High Strangeness: September 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

UFO Regression

Just when I think we're making some progress in this whole UFO thing, something happens to send UFOlogy back to the stone age...

Roswell: There's no there there, folks.
Just this morning I came across a posting on Facebook, in a group called "UFO'Real? A Historical Review." The posting was praising a new book about Roswell called UFO Cover-Up at Roswell, by none other than Donald Schmitt. I groaned inwardly when I saw it. Regular readers of my blog will recall that Mr. Schmitt and I have had our differences:
  • He accused me of being under the control of some mysterious "them" who were dictating the content of my book. 
  • When I tried to interview him for my book, Schmitt claimed that "The last time Allen Hynek and I had dinner, he said, 'Dammit, Don, everything points to nuts and bolts,'" but in my book I quote a 1975 letter to Carl Sagan in which Hynek says, "I do not, and have never, supported the idea that UFOs were nuts-and-bolts hardware from some very distant place."
  • Last year Schmitt challenged me to a "Roswell Debate" that took place at the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference, and I have heard from attendees that I "killed it."
So, yea, that's a quick look at my history with Don Schmitt. And now he's gone back to that same bone-dry Roswell well for another book. I wish him well with it. I'm not bothered that he's written yet another Roswell book -- it's a free country, and obviously some people love reading the same stories over and over again. It's what the reviewer says at the end of his comments that bugs me:

"UFO Cover-Up at Roswell" is an example of the objective way UFO cases should be examined. Dr. J. Allen Hynek would be proud.
Uh, that's a big "NO." Dr. Hynek would not be proud of another book propagating the saucer crash myth. He would more likely recoil in horror.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

UFO DNA Invasion!

I think the aliens are invading, and I think it's our own damn fault.

The realization came to me a few nights ago when I was watching TV and an ad came on for this company called "23 and Me." The ad depicts a young woman traveling the globe to get in touch with her roots, which prove to be remarkably diverse. In the end, we're told that we, too, can probably trace our ancestry to many different races and ethnicities, then go trot the globe looking for long-lost relatives. All we have to do is send a genetic sample to "23 and Me," along with $99 (for the basic service; other services cost more). In return, the company will send you a pretty pie chart showing you a breakdown of your genetic heritage. Ancestry.com is also offering a similar service for the low-low price of $79, but then their pie charts don't look as nice.


My immediate reaction to the commercial was, "Why the hell would I give my genetic information to an anonymous company, and -- worse yet -- pay them to take it off my hands (literally)??" I've seen Law & Order. People go to jail rather than surrender their genetic information to the cops, for Christ's sake. But these companies want you to give it up voluntarily, and at a price!

Would you give this to a stranger?
I had some troubling questions as I thought it over that night: Who owns the DNA sample? What's done with it after the service analyzes it? Do they send it back to you so you can reintegrate it into your genetic matrix (I assume the technology exists to do so, but I probably watch too many science fiction movies)? Is there a secondary market for these DNA samples? Am I going to be cloned (not necessarily a bad thing)? What if the sample gets lost in the mail? Is the innocent family tree enthusiast cautioned about of any of this before they pop their gene sample in the mail?

I couldn't answer any of those questions, of course, but as I stewed over the situation a terrible realization came over me: What if these companies are owned and operated by aliens, intent on taking control of the Earth? How would they begin the invasion? Isn't it possible that they would begin by compiling a library of human genetic information, to be used to develop terrible and exotic weapons that target our DNA? Or, worse yet, the information could be used to contaminate and mutate our genetic structures... Science fiction films, TV shows and literature are chock-full of aliens and mad scientists trying to alter our genetic structure and turn us into snake people or swamp things, and it's never pretty.

Somewhere in my files I have a very detailed family tree put together by my paternal grandmother over 30 years ago. She used newspaper articles and public records to trace the O'Connell ancestry to northeast Iowa and then back to the Emerald Isle, and nobody had to swab their mouths for it.

You want my advice? Don't be a chump: Never ever send your precious DNA anywhere in the mail. Trust me, if aliens are advanced enough to get to Earth, they can figure out how to rent a Post Office Box and film a commercial or two.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Who's "The Alien Guy"??

Start 'em early, that's what I say.

When it comes to parenting, one of the most important things to remember is to start teaching your little ones about UFOs early and often. I know, because I've raised four kids, and they all know the score where paranormal phenomena are concerned.

I hadn't fully appreciated the value of this, however, until this past June as I was out promoting The Close Encounters Man at an indie bookstore in Chicago. There was a small group --I believe the euphemism is "intimate" -- there to hear me talk about my book, and among the audience were a dad and his son, who I guessed was 4 or 5. When I was done talking, I signed a copy of the book for them, and thanked them for coming.

I was disappointed by the turnout, I admit, but when I mentioned that afterward, my daughter Dxxxxx said, "If it makes you feel any better, you made a convert to the cause tonight. That little boy in the front row was hanging on your every word!" I guess I was so wrapped up in my presentation that I hadn't noticed the boy's interest, but it did make me feel better to know that even a 5 year-old could get into listening to me talk about UFOs and aliens.

Fast forward to late August, when I attended a meeting of the screenwriting faculty at DePaul University, where I teach. I said hi to a few of my fellow professors, and then a familiar but unfamiliar professor said hi to me, and mentioned that had been at my book signing event with his son. Talk about a small world!

I had a nice talk with my colleague, who I now recognized -- his name is Jef Burnham -- and told him what my daughter had said to me about his little boy after the book signing. Jef laughed and said that he and his son Alistair host a horror and science fiction movie review podcast called Cadavercast. He explained that his son was excited at my book signing because he realized there was somebody else in the world who loves the same things he and his dad love! So, I hadn't converted the little boy as my daughter had thought; he was already a convert! How cute can you get? And who can't relate to that electric feeling you get when you realize someone else loves science fiction and monsters as much as you do??
Pretty scary stuff!

Well, since that meeting I've been listening to Cadavercast and loving it! Jef and Al put on a fantastic show, they have great chemistry (as you'd expect), they really know their stuff, and best of all, they make me want to watch all my old sci fi and horror movies again!

My favorite bit so far is when they review the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World, and the subject of John Carpenter's terrifying and gory 1982 remake comes up. Five year-old Al keeps talking about the Carpenter remake as though he's watched it several times, but dad Jef keeps correcting him, pointing out to Al that he will not actually be old enough to watch the remake for many, many, many years. It's just a riot listening to dad subtly setting his determined son straight on the matter.

And if that wasn't reason enough to listen in, get this: any profit Jef and Al make from the show goes into Al's college fund! I can't recommend Cadavercast strongly enough.

I emailed Jef the other day to tell him how much I've been enjoying the podcast, and the next day I got this response:

I really appreciate it, Mark. Al was positively thrilled to hear "the alien guy" has been listening. He's good kid indeed. One of a select few 5 year olds who can tell you about Bela Lugosi and Karloff I guarantee it! 

I'm "the alien guy"! That's awesome :)

Now, if I can only use my influence to get Jef and Al to review Close Encounters of the Third Kind...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hynek Hijinks

A while back I had mentioned that J. Allen Hynek's long-time friend and colleague Jennie Zeidman had promised to send me a document that she had recently uncovered in her files. When she first mentioned this to me, my imagination ran away with me; what if Jennie had discovered some long lost document that blew the whole field of UFO research wide open? What if it was a signed statement from President Eisenhower admitting that he had met with aliens, or a signed affidavit from Jesse Marcel stating that he had made up the entire Roswell story? Or what if it was definitive proof that Project Blue Book really was a sham, and that Hynek himself was running the Air Force's real clandestine UFO study?

When the envelope showed up in the mail I could hardly contain myself! I felt like a kid on Christmas morning opening the biggest, brightest present under the tree, only in my case there was the horrifying possibility that inside this present was proof that Santa Claus didn't exist...

What's Thor got to do with it?
Well, I opened up the envelope and found a 3-page hand-written letter from Dr. Hynek to Jennie Ziedman, from the early 1970s (Hynek only wrote the month and day, not the year). I read through the letter greedily, hoping to find the bombshell... but there was none. Hynek complained about a picture of his that had just run with an article in TIME magazine... He talked about upcoming travel plans, a Hynek "at work and at play" TV special he had just done for the Chicago NBC affiliate... He proudly announced that his two oldest sons, Scott and Joel, now had their pilots licenses... And he announced that "the book she is done."

Aha! So that's what made the letter special! Hynek had just finished "The UFO Experience" and he was blowing off steam... Of course! Just having gone through that experience myself, I could fully appreciate Hynek's feelings. And, indeed, there is a tone of goofiness and elation to the whole letter, and I couldn't help smiling as I read it, especially when I got to the limerick on the last page.

Then I found the small note Jennie had attached to the letter. It read: "this suggests Allen had a long tough day and was enjoying a bit of booze..."

So that was the bombshell... Jennie had found a letter that brought Allen Hynek to life for her, and she thought it was important to share it with me. I appreciate that greatly. And now I'm sharing this little glimpse of the real J. Allen Hynek with you...

Here's his limerick, appropos of nothing:

A Thundergod went for a ride
Upon his favorite filly
I'm Thor, he cried!
His horse replied -
You forgot your thaddle, thilly!

Then, in parentheses, he added: (--it's the heat!)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

UFO Surprise! -- Part II

A few days ago I mentioned the great review Jerome Clark wrote about my book for the Fortean Times. I was grateful for Jerry's positive review, but puzzled by his comment that The Close Encounters Man would have been a better book if I had interviewed more people who knew J. Allen Hynek. I was puzzled because I had interviewed Jerry for the book via email back in January, 2016.

There's always room for another Close Encounters book on the market, isn't there?.
So, I wrote to Jerry and pointed this out, adding that several people who knew Dr. Hynek declined to be interviewed for my book, for reasons I can only guess at...

That's when faithful reader and commenter purrlgurrl made this astute observation:

Just a thought - perhaps those who declined an interview or the person who warned people away from interviews harbored the thought of someday writing a book on Hynek.

Sooner or later just about everybody interested in Ufology eventually entertains the notion of writing a book. That's why the UFO literature is so inconsistent, poorly researched, and crappy, people who can't write and do basic research have produced a lot of UFO books.

Not long after I read this, I received this nice note from Jerry Clark:

Hi, Mark,

On several occasions over the years, acquaintances or colleagues urged me to write a Hynek biography.  In each case I replied that I did not feel up to the job.

I’m glad you took on the task, and I congratulate you for your efforts.  I’m not sure if I envy you, but I know we’re all grateful to you.


Good call, purrlgurrl! You nailed it!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Sweet Dreams, Larry

I finally got to see the 40th anniversary re-release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind last night, and it was worth the wait. Because it was a Thursday night, and the last night of CE3K's one-week release, my wife and I had the theater pretty much to ourselves, which was kind of nice.

It hasn't been that long since I've watched the blu-ray at home, so the movie didn't exactly feel fresh to me, but I enjoyed the hell out of it just the same (After 40 years of looking, I finally spotted R2D2 on the alien mothership, so that was a big deal). Still... there are still some details of the movie that rankle; a lot has been said about how wrong it is for the Roy Neary character to fly off in an alien spaceship and leave his wife and kids behind, but what about the Gillian Guiler character letting her little boy Barry run off all over the damn place? And when she finally catches up with him, she decides to give him a talking to in the middle of a highway, on a blind corner no less!

And my #1 pet peeve: why does the mothership change size and shape in virtually every shot? Someday I'll have to ask Doug Trumbull about that.

But that's not what I want to write about. I want to say a few words about the most intriguing and underdeveloped character in the movie: Larry.

You remember Larry: he is the only person who takes off his gas mask and escapes the Army helicopter with Roy and Gillian just before being flown away from Devil's Tower. The people in the helicopter are, of course, the random men and women who have had the image of the Tower planted in their subconscious minds by the aliens, and have journeyed to Wyoming to find out what it all means.

I always thought it was pretty cool that Larry jumped off the chopper in an act of defiance against the military, even if his attire bothered the hell out of me. Who goes on an ill-advised gonzo travel adventure to the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, dressed like he's going out on a first date? Really, Larry? You got up this morning and said, "Today I'm going to infiltrate a high-security area, climb a 867-foot rock precipice and make contact with aliens from space. I think I'll put on my best polyester slacks and dress boots, a turtleneck, and my favorite striped cowl-neck sweater. Oh, and I'll bring along my leather jacket, too." That's just weird.

Still. I love Larry. He's got guts. He's got vision. And he's not afraid to get those dress boots scuffed up climbing the basalt spires of Devil's Tower. What's more, even as he is racing up a mountain while evading helicopters and soldiers, Larry doesn't just toss his cumbersome leather jacket aside as many of us would have done. He just keeps it draped it over his arm, to keep for later. What a guy!

What drives a man like Larry? What demons are screaming inside him? What lusts and desires make his heart pound? I just imagine Steven Spielberg staying up night after night, puzzling out the mystery of Larry and what he represents, going through draft after draft of the screenplay, never quite capturing the essence of Larry but obsessed with achieving perfection in the character.

And we must admire Spielberg's courageous decision to then let Larry drop his guard as the Army helicopters start spraying tranquilizer gas in a last-ditch attempt to stop him, Roy and Gillian from reaching the secret UFO base on the far side of the Tower. There is so much going on in the moment at which Larry says, "They're just cropdusting!" No, Larry, it is NOT ok to be sprayed with pesticide, and even if it was, what kind of crops does he think are growing on the side of a mountain?

What is Spielberg trying to tell us??

Say good night, Larry.
Of course, we all know how it ends for Larry. After everything he's gone through to be present at the most amazing moment in human history, Larry succumbs to the tranquilizer gas just a few steps away from the secret UFO landing base. Instead of taking part in one of the greatest final acts in motion picture history, Larry leans back on a rock and falls into a deep, dreamless, drug-induced sleep just short of achieving his dream. No "wishing on a star" for sweater man. It's like all of a sudden he doesn't care. I don't get it. He had everything going for him, and then he just gave up and gave in, clutching his leather jacket as he faded from consciousness.

And that's the last we see of Larry. The rest of the movie, to be frank, feels a little flat.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

UFO Surprise!

Over the weekend my older daughter and I drove my youngest to school Connecticut, and as she was giving us  tour of the campus library, I had the brilliant idea to check to see if they have The Close Encounters Man in the stacks. I commandeered a computer terminal and found a listing for the book, but under the name Jerome Clark...

Who "really" knew J. Allen Hynek?
Jerome Clark? He's the dude who wrote the monumental two-volume UFO Encyclopedia, a must-have book for anyone interested in the history of UFOs. What was his name doing on my book??

Well, I couldn't navigate my way through the library's system, but my daughters and I decided it must be a review of my book, written by Mr. Clark.

Cool! One of the major figures in UFO literature is reviewing my book, in The Fortean Times no less!

Today I searched for the review and found it here.

It's a pretty nice review, I have to admit. Of course, Mr. Clark was "there when it happened," so my prose doesn't always live up to his memory, but we can get past that.

The thing that struck me as weird about the review is a passage in which Mr. Clark states that "O'Connell could have said more if he'd interviewed more of us who knew (Hynek)." This puzzled me, because I had, in fact, interviewed Jerry Clark in January, 2016. Here's what he wrote to me then:

"Mostly, my interactions with Allen were personal and preserved in memory. I'd be happy to share those with you via email if you have specific questions. He and I had a fair number of discussions about the nature of UFOs and related issues, and of course, from my own background in ufology, I think I have a relatively informed assessment of Allen's position and significance is all of this."

I emailed him some questions, as per his request, and he wrote back with very succinct answers. I only used one quote from the interview, but that's the nature of writing a biography: you collect far more material than you can ever use. So why is he claiming that I didn't interview him? Or is he thinking of someone else I should have interviewed?

This is what I wrote to Jerry today:

HI Jerry,
I appreciate your kind book review in the Fortean Times, but I am puzzled by this comment:
"O'Connell could have said more if he'd interviewed more of us who knew him."
I wish I knew to whom you're referring. As these emails show, I did interview you, via email, at your request. You may be surprised to learn that several people who knew Dr. Hynek did not wish to be interviewed, but are now praising the book now that they're read it. You may also be surprised to learn (or not) that at least one person who knew Hynek was actively warning other people who knew Hynek NOT to do an interview with me. In time, I grew tired of the silliness and decided to be more selective in who I would interview.
I was and am grateful for you agreeing to share your thoughts in an interview. Thank you again for the positive review.
Best regards,
I will let you know what happens...