book, saw the map, and decided, as I describe in my book, to give Betty's map "the Rand McNally treatment." That's about as far as the story goes in my book, because, as I said, I had to edit out a lot of Fish's story in the final cut.

But here, I am free to tell the whole story, and to use as many words as I damn well please with which to tell it:

Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis; best-selling author Jean Auel; international concert pianist Patricia Jennings; former Playboy “Playmate” Dr. Julie Peterson; what do they all have in common? All four belong to Mensa, the international society whose only entrance requirement is that members possess an IQ in the top two percent of the population.

            Add to this exclusive group of geniuses Marjorie Fish, the Ohio schoolteacher who had become so fascinated by the star map dawn from memory under hypnotic suggestion by UFO abductee Betty Hill. Since she had first seen the map in John Fuller’s account of the Hill abduction, “The Interrupted Journey,” Fish had wondered whether the stars on the map might be plotted and identified. It seemed possible, if one assumed that our sun was one of the stars depicted on the map, and if one could pinpoint the exact point in space from which the stars on the map aligned in just the way Betty Hill remembered them. It seemed possible, but perhaps only to a Mensa member.

Imagine taking on such a project without an observatory, without a computer, equipped with little more than marbles, beads, string, glue, tape, a catalog of stars, the generous advice of some friendly local astronomers, a genius IQ and a boundless sense of determination. By any objective measurement, it was a ponderous, tedious, mind-boggling task. Fish would be working with scant, possibly unreliable information, remembered under hypnosis by Betty Hill years after she claimed to have seen the map. In addition to the essential assumption that one of the stars on the alien’s map was actually our own sun, she would be making endless assumptions about the likelihood of whether any neighboring stars had planets, whether those planets could support life, whether traversing interstellar space was even remotely possible, whether the stars were even in the Milky Way galaxy. Nearly everything was stacked up against her. She should have failed.

In August of 1969, Fish visited Betty Hill in New Hampshire to better understand the conditions under which Betty saw the map, and those under which she recalled and drew the map. Among other things, Fish learned that Betty’s drawing was made under exceedingly strict post-hypnotic guidelines administered by Dr. Simon: she could only draw the map once she fully remembered it, and she could not pay attention to what she was drawing. Betty told Fish that when she was able to draw the map, she broke the post-hypnotic directive twice, consciously erasing and correcting errors.

Fish returned home and she went to work.

“Marjorie Fish constructed several three-dimensional models of the solar neighborhood in hopes of detecting the patterns in the Hill map,” wrote the editor of ASTRONOMY magazine. “Between Aug. 1968 and Feb. 1973, she strung beads, checked data, searched and checked again. A suspicious alignment, detected in late 1968, turned out to be almost a perfect match.”

But, there was a twist: it was only recognized as a match once information from a 1969 stellar catalog became available, at which time several unknown stars drawn in by Betty Hill in 1964 were finally identified. It seemed that either Betty Hill was a time traveler, or she was privy to information in 1964 that no astronomer on earth knew.

Carl Sagan was fond of dismissing the UFO phenomenon with the saying, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and here was something rather extraordinary. Fish identified the vantage point of the map as being 55 light years away from our solar system. She identified the main, foreground stars on the map as Zeta Reticuli One and Two; one of them would, presumably, be the home of the Hills’ aliens. She identified our sun as one of the stars on what the alien Leader had identified as an “exploration” route, as opposed to a trade route. She identified 16 stars from the aliens’ map whose arrangement from her chosen point of view lined up very closely with Betty’s stars. And two of the stars Betty Hill had placed on the map, and for which Fish was able to account weren’t even listed on official star catalogs, and wouldn’t be for another year. It was an extraordinary display of speculative spatial reasoning on Fish’s part, and a plausible verification of Betty Hill’s map.

“Since we did not have the data to make such a map in 1961 when Betty saw it, or in 1964 when she drew it, it could not be a hoax,” Fish said in an address to a 1974 UFO Symposium. “Since the stars with lines to them are such a select group, it is almost impossible that the resemblance between Betty’s map and reality could be coincidental. Betty’s map could only have been drawn after contact with extraterrestrials.”
            This, of course, assumes that Fish’s star identifications were correct, which Fish and several brave scientists believed. Dr. David Saunders, late of the Condon Committee, said, “I can find no major point of quibble with Marjorie Fish’s interpretation of the Betty Hill map,” while Walter Mitchell, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State, said, “The more I examine it, the more I am impressed by the astronomy involved in Marjorie Fish’s work.”

When ASTRONOMY Magazine editor Terence Dickinson penned a fair-minded article expressing genuine curiosity about Fish’s findings, quoting Saunders, Mitchell, and many more supporters of Fish’s detective work, he sparked a full year of ferocious debate in his magazine. “The Zeta Reticuli Incident,” Dickinson’s article, “sparked more interest among our readers than any other single article in ASTRONOMY,” wrote Jeffrey L. Kretsch in a follow-up piece.

“The pattern discovered by Marjorie Fish has an uncanny resemblance to the map drawn by Betty Hill,” wrote Dickinson. “(T)he stars are mostly the ones that we would visit if we were exploring from Zeta Reticuli, and the travel patterns generally make sense.”

“In general, the entire sequence of events just does not smell of falsification,” Dickinson wrote. “Coincidence, possibly; hoax, improbable.” And, while Dickinson felt that the evidence did not support any firm conclusions, he felt that the only response to Fish’s findings was to “continue the search.”

In his article, “The Age of Nearby Stars,” Kretsch, a graduate student of Hynek’s, wrote that “In her analysis, Ms. Fish linked all 16 prominent stars in the original map... to 15 real stars in the southern sky. The congruence was remarkable.”

“(W)e are confronted with evidence which seems to raise as many questions as it answers,” Kretsch concluded. “But the search for answers to such questions certainly can only advance knowledge of our cosmic environment.”

This did not sit well with Carl Sagan, who, with graduate assistant Steven Soter, wrote a rebuttal to ASTRONOMY. Sagan and Soter felt that Marjorie Fish and the editors of ASTRONOMY had used shoddy research methods and had “contrived a resemblance” between two “nearly random data sets.” In other words, Fish had fooled herself, seeing a resemblance that was purely coincidental, and ASTRONOMY had in turn been bamboozled by her mistake.

Sagan and Soter made no secret of their disdain for the Betty and Barney Hill abduction story in general and found it “riddled with internal and external contradictions.” For Sagan, this was crucial. If he were to allow any possibility that Marjorie Fish’s conclusion had even the slightest validity, then he would also have no choice but to allow that the Hill’s story of alien abduction had some validity as well. Ergo, Sagan could never, under any circumstances, bestow any validity to Fish’s findings. He simply had to find a way to condemn Fish’s work that would stick; the trouble was, one can’t blithely accuse a Mensa member of being deluded, or of hallucinating.

ASTRONOMY editor Dickinson defended his article, stating that Sagan and Soter were wrong to reduce the problem to simple “pattern resemblance.” He insisted that his examination of the case had indeed been rigorous, and reminded his readers that Marjorie Fish had considered, then rejected, many possible patterns before finding her possible match. “The fact that she came up with a pattern that fits as well as it does is a tribute to her perseverance and the accuracy of the models,” Dickinson wrote.

Replies in the next issue from Dr. David Saunders and Northwestern graduate student Michael Peck countered Sagan’s and Soter’s assertions with a barrage of dense mathematical and statistical calculations that led Saunders to conclude that “I continue to find the star map results exceedingly interesting,” and Peck to claim “We can conclude... that the degree of resemblance between the two maps is fairly high.”

By the time Sagan and Soter responded to Dickinson, Saunders and Peck, the argument had reached epic proportions. Had they simply ignored Dickinson’s original article, the matter would likely have been all but forgotten in a matter of weeks, but Sagan and Soter seemed determined to keep the issue alive. In their latest tome, the two accused Saunders and Peck of falling victim to statistical fallacies—knowing full well that Saunders taught statistical analysis at the University of Chicago—and concluded emphatically that, “(T)he Zeta Reticuli argument and the entire Hill story do not survive critical scrutiny.”

Next up in ASTRONOMY, NASA computer expert Robert Scheaffer argued, quite oddly, that because the Hill map could be said to resemble three different local star patterns—and that more were likely to be discovered in the future—Fish was mistaken in claiming that it resembled any one particular pattern.

The editorial battle reached its zenith with a strenuous response by Marjorie Fish herself. Fish, who now worked as a research assistant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, argued that Scheaffer had, like Sagan and Soter before him, ignored the fact that her stars had not been randomly selected. She had, in fact, considered only stars that fit very specific characteristics, such as their probability of having planets. “My final interpretation of the map was the only one I could find where all the restrictions outlined above were met.”

It’s impossible to know whether any inquiring minds were changed, one way or another, by the long-playing war of words in ASTRONOMY, but the episode certainly illustrates the lengths to which scientists will go to defend their own particular interpretations of difficult data.

The truth is in here...
My source for this material is a 32-page, full-color publication titled "The Zeta Reticuli Incident," a collection of reprints of the articles, editorials and rebuttals surrounding Fish's decoding of the Betty Hill star map, published by ASTRONOMY in 1976 (at one point Dr. Sagan is said to have threatened to sue the magazine for reprinting his letters without permission). So, now you know the whole story, and I wonder if your mind is changed by the truth?

Oh, one more thing: I contacted the one of the current editors of ASTRONOMY Magazine for her take on this controversy, and here's her reply:
Unfortunately, there is no staff members [sic] around from that period of time.  As for Terence Dickinson, I don't have any contact information for him.
That's a damn shame, because I would love to know what Mr. Dickinson thinks about "The Zeta Reticuli Incident" now...

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Total Eclipse of the UFO

Two days after the eclipse, I'm still thinking about what I saw and what it means. Although we're based in Wisconsin, my wife and I were in Atlanta for a few days due to a family medical emergency, and we weren't really sure until Sunday night whether we'd be able to see the eclipse at all. Fortunately, the medical emergency was fully under control by then, so we were able to head NW to Chattanooga, TN, then veer NW to Athens, TN, a site just a few miles south of dead center in the path of the totality.

Because it all came together so last-minute, we didn't have any set destination, and so we wound up in a grassy area between a Mobil station and Cracker Barrel. Not very scenic, but about a thousand other people had the same idea, so we were surrounded by lots of friendly neighbors and it turned out to be a pretty convivial setting... anyway, once the lights go out, it's completely irrelevant where you're standing--all that matters is that you're looking at this astounding cosmic event that has been mystifying (and scaring the living crap out of) our ancestors for millennia.

And it is astounding and cosmic. For anyone who couldn't view the corona, go look at any one of the million photos out there and then imagine that your surroundings have just changed from a typical boiling hot and blazing bright August afternoon to a near-dark, cool, spooky-silent alien earth unlike anything you've ever experienced. Even our dogs suddenly went quiet and laid quietly in the grass until it was over.

As I was watching the total eclipse, I kept wondering and marveling at the precision of the thing... the fact that we knew exactly where, when and how it would occur... the fact that we know exactly how to view it.... the fact that so many millions of people were sharing the same amazing experience... and the amazing way that the disc of the moon perfectly, perfectly blots out the disc of the sun.

I was wondering and marveling about that lost point so much that I'm still pondering it two days later. My first thought was that it's just an illusion that the moon and sun appear to be the exact same size, due to some strange phenomenon taking place in the corona that bent or distorted the light and made it seem as though the moon was as big as the sun. But, no, it's nothing like that at all...

It turns out that the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, so it should dwarf the moon, but it's also 400 times further away from us than the moon, so it doesn't. In fact, because of the dueling 400:1 ratios, the sun and moon appear to be the exact same size from the surface of the earth. Crazy.

Scientists have no explanation for this. It's completely random, completely coincidental, and completely out of the statistical universe. But there it is.

And of course it doesn't mean anything. Does it? I mean, how could it?

And what does this have to do with UFOs? Nothing directly, I suppose, but it is a sobering reminder that there's an awful lot in this universe that we really do not understand. You might even say that there are an awful lot of things that the universe doesn't seem to want us to understand...

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Crying UFO Tears

I'm likely to be away from the keyboard quite a bit for the next several days dealing with family matters, but I do want to share something that happened this week that really delighted me.

This guy was anything but ordinary... just like you and me.
I have written in the past about Jennie Zeidman, who worked closely with Dr. J. Allen Hynek for many years, first as a student assistant and ultimately as a respected, accomplished UFO investigator. Zeidman took an astronomy class taught by Hynek in the early 1950s, and quickly distinguished herself by identifying a UFO seen by the class as a military plane conducting an aerial refueling operation. After that, Zeidman spent years working with Hynek on his Project Blue Book investigations and continued to work with him post Blue Book. She was Hynek's colleague, protege and friend, and she was one of the most fun people to write about it The Close Encounters Man.

Here's what Jennie wrote to me this week:
Dear Mark,
I have just finished my second reading of TCEM and for the second time have found myself in tears.  You have told Allen's story.
                     I was abruptly shaken at both readings upon encountering the italics section on page 343.  Is the referenced document in Allen's very distinctive handwriting?  I remember with great clarity having this conversation with him.  We were discussing the recent film Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O'Toole, 1962) and specifically the emphasis on Lawrence's character; his fragility, his protest-too-much insecurity, and his insistence that he was just an ordinary man.
                      "Lawrence surely did not think of himself as an ordinary man," I said.  "There is no such thing as an ordinary man."
                        Allen picked up his pen (blue ink) and made some notes.  We agreed that the terror of recognizing one's own existence is itself terrifying.
                         "Well, would you rather be a cow in a field?" Allen said.
                    He scribbled a few lines and we moved on to other matters.
This note made my day, my week, my month. Knowing that my book has brought one of Hynek's closest friends to tears... not once, but twice... is deeply gratifying.

That passage Jennie mentions from page 343 of my book is particularly interesting to me. It's a rumination on man's place in the universe that I found in Hynek's files at his Center for UFO Studies. I found it hand-written but untitled and undated, so I had no way of knowing where it came from or what motivated and inspired it.

Now I know, and Jennie's story behind the quote is just as fascinating and inspiring to me as the quote itself.

Monday, August 14, 2017

UFO Outrage!

I was going to continue to post material that had to be edited out of the final version of my book, The Close Encounters Man, but instead I feel the need to write about something that's come up in the course of publicizing the book, something that I'm finding quite bothersome...

About a week ago, The Washington Post ran an Op-Ed entitled "The Never-Ending Search for UFOs and Extraterrestrial Intelligence," in which their science writer, Sarah Kaplan, considered three new books that dealt with the aforementioned topics in wildly different ways. It was clearly labeled an opinion piece, not a book review, so it must be taken at that level. Despite the fact that Ms. Kaplan lumped together two topics -- UFOs and extraterrestrial intelligence -- that really should be considered separate items despite their apparent connections, I thought her analysis of the three books was altogether fair-minded and well written. The fact that she chose to address my book first didn't hurt (the other two were "

Was I happy with everything Ms. Kaplan wrote about my book? No, of course not. She seems to feel that the subject of UFOs is an embarrassment to science, and at times she comes close to scolding me for writing a book on the topic and expecting people to take it seriously. That's not entirely unexpected, is it? Science's low opinion of UFOs and all "pseudosciences" is a constant in this field of endeavor, and it comes up over and over again throughout my book, because it was such a significant factor in Dr. Hynek's work. In other words, the disapproving attitude of institutional science comes with the territory, and we all know this, so, in my opinion, there's no reason to get upset over it.

To me, there's something far more important going on in Ms. Kaplan's piece. The simple fact that my UFO book is being written about it in a prominent national publication, not as a joke but as a serious work of reporting, is tremendously important. The Post could have given the story to an entertainment editor, or a "News of the Weird" editor, but instead the column was written by their science reporter, and I think that speaks volumes. Ms. Kaplan may have issues with my book, but she takes it seriously nonetheless, and that is a major victory for me and for you and for anyone interested in the UFO phenomenon.

But then there were the comments. After reading Kaplan's piece, I was excited to see what kinds of comments and conversations the readers of The Post would have on offer. To my delight, there was a lot thoughtful discourse in the comments, but I was disappointed that so many of the commenters took umbrage at Kaplan's disdain for UFOs.

Here are some highlights:
  • "Even with Einstein's restrictions, there is no reason that ET's could have sent out robotic or bio-robotic ships a billion years ago, when there were just as many habitable planets in the Universe as there are today. They could have colonized the entire Galaxy hundreds of millions of years ago and been watching the Human race develop from a primeval state. So the visitation of Earth by ET is only illogical to people who do not consider the facts
  • "Hell yes we're being visited. The question today is, By how many species? With what intentions? And what are the repercussions for not acknowledging their presence?" 
  • "'If there really are advanced beings out there, traversing the universe at the speed of light, it seems unlikely that scaring suburbanites and confusing livestock are the best uses of their time.' The author clearly hasn't experienced a genuine AV sighting. If she had, she would know what almost 50 percent of the US population knows: that Earth has been under direct observation by Alien Intelligence since 1947."
Not that there isn't come interesting thinking going on there, but does anyone really think that the cause of UFOlogy is advanced by unprovable claims that multiple alien species are visiting us, or that "Earth has been under direct observation by Alien Intelligence since 1947"? I don't think so.

Then, over the weekend, I came across a UFO blogger's tirade against Kaplan's Op-Ed, and I was truly ashamed for UFOlogy. The blogger--whose name and blog title I have already (deliberately) forgotten--was upset that Kaplan's opinion piece was based on what he felt was an "uninformed opinion." Then he laid out his argument that, before she could comment on my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Kaplan should have studied up on the life and career of... Dr. James McDonald.


I must be missing something here. How would reading about James McDonald have helped Kaplan do a better job opining on my biography of J. Allen Hynek? It makes no sense. Why does it make no sense? Because Hynek and McDonald, last I checked, were two different people. True, they crossed paths, which I write about in my book, but, again, they are not the same person.

Some people get it. When I did my recent interview on public affairs talk show "Chicago Tonight" on Chicago's public TV station, I got the distinct impression that the host of the show was not entirely thrilled to be saddled with the chore of interviewing the author of a UFO book. Not that he was rude or judgemental in any way; he just had a knowing smile that signaled to me that he considered our interview to be a bit of a joke. But, over the course of our eight-minute interview I earned the host's respect, I guess because I failed to live down to his low expectations. I didn't make any crazy claims. I didn't try to prove anything. I didn't insist that he share my beliefs, or insult him for not agreeing with everything I said. And, guess what? After the show he shared a favorite UFO story with me. Success!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

UFOs and Steven Spielberg

Big thanks to @soulessparty for sending me this 1977 interview with Steven Spielberg on twitter today. It bears out my reporting in The Close Encounters Man regarding the origins of the movie's title, and shows how good a guy can look in an oversized rugby shirt.

Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BACQX-WzWeA

I was a little confused watching this clip at first because the interviewer mentions then-President Jimmy Carter and refers to him as "your President."

I thought it was really rude of her to refer to President Carter that way. Then I realized it was a Canadian talk show.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Little Green Men -- Part VII

Aftermath: The Kelly-Hopkinsville case proves difficult to "wrap up"

Hynek’s comments in “The Hynek UFO Report” five years later add more detail to his analysis of the case. By this time, Hynek had a chance to consider the 1957 Blue Book report, and found it lacking.
            “Then appear in Blue Book the following series of statements which later investigators showed to be untrue: that Mrs. Langford (sic) belonged to the Holy Roller Church (she belonged to the Trinity Pentecostal, which holds conventional-type services); that on the night of the occurrence she had gone to a religious meeting; that her sons, their wives, and some friends had become worked up into a frenzy, becoming very ‘emotionally unbalanced.’ All of these statements are completely unsubstantiated. They were apparently obtained from Deputy Sheriff Patts (sic), an avowed skeptic, and not from any of the witnesses.”[1]
            In the Blue Book narrative, the Suttons saw a “silver-painted monkey” that might have escaped from a nearby circus. After all, the windows of the Sutton home were low enough for a small monkey to reach from the ground.
            “The story quite naturally met with complete disbelief on the part of most persons, except those who knew the family well,” Hynek’s account continued. “There is no question that Mr. Ledwith, who made the only serious investigation following the event, firmly believed the witnesses. He could find no motive whatever for a hoax—the simple folk were not seeking publicity, and indeed suffered horribly from curiosity-seekers, reporters, and sensation-mongers. It is also highly unlikely that a hoax would involve that many persons and a midnight dash to a police station miles away.
            “Although I had no official connection with the case, I did make an attempt to find out whether there had been any traveling circuses in the area from which some monkeys could have escaped. The monkey hypothesis fails, however, if the basic testimony of the witnesses can be accepted. Under a barrage of gunfire from Kentuckians, over a somewhat extended period, it is unthinkable that at least one cadaver would not have been found. Furthermore, monkeys do not float down from trees; they either jump or fall. And anyway, I was unable to find any trace of a traveling circus!
            “If, then, one assumes that the event did take place as reported, and if the creatures had a physical reality, why was not one of them killed under fire? Why did they flip over when hit?”[2]

Lucky Sutton’s daughter Geraldine Sutton Stith pointed out two other mysteries that have gone unsolved since that first night: “For one, of course, the glowing substance on the ground; for two, the big burned out place in the back field where nothing grew for years and years and years. But they just wanted to sweep it under the rug and get rid of it. They didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”
Stith, born eight years after the incident, said she knew nothing of the scorched spot until Lucky showed it to her in the late 1960s. Two writers had visited the family two weeks prior and had coaxed Lucky to talk… As he reluctantly recounted his tale for the first time in many years, young Geraldine heard entire the story of the little men from her father’s lips for the first time. To help her understand the story, Lucky took her out to the old farm and showed her the burned-out spot where the family believed the UFO had set down; information that, if the story is to be believed, none of the original investigators had come across, and that the family had, apparently, decided not to share with any outsiders; not even Bud Ledwith or Isabel Davis.
“The burned out spot was still visible after 13 years,” she said.

Finally, one last unanswered question: What happened to Alene Sutton when she stepped outside the house that night? Did something approach her from the gully? Did something grab at her hair from the roof? Could those unaccounted-for moments have produced some proof of the events, long since vanished?
When Bud Ledwith visited the Sutton farm the day after the incident, he focused on the womens’ descriptions of the creatures and doesn’t seem to have gone into the sequence of events until he spoke with the men hours later. Bill Burleigh, reporter for the Evansville, Indiana Press, interviewed Alene the day after the incident and added a few tantalizing details to the story: “Mrs. Sutton said the figure ‘looked like it was made of aluminum foil. It had two big eyes, pretty far apart,’ she said. She said the figure seemed to fly or jump right over the house, land in the back yard and then vanish.”[3]
A year later, Davis had an opportunity to ask the reticent Alene “one or two” questions, but again the moment she encountered the creature in the back yard apparently went unaddressed.
When asked in 2013 whether her Aunt Alene had ever spoken of her experience outside the house that night, Geraldine Sutton Stith said that, to her knowledge, she had not.
“No, I never got to talk to her about it,” she said. “By the time I was ready to do something with the story she had passed. Wish I had talked to everyone before they had passed, but I was too afraid of the story to do that!”

[1] Hynek, The Hynek UFO Report, op.cit.
[2] Hynek, op.cit.
[3] Evansville, Indiana Press, op.cit.