High Strangeness: 2018

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Cavalcade of UFOs!

Wow, has it really been three months since I've blogged? Yes, it has, and I'll tell you why. I've been busy with some special UFO projects related to my book that I can't talk about just yet, and I knew that if I kept blogging regularly, I might want to talk about one of my secret projects... so, to ensure that I wouldn't talk about them, I decided to stay away from High Strangeness for the duration.

Dr. J. Allen Hynek: Is he thinking about stars, or UFOs?
Well, the time has come to take the wraps on Project #1: I've been invited by the amazing Atlas Obscura to give a presentation on Dr. J. Allen Hynek and all things UFO this December 1st. I'll be talking about the trajectory of Dr. Hynek's career, from celebrated astronomer to bad boy on the Air Force's Project Blue Book to culturally-significant UFO authority -- and, yes, I'll be talking about the real Dr. Hynek, not the make-believe Dr. Hynek in the upcoming History Channel soap opera about Project Blue Book.

The folks at Atlas Obscura have really outdone themselves, booking the Dearborn Observatory on the Northwestern University campus, the very place from which Dr. Hynek gazed at stars when he taught at NWU! And as a bonus, after my talk we'll have some time to check out the night sky through the Dearborn's 18.5-inch refracting telescope.

Can you tell I'm psyched for this?

Here's where to find out more about the event, and to reserve tickets if you'll be in Chicago that night:

As for the other secret projects, well, I'll be writing about them when the time is right!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

My Favoritest UFO Case

A few days ago I came across some great news: Calvin Parker, one of the two men who claim to have been abducted by "robotic" beings that took them aboard a UFO and examined them before letting them go, has just published a book about his experience!

Do not ever let anyone who looks like this take you aboard his UFO.
I am psyched because, as the title of this post tells you, this case, the Pascagoula, Mississippi abduction of Parker and his friend Charlie Hickson, is pretty much my favorite UFO case of all time. I was 13 when the abduction made national headlines, and although I had already read a lot of UFO books by that time, the Parker & Hickson abduction was the first UFO case that I was able to experience in real time, as it was being reported in the newspaper and on the nightly news. And, although I didn't know it then, the Pascagoula abduction was an honest-to-God Close Encounter of the Third Kind! AND it was investigated by my UFO Dad, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who declared that Parker and Hickson had had a real experience, even if he couldn't explain what it was. It was the first UFO case that felt authentic to me, and it made a lasting impression.

Although I failed to score interviews with either Parker or Hickson (who passed away just a couple years ago) for my book, I enjoyed the hell out of researching and writing about the case, and those crazy, crab-clawed beings who "floated" Hickson and Parker into their UFO. It felt just as real to me as it had back in 1973.

And now Mr. Parker has gone and written his own book about his experience, and I can't wait to read it! It's been published by Amazon, and you can order it here.

Congratulations, Calvin! I'm glad you're finally telling your story!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

UFO Dissonance

So, the other day I was mentioned in a tweet from a big UFO fan who had been at Comic-Con over the weekend and had seen the teaser for Blue Book, the new History Channel series about Dr. J. Allen Hynek's UFO investigations for the Air Force. In his tweet, this guy mentioned that the star of the series, Aiden Gillen, claimed in a Comic-Con panel discussion to have read my Hynek bio, The Close Encounters Man, to help prepare for the role...

My response was fairly negative, as I know for a fact that the TV show is going to be utter drek, but the guy who posted the tweet vigorously defended the show -- he seemed to basically accept that it was going to be wildly inaccurate, based on what he had seen in the trailer, but said he intended to watch it anyway when it premieres next winter. He then told me that the show's producers were justified in ignoring historical facts because if they were to show Dr. Hynek spending 1948 sitting at a desk reading UFO reports it would be rather dull. I responded that there were actually a lot of exciting and interesting things going on with Hynek's work in 1948, and that a good writer could dramatize anything (never mind that Hynek was working for Project Sign in 1948, and the Blue Book TV series actually starts its story in 1951).

Next thing I know, this guy is arguing with me over the actual number of UFO files Hynek investigated for Project Sign in 1948. He said one number. I corrected him. He insisted he was right. On it went for the rest of the evening, neither one of us backing down. He got his number from Hynek's book The Hynek UFO Report, I got my number from Hynek's archives, so who are you going to believe? Anyway, the point is, this guy was really, really concerned that we got the number of cases exactly right, because accuracy was really, really important to him. Okay, I can get behind that -- a lot of UFO fans are sticklers for accuracy, and they should be. Accuracy is a big deal in the field of UFOlogy. We need more accuracy.

But here's my issue with that: How does a guy who will argue for hours over the precise number of cases Hynek investigated in 1948 turn around and insist that a TV series that, based on its own trailer, gets virtually every aspect of Hynek's life and work wrong, will be worth watching? Why is a trivial fact treated like a life-or-death matter, but a big lie simply shrugged off?

Does this make sense to anyone?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Blue Book Revealed!

So, I hear that the History Channel put on a big presentation the other day at ComicCon about the upcoming Blue Book TV series, including a big panel discussion with the lead actors, writers and producers. Apparently Aiden Gillen, the actor portraying Dr. J. Allen Hynek in the show, read my Hynek bio The Close Encounters Man, to "prepare" for the role.

While I guess it's great that a semi-famous actor claims to have read my book, and I got a free plug in front of the Comic-Con crowd, I'm still PO'd that one of the producers of the show tied to poach research material from me last summer.

And now the show itself looks to be absolute drek. What a shame.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

UFO Pride!

As I've mentioned here before, the true measure of any portrayal of Dr. J. Allen Hynek's groundbreaking UFO research comes down to one question: "Would Dr. Hynek be proud of this?"

Well, that question is being put to the test by the story posted at SYFY.com this week previewing the History Channel's upcoming TV series Blue Book, about Dr. Hynek's work with the Air Force's UFO research project. The article includes an amazing image that I just have to comment on...

Take a good look at the photo below. Did this ever happen to Dr. J. Allen Hynek in real life?

The answer is no. Dr. Hynek never found himself in a dark government lab, staring at an alien "grey" floating in a tank. Not even once. But, this is how the producers of Blue Book have decided to "jazz up" the true story of Dr. Hynek's UFO work with the Air Force.

"We were pretty good about sticking with history," declares the show's creator in the SYFY.com article.

Oh, okay, that's reassuring. Because when I saw this picture of Hynek meeting an alien, I thought maybe they had been pretty bad about sticking with history. Nice to know I was wrong!

I bet Dr. Hynek would be proud as heck.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Ton of UFO Debris!

This is why things never change. This is why UFO research never goes anywhere.

I was at a bookstore over the weekend and spotted a great looking book titled "Aliens," by Ron Miller (Watkins Media Limited, 2017). The book is a huge, beautifully-illustrated history of the human race's fascination with alien beings from other planets, and I immediately wanted to buy it.

But then, as I always do when I find a new UFO book, I flipped to the back and looked at the index to see if Dr. J. Allen Hynek was mentioned in the book. He was. Miller wrote that Dr. Hynek was a proponent of the "Extraterrestrial Hypothesis" (ETH), which is absolutely not true. Hynek considered it a possibility that UFOs had an extraterrestrial origin, but he didn't consider it likely. In fact, ETH was only one of many possible hypotheses that Hynek considered possible, but the important point is that Dr. Hynek did not favor any one of these possibilities over any of the others. Ten minutes of research would have shown Miller that Dr. Hynek was never a proponent of ETH.

I put the book back on the shelf.

Then today I read the news on the Coast to Coast AM newsletter that about 200 attendees at last week's "Roswell Fest" in Roswell, NM were given the chance to visit the alleged Roswell "crash site." This, of course, is the barren stretch of ranch land where a flying saucer was alleged to have crashed in early July, 1947. Up until now, only alleged "UFO researchers" have been given access to the site where rancher Mac Brazel claimed to have discovered some debris that he couldn't identify. He put some of the alleged debris in the back of his truck and took it to the sheriff, and you probably know how things went from there...

The C2C story had a link to a local New Mexico TV news report, and it's here that things really go off the rails. First, the reporter immediately claims that she is at the "UFO crash site," forgetting to add the modifier "alleged," which I have done above. Then she states, "...a man by the name of Mac Brazel says that this is where he saw a UFO crash." 

That's a big LOL right there. Brazel never claimed to have seen a UFO crash. In fact, no one has ever claimed to have seen anything at all crash on that ranch, because no one ever saw anything in the sky above that ranch, because it's a remote stretch of Godforsaken dirt and rocks some 75 miles away from Roswell. Nobody saw anything in the sky above the ranch, ergo, nobody saw anything crash into the ranch.

The rest of the news report, which you can watch here, is just as ridiculous. After claiming that Mac Brazel saw a UFO crash, the reporter says that "they found a ton of unearthly debris." A ton? Really? And who are the "they" who found this "ton" of "unearthly" debris? And by what standard was it ever deemed "unearthly?" A little proof, please!

Throughout, the reporter and the Roswell tourists she interviews simply take it as a given that an alien spacecraft crashed on this random spot on the ranch in 1947. "It really did happen," says some guy from Toronto. "It's almost spiritual."

Yeah, "almost."

"You can see where the craft landed, and where the alien bodies were found," says another guy from Los Angeles who at least didn't travel as far to waste his $250 as the guy from Toronto.

Of course, all of this this begs the question, "Which alleged 'crash site' did these tourists visit?" According to no less an authority as MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, there are said to be as many as eleven Roswell "crash sites." So, which one did these people see? I think they're entitled to at least a partial refund, if not an explanation. I mean, by my calculations, the promoters of this tour grossed around $50,000 on the event.

So, yea, these are the reasons UFO research never seems to go anywhere. These are the reasons I get discouraged. If you're going to be doing UFO research or UFO journalism, for God's sake get it right. It's not that hard to do.

And, please... decide how many alleged crash sites there really are.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

UFO Dreams

I just had a very fun talk last night with Gary & Michael at Night Dreams Radio. Guess what we talked about?

WARNING: This is a full 2 hours of yours truly sharing amazing stories about our "UFO Dad."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

UFOs: Blue Book!

So, there's this new UFO TV series coming on the History Channel called Blue Book, and some lucky people have been getting sneak peeks at the show. I don't know a whole lot about the series, but my guess is that if you love the way the History Channel treats the UFO topic in Ancient Aliens I guess you'll probably love the new Blue Book show. If you're interested in a serious study of the UFO phenomenon, well, forget about the show and read my book.
Would you buy a used UFO from this man?
Sadly, this is what it's like for us UFO buffs. We're so happy to have something -- anything -- new about UFOs on TV that we'll accept whatever Hollywood foists on us and force ourselves to watch it. And I admit I will probably watch the show -- at least I'll sample it. And the whole time I'll be asking myself this:

Would Dr. Hynek be proud of 'Blue Book'?

Now, some readers may remember my close encounter with this show. About a year ago, shortly after my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, The Close Encounters Man, came out, I got a Facebook message from some guy who identified himself as one of the producers on the new Blue Book series. He wondered if I would talk to him about the UFO career of Dr. Hynek documented in my book, and my agent and I decided it would be okay for me to talk to him, but only in vague generalities.

I have to admit, I was flattered that they came to me to learn more about Dr. Hynek, but when I talked with this guy on the phone I was shocked by how dopey and simple-minded his questions were. He was utterly clueless. He obviously knew nothing about Dr. Hynek, and so of course he was trying to do his basic research by talking to me. I shut him down pretty quickly and never heard from him again.

(Side note: shortly after this phone call I discovered that my Evernote account had been hacked. Luckily, most of the research material in the Evernote account involved contact info for people I wanted to interview, so if the hacker was hoping to steal any of my secrets they would have been pretty disappointed.)

So, anyway, now this Blue Book show is ready to go, and I've been super curious to see whether that "producer" who tried to poach materials from me last summer ever figured out what the show should be about.

Well, the news is not good. I just googled "Blue Book" and discovered that the show is not about UFOs or Dr. Hynek at all! It's about used cars! Stranger still, the producers have inexplicably changed Dr. Hynek into a character named "Kelley."

From what little I found on google, it appears that, instead of a UFO investigator, this Kelley character travels around the country for the Air Force appraising used cars. I have no idea why the Air Force would hire a scientist to appraise used cars, but leave it to the History Channel to uncover the most unexpected and fascinating stories about history that never happened.

Now, used UFOs, that I would have believed!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

UFO Lore

Wow, hard to believe it's been a month since I posted anything new here on the blog! The last month has been kind of a blur, what with travel, birthdays, family gatherings and social engagements coming at us in rapid fire, and I just haven't been able to sit down here and hammer out my thoughts at all.

That's not to say I haven't been thinking about UFOs, though. One of the big social engagements this past month involved a multi-day reunion with one of my high school friends, Jxxx, and a pair of my high school teachers, Mxxx and Kxxxx (they're married so they come as a set!), and the big fun of the visit was that these dear friends are all hard-core UFO buffs and together we spent more than a few hours talking about our favorite UFO stories... How often does that happen in life that you get to spend so much time with people you really enjoy talking about something about which you're so passionate? I felt pretty lucky.
Do I know much about the Kecksburg UFO? I sure don't!

To backtrack a bit, Jxxx and became great friends in high school in large part because we were both complete pop culture nerds. We started making epic movies together with my Super-8 camera equipment, mostly for our own enjoyment, and we gained great fame in our school for doing goofy skits and celebrity impersonations during the morning announcements. And people remember this stuff, even 40 years later -- last weekend at a get-together another old high school friend started raving about how much she loved Jxxx's and my morning announcements! Yes, we were that funny.

The two high school teachers, Kxxxx and Mxxx, surprised me last summer when they popped up at one of my book signings. It was great to get re-acquainted with them then, and even greater to spend some quality time with them this month. And guess what? They're complete pop culture geeks, too, something of which I was not fully aware back in the day... But who is fully aware of anything in high school?

So, here I am with these three old friends talking UFOs, and boy did I feel rusty. Because I was the guy who wrote a UFO book, my three friends kept asking me what I thought about this case or that, and man, were they keeping me on my toes. What did I think about Roswell? What about the Phoenix lights? What about the Kecksburg incident?

Of course I had to be honest with them about my feelings about Roswell, and they challenged me on it, which is good, because it forced me to think through my thoughts once again and to articulate them in a way that I though made the most sense. Any opportunity to think about how you present your thoughts and feelings about UFO is a good thing, I believe.

Sometimes I had to slow down and wrack my brain to remember the details of a specific case, and I was reminded of how much UFO lore I don't know off the top of my head.

Part of that is because I've spent so much of the past several years focusing on J. Allen Hynek-centered UFO cases that I just can't keep any more UFO lore in my head. But part of it also because there's just so damned much UFO information out there, so many UFO cases on record, that it's just impossible to keep up with it all. How do we keep it all straight in our heads??

One of the high points of the visiting was when I shared some of the strangest and funniest cases from my days as a MUFON Certified Field Investigator. Someday I really do need to write a book about those experiences.

So, thank you Jxxx, Mxxx and Kxxxx, for reminding me of so many great UFO stories, and for challenging me to rethink some things!

Monday, May 14, 2018

UFO Cold Case

The other day I got wind of a bizarre re-hash of the 1973 Coyne Helicopter case, courtesy of Kevin Randle, who is doing us a valuable service by pushing back against some real stupidity.

I wrote about the Coyne case in my book, The Close Encounters Man. There I described it as the gold standard of UFO cases, as it had been reported by the some of the most credible witnesses imaginable -- the four-man crew of a military helicopter -- and their account had been corroborated by witnesses on the ground. It remains completely unexplained.

The Coyne UFO.... or is it an Air Force tanker?

The new re-hash of the Coyne case comes to us courtesy of Parabunk, and while his explanation is very long and very detailed it is also pretty ridiculous. You should follow the link below and read it, but like I said, it is very long... (Spoiler alert: My book is quoted in Parabunk's report!)

The 1973 Coyne/Mansfield helicopter UFO incident finally explained

In this new account, the UFO that almost caused Captain Coyne to crash his helicopter in central Ohio and ended up with the four men being essentially saved from the crash by the actions of that UFO, was actually a military refueling plane that was trying to conduct a mid-flight refueling of Coyne's helicopter. The bombshell in Parabunk's new version of the story is that Captain Coyne didn't realize he was supposed to be engaging in a mid-flight refueling.

Let that sink in. This person is seriously suggesting that the captain of a military aircraft and his three crewmembers were completely unaware that a mid-flight refueling plane was maneuvering into position to top off their fuel tank. Not only that, when they saw the "refueling plane," they didn't recognize it as military plane at all. Keep in mind that these four men were flying home from their mandatory medical exams, and they had all been found to be in perfect health only hours before their encounter. In other words, they were not hallucinating, as Carl Sagan later famously suggested on national TV a few days after the events.

There's plenty of stupid to be found in Parabuck's writing, like the way he works so hard to build an iron-clad case and then undercuts it with a casual "maybe" this, or "possibly" that. But the worst moment is this explanation:

Then there's the big why question. Why would a tanker try to refuel someone who isn't expecting it? There might be some some former crew members who could give a definite answer, even if they haven't been willing to make it public so far. Lacking that, I have thought of some possibilities

For the fun of it?

Yea, Parabunk, that is the big question, isn't it?

Seriously, this person is asserting that the crew of a massive Air Force tanker would risk their careers and their lives by intentionally causing a near mid-air collision over residential areas in central Ohio "for the fun of it."

Kevin Randle is not cutting Parabunk any slack, and you can read his take the story at A Different Perspective.

But the last word in this tale goes to someone who is very well qualified to comment on the Coyne case. Jennie Zeidman conducted an investigation of the incident for the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), and her account of the case remains the definitive telling. When Kevin Randle contacted her today for her take on Parabunk's refutation of her work, she kindly suggested that Parabunk needs a new hobby.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

UFOs and Racism

In an interview in the February, 1985 issue of OMNI Magazine, Dr. J. Allen Hynek had this to say about the caliber of his fellow UFO researchers:
"I do not mean it unkindly, but the UFO movement today is filled basically with amateurs. Most of the investigators are not professionals, and they are technically ill equipped and lack funds. Many are also beset by preconceived notions of what UFOs ought or ought not to be."
If he were asked that today, Hynek might add that some amateur UFOlogists are beset by horribly racist and intolerant views of their fellow humans. The recent news that Dr. Chris Cogswell, the new Director or Research for MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, had resigned his post only a few months after taking the position because MUFON was harboring a racist in its camp, has made a lot of headlines, and was just written up today in Newsweek. This is not the kind of publicity that MUFON needs, but it is the publicity it deserves.
Would MUFON have approved of Mr. & Mrs. Hill?

Why do I say this? Well, let's go back to the beginning. About a year ago, John Ventre, a high-ranking MUFON officer, was called out for posting a racist rant on his Facebook page. I won't excerpt his post here because it's too foul to be repeated one more time, but in it he specifically targeted bi-racial couples with some deep hatred and disgust. I found Ventre's views repulsive in general, but I was also personally offended by Ventre's comments, because I am in a bi-racial couple.

I did not resign from MUFON because of Ventre's words, however, because I had already left MUFON months earlier. I left when I discovered that my new Wisconsin State Director had been re-opening and revising my old case files, marking every object in every sighting report as an "Orb." When I called her out on this unethical behavior, her response was that I need more training because I'm obviously too stupid to know an orb case when I see one. Then she started pressuring me to buy a book about The Orb Invasion, written by a friend of hers. I was appalled by her behavior, and even more appalled when no one at HUFON HQ could decide how to address the issue. So I quit.

A few months later, when my biography of Dr. Hynek was about to be published, I contacted MUFON Chief Jan Harzan to see about selling my book at the MUFON online store. Despite having recently resigned in disgust, I remained hopeful that my ex-state director's horrifically unscientific methods and orb fixation was an aberration, and that there were still good people at MUFON. And I still thought that my book might have a positive impact on people who wanted to learn more about the UFO phenomenon. But, as Jan and I were negotiating a deal, Ventre's views became public and Jan's public response that the people who were offended by Ventre's words were the real haters was enough for me. I told Jan that I no longer wanted to sell my book through MUFON.

Fast forward to today. Chris Cogswell, a guy who very well could have led MUFON into a meaningful revival of serious, scientific UFOlogy, is gone. And as of today, it's national news. What does MUFON have left after this debacle? Not much that I can see.

Oh, wait, MUFON still has orbs. I imagine that invasion is still going on.

A few other thoughts:

I have often observed with my wife, who is black, that people of color (POC) don't often report UFOs. Hard to say why that is, but it seems to be true. But there are exceptions. My wife's dad once had a very strange encounter that he believes involved a UFO. And one of the most intriguing cases I ever investigated for MUFON was reported by a black man. He, too, was aware that POC don't often file UFO reports. It was a Close Encounter of the Third Kind, and I would have loved to have researched the hell out of it, but the sighting had taken place several years earlier, and the witness' wife would not consent to an interview; she just wanted to forget that the freaky occurrence had ever happened (Historic cases are tricky to begin with, because so much time has passed since the occurrence, but if one of two witnesses doesn't want to talk about it, you're basically left with nothing but one person's story to "investigate")

I don't like to think about what would have happened had John Ventre ever interviewed my father-in-law, or the gentleman who reported the Close Encounter of the Third Kind. I don't think those conversations would have gone well, and two fascinating reports would never have seen the light of day. Can we afford that?

Hint: No.

And then there's this: What the hell does John Ventre think of Barney & Betty Hill, the celebrated UFO abductees who happened to be a bi-racial married couple? Imagine what would have happened if Ventre, or someone like him, had been the first person to contact the Hills...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Mystery of the UFO at the Cabin

There's nothing worse than knowing that you have some really important information in your research notes and not being able to find them.

I was recently chatting with Paul Hynek, the second-youngest of Dr. J. Allen Hynek's children, and I mentioned the time his dad saw a UFO while at the family vacation cabin in Ontario, Canada. The story stuck out to me for a couple of reasons: first, I just love the image of Dr. Hynek standing out on his pier on the lake, miles from nowhere, watching a strange light in the sky; second, I love the irony that Dr. Hynek was miles from the nearest telephone when he saw the UFO, so he couldn't call it in to the nearest air base--here's the world's most qualified UFO witness and he's unable to report a sighting because he's in the middle of nowhere!

UFO photo taken by Dr. Hynek through the window of a commercial airliner.
Then Paul surprised me: he told me that he didn't remember his Dad having mentioned this sighting, and when he checked with several of his siblings he found they didn't recall it, either. They all remembered their Dad's sighting from a commercial airline, it seems (see photo), but no one remembers the cabin sighting! I thought that was pretty odd, so I told Paul I would find the reference I had used in the book. Then I quickly discovered that I had no idea where I had found Hynek's description of the cabin UFO! A year and a half after finishing the manuscript of The Close Encounters Man, my mental organization of my mountains of research material has seriously degraded.... Did he mention it in an interview or a speech? Is it in this book or that one? In this file or that one? On this thumb drive or that one?? 

Ugh. My first step was to review The Edge of Reality, co-authored in 1975 by Hynek and Jacques Vallee, as well as Dr. Vallee's published journals. Made sense to me that this was a story Hynek would likely have shared with Vallee at some point, and I did come up with some helpful info. In Volume 2 of Vallee's journal he mentions the following exchange with Hynek:
"I wonder how old you were when you saw your own UFO..." I said in jest.
To my surprise (Hynek) answered me seriously: "I must have been eight years old. It wasn't a saucer, mind you, just something that passed in the sky. I saw it from my doorstep. It made a big impression on me, because of the absence of sound."
So that's three sightings, right? I am not sure how I missed this when I was writing the book!

I also remembered a 1980 radio interview in which Hynek mentions having seen two unidentified objects in his life but doesn't go into any detail. Then a conversation with Hynek's longtime colleague Jennie Zeidman got me a little further. While she didn't remember the cabin sighting specifically, Jennie reminded me that Hynek also mentioned his sightings in the Introduction to his 1972 book, The UFO Experience:

"On two separate occasions in the past 20 years," he wrote, "I have seen an object and light, respectively, that I could not readily explain..." That means these two sightings took place between 1952 and 1972, while the sighting that took place when he was eight was in 1918. That brings us to three UFO sightings in all for Dr. Hynek!

But details about the cabin sighting remain elusive. Over the past week I have re-scanned a whole bunch of my materials and checked in with several of my most trusted UFO historians, and still haven't solved the mystery. Still, two of Hynek's CUFOS colleagues have confirmed that Hynek did report seeing a UFO at the Ontario cabin, so I know I'm on solid ground here.

And I know I've got the goods somewhere in my office... It's just a question of where.

Monday, April 16, 2018

UFOs and the Pulitzer Prize

Well, my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, The Close Encounters Man, did NOT win the Pulitzer Prize for biography. Are you surprised to learn that it had been nominated?

Don't be: I nominated it! Myself!

It' a funny little secret in the literary and journalism worlds that to be in the running for a Pulitzer, either you or your publisher can nominate you. I just found this out last fall, and when I realized that the deadline was only days away, I asked my editor at Dey Street Books what he thought of me entering my book. He thought it was a great idea and a deal was struck: he said that if I paid the entrance fee, he would ship a box of books across Manhattan, from his office to the Pulitzer office at Columbia University! So, that day I got a check for $50 out to the awards office and then settled in for a long wait...
The strangely disc-shaped Pulitzer Prize

Now, you may wonder why I would think that a biography of a scientist and UFO researcher would appeal to the Pulitzer people, and the honest answer is that I really had no idea. It occurred to me that my book was most likely outside the norm of what they usually consider for the Prize. But I thought that maybe, just maybe, their judges would be tired of bios of dead presidents and literary figures, and this could be the year they said, "Let's do something completely different and unexpected and give the Prize to this nifty biography of J. Allen Hynek." This year could have been the year to shake it up. It could have happened.

But it didn't. The winners were announced today, and the top dog in the biography category was Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser, a bio of that "Little House" gal, Laure Ingalls Wilder, who, I am quite sure, never saw a UFO in either the prairie or the big woods. Just to be clear, I have nothing against Mrs. Wilder. Her books have been family favorites in our house for many years, and Nellie Olesen is one of the most compelling villains in literary history, as far as I'm concerned. So, hats off to Ms Fraser for her win.

Still, it's not like nobody's ever written about Laura Ingalls Wilder. And the finalists in the biography category were a bio of Richard Nixon -- like anyone was asking for that -- and a bio of a poet with bi-polar disorder. Aside from William Butler Yeats, a poet who has been described as "brilliant but peculiar," I'm not a big poetry fan, so I have no comment on the poet bio, but I'm pretty sure Hynek's story is way cooler and way, way more positive than Nixon's.

If I wanted to, I could start describing my book as a "Pulitzer Nominee," which some authors and publishers do, but the Pulitzer people frown on that practice, for obvious reasons. You might as well put a "Pulitzer Loser" sticker on the cover of your book.

So, while I'm bummed that I didn't win the big Prize, I take some comfort in knowing that, statistically speaking, at least one of the Pulitzer judges has probably seen a UFO, and that person maybe, just maybe, enjoyed my book and maybe, just maybe, cast his or her vote for The Close Encounters Man.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Strange Case of the Left-Handed UFO -- Part IV

As far as I'm concerned, if it's on a historical marker, it really happened.
A while I back I became kind of fixated on this odd detail in the famous 1961 Barney & Betty Hill alien abduction case: throughout their descriptions of their experience (given while under hypnosis, and without either of them being aware of what the other said), both Betty and her husband described actions and perceptions experienced to their left. It made me wonder whether there was any way to determine whether humans experience inexplicable, incomprehensible events through our right brain hemispheres, because that's the only way our perceptions and memories can deal with the information? It also made me wonder whether this apparent bias could be created or influenced by the hypnotic process...

I am very good at asking questions like this, but not very good at answering them. That's why it's a very good thing that I have a wonderful reader who sent me this amazing letter after reading my Left-Handed blog posts. Here's what this reader had to say about my observations:
I'm a long-time reader of your blog (and your book, which I greatly enjoyed). I'm also a mathematician, and for once that's actually relevant. Regarding the surplus of lefts in the Hill case, there are mathematical tests that can determine if this kind of pattern is statistically significant:


For a situation like this, the math would actually be pretty straightforward. The tricky part would be designing the rules for doing the data collection without introducing subconscious bias. (Ideally, one would get some undergraduates who don't know what you're expecting to find to do the actual counting.) But if you're interested in pursuing this rigorously, the math exists.
I was pretty amazed by this explanation, but, sadly, my reader's "pretty straightforward" math did not appear so straightforward to me. So, my reader kindly wrote again to explain further, and I reprint it here in the hopes that it might trigger some thinking among more of my readers:
We can never prove that any sequence of lefts and rights isn't anything more then a weird coincidence, at least not with math alone. But we can calculate what the probability that we would see a sequence that extreme is if left and right are equally likely. If that probability is very low, we can conclude that left and right are probably not equally likely. By tradition, a probability of 5% is usually used as the threshold for rejecting the hypothesis that they're equally likely.
It's basically like flipping a coin. We can never prove that the coin is bad from coin flips alone. But while a hundred heads in a row could be coincidence, we would still be justified at that point in deciding that the coin is bad.

The tricky part is designing the rules to decide what counts as a left and what counts as a right, and implementing them in a fashion that avoids subconscious bias. For example:

1. If an event occurs in the book that has no direct relationship to the Hills - e.g., John Fuller mentions passing a diner on the left as he's driving home - is it counted?
2. If a left occurs that implies another left - e.g., the alien stands at her left side and then touches her left arm - is that one left or two?
3. If the same event occurs in two different sources - e.g., the alien stands at her left side in two books - is that one left or two?
4. Which sources do you use?

These questions really need to be answered before doing any counting. In an ideal world one would get hold of some undergraduates willing to work for course credit and have them do the counting without knowing what you expect to find, but I'm assuming that resource constraints prohibit true double-blinding.

To be completely open about my own views, I'm about 95% convinced that the Hills' experience was entirely the product of false memories induced by hypnosis. But given my tendency to grumble about insufficient scientific rigor, I felt it would be hypocritical not to make the suggestion.
Still fascinating, but still a a few levels of complexity above my non-mathematical mind. The part I did understand, about getting grad students to make sense of the Hills' data without needing to be paid, is outside my present capabilities. So, my wonderful reader sent a third letter:
The math part of the analysis really isn't hard to do. There are online calculators that will do it in your web browser - I've done some Googling to see if I can find a good one, but most also include a bunch of extra bells and whistles that make it seem more complicated then it really is. For example, there's this one:
To use that, enter:
1. The total number of both lefts and rights under n.
2. The number of lefts under k.
3. 0.5 under p.
And hit calculate. The number you're looking for is "the probability of exactly, or more then, K out of N". So for example, if there were 15 lefts and 5 rights, then n=20, k=15, and the probability of observing this event by chance is 0.02069. Meaning that, if the pattern is not real, there is a roughly 2% chance that we would observe that many lefts by pure coincidence. That's under the threshold of 5%, so we can conclude that this may be a real phenomenon.

The tricky part, like I said, is deciding what to count as a left or a right. For the most part it shouldn't really matter what you decide as long as you're consistent.
Strangely enough, by the time I read this third letter, I felt myself starting to understand, if even just a little bit. Knowing that Dr. Mark Rodeghier, the scientific director of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, did a lot of work with statistics, I ran this saga past him, to get his take on it. Mark did not let me down:
I haven’t come across any bias such as this before with the case details in an abduction (or any case, for that matter). Your statistician can dream up methods to test this, but as another data/stats guy, I say you need more data, i.e., you need to look at other abduction cases to see if you can find something similar, or not. You would need to choose cases with lots of detail, such as Travis Walton, or Pascagoula, or maybe a few of Budd Hopkins’ more detailed cases. Or the Allagash abduction from Maine.
This makes sense to me, and when I read through the thoughts of these two very smart people, I can start to see some way to study what I perceive to be the left-handed bias of the Hill case. Not sure where I'll ultimately go with this, but there's a lot to think about, and I'd love to hear from other readers on this.

Before I do anything more on this, though, there's another twist to the story that I need to process. The other day I was searching for a reference in The Edge of Reality, the 1975 UFO book co -authored by Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Dr. Jacques Vallee, and I came across a fascinating comment from Dr. Hynek. He was describing his experience in 1966 when he had the opportunity to interview the Hills after they had been hypnotized by Dr. Benjamin Simon. Barney and Betty were seated side-by-side on a sofa while under hypnosis, with Betty seated to Barney's left. As the questioning began, Barney was recounting his and Betty's drive home on the night of their alleged abduction, with Barney behind the wheel of their Chevy and Betty in the passenger's seat, watching an odd light in the sky...
"In the experience I had when they were hypnotized for an hour and a half, a remarkable thing was the incident in which Betty was sitting to Barney's left, and Barney said to Dr. Simon, 'Something is funny. I know that Betty is sitting here [to his right, where she would have been since he was driving] but why is her voice coming from the other side?' So, he arranged their seats and Barney was happy."
Wow... I don't know about you, but I find this detail arresting. This right-left switcheroo may not help to understand the apparent left-handed bias in the Hill case, but it tells us a lot about the efficacy of hypnosis. This interview took place in Boston in 1966, but Barney was also back in his car driving along that New Hampshire highway in 1961...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

UFOlogy the Way it Used to be Done

I sure wish someone would secretly leave a sheaf of top-secret government UFO documents at my doorstep, or surreptitiously drop a roll of undeveloped UFO-related film in my mailbox. That's how UFOlogy used to be done back in the day. If you just waited around long enough, a smoking gun would magically and anonymously appear in your life and you could blow the UFO mystery wide open!
Jim Marrs, R.I.P.

I was reminded of this fact this week as I read the late Jim Marrs' epic 1997 UFO book Alien Agenda. Jim had kindly written a cover blurb for my book, The Close Encounters Man, shortly before he passed away last year, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never read any of his books before now. So, it was with a sense of duty -- and excitement -- that I started Jim's book this week, and I am delighted to report that I am enjoying the hell out of it. Jim's balls to the wall, I-never-met-a-conspiracy-theory-that-I-didn't-love approach is strangely infectious, and it takes me back to my earliest days of reading classic UFO books by Frank Edwards, John Fuller, Brad Steiger and John Keel. It's just pure, unmitigated, old school UFO fun, and makes me wish I had gotten to know Jim before he passed.

Just yesterday I got to the part in the book where he relates the sad, strange story of the MJ-12 documents, and it got me thinking... Jim introduces the story this way:
"On December 11, 1984, UFO researcher and TV producer Jaime Shandera heard his daily mail drop through the slot in his front door. He also heard his screen door shut. Opening the door, he found a brown envelope. It bore no return address but was stamped and more a cancellation mark. Inside was a roll of thirty-five millimeter Tri-X black-and-white film."
The film turned out to bear images of classified documents revealing the existence of a top-secret government UFO study called "Operation Majestic 12," or "MJ-12" for short. MJ-12 was a panel of twelve very prestigious scientists, military people and scholars who had allegedly been brought together on the authority of President Eisenhower in 1952 to secretly study UFOs. How and why this material just happened to appear in Shandera's mailbox is anybody's guess, but, like I said, that's how UFOlogy worked back in those days.

So, I'm reading about the bizarre mythology that has come to surround MJ-12, it's sketchy members and its sketchy activities, and I start to get this very strange and very strong feeling of Deja Vu... MJ-12 is a team of "elite" quasi-governmental experts brought together to focus their incredible brainpower on solving the UFO mystery once and for all, and yet, as Marrs relates their history, they never seemed to produce any findings of any value -- at least, nothing that could be verified. "The whole thing," Marrs wrote, "carried the odor of rotting fish."

Hmmmm... What current team of "elite" quasi-governmental experts brought together to focus their incredible brainpower on solving the UFO mystery once and for all does this remind me of?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Strange Case of the Left-Handed UFO -- Part III

The other day I wrote this letter to Kathleen Marden, niece of UFO abductees Betty & Barney Hill (and abduction researcher for MUFON):
 I have an odd question for you about your aunt and uncle: were either of them left-handed?

I ask because, ever since I researched their experience for my book, I've been puzzled by the fact that much of their account had a distinct "left-handed" bias. I've written about it in my blog here and here. I've never come across this in any other case I've investigated, but it makes me wonder whether humans experience contact with UFOs and aliens largely through the right brain. If that's the case, it opens up interesting questions about how aliens might make use of humans' split brains to control the way we perceive and experience them.

Have you noticed anything like this in your abduction researches?

Kathy was kind enough to write back, and here's what she had to say about the left-handed bias in Betty's & Barney's recollections of their abduction:
I am not aware that either Betty is or Barney was right-handed. The craft was first sighted to Betty’s right. It flew to their right as they drove south. It remained on the right side of their vehicle until it’s swooped down over their car. If then moved to their left and Barney followed it into the close encounter field. Route 175 is to the left of route 3, the route they had been traveling on. The dirt road was to their left and the craft landed on the left side of the dirt road.

Best wishes,

Kathleen Marden

So, even though she seems to be downplaying my suspicions, she only adds to the mystery with her mention that the craft landed on the left side of the road. I hadn't come across that in any of my reading, and it conforms to my left-bias theme... She also leaves open the possibility that Barney and/or Betty could have been left-handed -- she just doesn't seem to remember one way or another.

I am still left wondering what, if anything, it could mean. Could the brain hemisphere diagram below offer any clues? If the right hemisphere picks up sensory stimulus from the left side of the body, and so much of the Hills' recollections skew left, did they experience their abduction through the creative side of their brain? And if they did, what does that mean? I'm not saying that the Hills created their experience -- since it was largely a shared experience, I don't see how that's possible. But it could mean that they perceived their experience in their right brains because the aliens have figured out that that's the best way to get abstract, reality-bending information to us.

It's also worth recalling that the aliens communicated with Barney telepathically, but they communicated with Betty verbally. Speech, language and comprehension are functions of the left brain, as are recognition of words, letters and numbers, but do verbal and telepathic understanding take place in the same part of the brain? I doubt that anyone can answer that.

The search for answers continues.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A UFO on the Mar-a-Lago lawn

I've been reading and hearing a lot this week about Trump's decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, and how Trump and his Keystone Cops White House staff are playing up that news to divert attention from the Stormy Daniels affair. The more the press and the public are obsessing over this radical and unexpected development in foreign policy, the less we're paying attention to the fact that our president is paying off porn stars to cover-up his extramarital affairs. Makes sense.

Politico sums up Trump's approach to Presidenting pretty nicely, I think:

[Last night’s announcement] spotlighted an instinct that has defined Trump’s early foreign policy: say the things others wouldn’t say; do the things they didn’t dare.
“He likes to be the first. He likes doing things no one has ever done before,” one senior Trump official said.

As I was reading this, it occurred to me that Mr. Trump is missing out on the biglyest distraction of all time. I think you know where I'm going with this:


Think about it: if Donald Trump announced today that we have been and continue to be in contact with extraterrestrial beings, and then he trotted out an alien or two, and arranged for them to land one of their saucers, or triangles, or orbs, on the White House lawn (or, more likely, at Mar-a-Lago), all of his troubles would be forgotten in an instant. Trump would go down in the history books as The President Who Made First Contact. He would be the ultimate President who did what no other Presidents would dare. And, in the furor that resulted, the public and the press would be all, "Stormy who?" "Russia, what?" 

Seriously, why fret about an earthly nemesis like Kim Jong Un when we could be dealing with a real "Little Rocket Man?"
Disclosure: Why didn't it happen this week?
 It would be a  a double-whammy WIN-WIN for Trump, something that he would never be able to resist. Not only would all his scandals and controversies be swept under the rug immediately and for all time, but he could lay claim to the biggest, greatest brag ever to be bragged by anyone: "I exposed the government's UFO coverup, and revealed the existence of ET!"

Which only goes to prove that Disclosure is a load of hooey, because if there really was a huge UFO bombshell, if this option really was open to Trump, if this was something he really could do, this would have been the week he'd have done it. And the fact that he didn't tells me that there's no Disclosure bombshell to drop.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Strange Case of the Left-Handed UFO -- Part II

This gets stranger and stranger...
Barney Hill's UFO, drawn under hypnosis.

In a previous post, I examined the odd fact that so much that's been documented about the 1961 Barney & Betty Hill UFO abduction displays a pronounced bias to the left side of both Barney's and Betty's testimony. I listed the many examples from my own research and then from a recent book on the event here.

Since I wrote that, I went through my kindle copy of John G. Fuller's masterwork, "The Interrupted Journey," and, guess what? The phenomenon persists!

Here's a list of some of the left-skewed passages from Fuller's book. This could have been a longer list, but I excluded many quotes that duplicated those mentioned in the last post. Also, obviously, these excerpts are taken out of context, which in some cases can affect their apparent meaning.  I should also point out that I have not counted the number of "left" references and compared that to the number of "right" references. Also, some of the excerpts come from Fuller's text and some come from the transcripts of the Barney's and Betty's hypnotic sessions. Finally, since these excerpts are from a kindle book, I don't see much point in listing the page numbers. With all that in mind, read on:
  • "To the left of the moon, and slightly below it, was a particularly bright star, perhaps a planet."
  • "Then, slowly, a red light came out on the left side of the object..."
  • "A curve to the left in the road now shifted the object to the right of the car..."
  • "Betty would insist I should take a right turn, but I would insist on making a left."
  • "... I become confused, and I realize I want to go straight and not to the left."
  • "I pinch my right arm... it's not my right arm, it's my left arm."
  • "He had a black scarf around his neck, dangling over his left shoulder."
  • "He actually drew a cuiye (sp?) representing the left side of the face, and drew the left eye on it, without any other detail."
  • "And Betty is standing off to the left of the car with the binoculars..."
  • "And I was going around the left side of the base."
  • "And I came to a complete stop, and I reached down on the floor of the car to my left..."
  • "And it moved to my left."
  • "And I got out of the car, and I put my left leg on the ground and two men helped me out."
  • "Only one spoke, the one who was on my left."
  • "There was a light behind my left shoulder. Like a spotlight."
  • "And I could feel them rustling around on the left side of the table I was lying on."
  • "My hair was closely examined, and he removed a few strands and then cut a larger piece on the back left-hand side."
Finally, my favorite "left" reference, from Barney's recollection of the drive that brought the Hills to their rendezvous with fate. I like this quote because it strongly indicates that both Betty and Barney were aware on some level that "turning left" while driving through North Woodstock was somehow not the correct thing to do...
  • "Then I drove down the highway, and I went through North Woodstock and then made a left turn, And Betty was looking at me sort of puzzled. And yet she did not question what I was doing. And I could sense what she was thinking. And I said, 'I know what 'm doing all right. I know we're on the right road.'"
Of course, it wasn't the right road. Not at all.

Friday, March 2, 2018

AV Club Names "The World's Top UFO Reseachers" & Claims They "Chose Tom DeLonge."

Seriously, this is the title of a story that ran in the AV Club yesterday:

Why the world's top UFO researchers chose Tom DeLonge as their mouthpiece

The article goes on to name two, and only two, "world's top UFO researchers" who have mildly nice things to say about rock star and koozie salesman Tom DeLonge: Alejandro Rojas and Nick Pope.

Rojas: "This is a cool guy you want to hang with and you want to be buddies with."

Pope: "People do get starry-eyed."

What did I miss?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Strange Case of the Left-Handed UFO

Here's a puzzler:

Betty and Barney Hill, UFO abductees
In one of the famous UFO incidents I dramatize in The Close Encounters Man, my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a weird little motif appears in the testimony of the two witnesses that has always troubled me. I'm referring to the 1961 abduction case of Barney and Betty Hill, in which the couple were allegedly intercepted by aliens while driving along a lonely highway in the middle of the night, taken aboard a spaceship and medically examined. It's such a famous story that I won't go over the entire event here, because if you've heard of it then you probably know most if not all of the particulars.

But there are some details I need to point out. I presented them in the book pretty clearly (Chapter 14: Mr. UFO, pp. 208-210), hoping that someone would recognize the emerging theme and perhaps ask me about them in one of my interviews, or comment on it here in the blog. But after nearly nine months, no one has commented on it, at least not to me.

Here's the mystery: No less than five times in the Hills' depiction of their experience, recalled only under hypnosis several years after the fact, they described actions taking place to the left. Here's how I described the relevant passages of their account in my book:

#1 -- Page 208, paragraph 3:

"They were somehow diverted off of Route 3 and onto what seemed to be a small side road; Betty remembered Barney making a sharp left-hand turn."

#2 -- Page 209, paragraph 3:
"Betty was directed down a corridor—again a left-hand turn—and taken to a room."

#3 -- Page 209, paragraph 4: 
"First, the man she came to regard as the “Doctor” took a skin scraping, then swabbed her ear—the left one."

#4 & #5 -- Page 210 paragraph 3:
"Then the man touched Barney’s teeth, and a number of other men clustered around the left side of the table. Barney felt something covering his groin, then felt a scratching very lightly along his left arm."

I have a hard time believing this is purely coincidental; it appears to be a full-blown case of cosmic, left-handed synchronicity, but what the hell does it mean? I don't believe I've ever come across this kind of directional bias in any other UFO case I've ever studied. Do we perceive things to our left any differently than things to our right? Do we process and perceive reality any differently between our left and right sides? I've done some casual googling, looking for psychological studies that analyze left- or right-bias, and have come up empty-handed. The left hemisphere of the brain is, of course, in charge of logical thought, and it controls the right side of the body, so that doesn't seem to get me anywhere.

The thing that really strikes me is this: why would the Hills mention the direction of these actions at all? I mean, why should it matter? Did the hypnotherapist, Dr. Simon, ask his questions in a way that would prompt responses that specifies direction? I doubt that, but I will need to go over the full transcripts of the Hills' hypnosis sessions at some point to look for clues. Another look through The Interrupted Journey, John Fuller's legendary account of the Hill case, is also warranted.

In the meantime, though, I just scanned through my kindle copy of Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience by Stanton Friedman and Kathleen Marden, the Hills' niece, and was shocked to find that the "to the left" motif pops up over and over again in their book as well. Here are some of the many examples:
  • "At that moment the UFO shifted position from right to left in front of the car and hovered again in midair."
  • "And, I can see my mistake by this fork and I had continued to the right when I should have made a very sharp left turn, which would have brought me into the city in a different way."
  • "North of Lancaster, near Groveton, Betty observed a star below the moon on the lower left-hand side."
  • "Hynek revealed that she observed the planet Jupiter on the lower left side of the moon and the bright moving object above it, directly left of the moon."
  • "And I looked and I could see that this thing that I thought was a plane had made a turn to the left toward Vermont and kept turning, started coming right back."
  • "He was a 'not too big' man dressed in a military-style cap and black shiny jacket, with a scarf dangling over his left shoulder."
  • "And when I did, the object, which was to the right of the car on Betty's side, made an arc-like turn--or not a turn, but a swinging motion over to the left of my side."
So, am I being paranoid, or am I onto something here? If anyone out there knows the significance of this left-hand phenomenon, please enlighten me. It's kind of driving me crazy...