High Strangeness: April 2020

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

UFO Insincerity

With all the news about the Navy's essentially meaningless "release" of the tic-tac videos, I keep seeing the usual suspects associated with the "To the Stars Academy" (TTSA) popping up in podcasts and articles everywhere.

Is anyone else tired of seeing this image?
Whenever that happens -- and it happens every few months, like clockwork, almost as if by design -- I'm reminded of when I saw TTSA frontman Luiz Elizondo speak at the Scientific Conference on Anomalous Aerospace Phenomena (AAP) in Huntsville, AL, in March of 2019. It was a good conference and an enjoyable experience -- except for Elizondo's address, and I'll tell you why.

Elizondo's entire speech consisted of constantly conflicting messages, presented in the following order:

1) "Guys, we have some amazing things to show you!"

2) "C'mon guys, be patient!"

3) "Guys, we have some astounding things to show you!"

4) "Seriously guys, be patient!"

5) "Guys, we have some mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting things to show you!"

6) "OMG you guys, why can't you be more patient?"

That's all it was for over an hour. Build up expectations in one sentence, then squash them in the next, without offering anything of any substance or value in between. Lather, rinse, repeat. I quickly grew tired of the trickery and insincerity, and felt like I, and everyone in attendance, was being played like a sap, like he was just trying to reel us all in. The message seemed to be that we were being ridiculous for being so impatient and, you know, expecting what had been explicitly promised to us.

But even worse than the words was the smile. Throughout the entire speech, Elizondo had a grin on his face that I found truly disturbing. I don't know if he was aware he was doing it, but I don't know that that matters. What was he smiling about? I don't know much about the meaning of body language, but to me his grin projected dismissiveness at the very best and dishonesty at the very worst.

Why did it strike me as dismissive? The feeling I got was that Elizondo was pleased with himself because he felt he knew something the rest of us didn't, because he was seeing in real time how powerful and effective his tricks were, and because he was confirming how easily impressed and misled most of us UFO people, even a room full of Ph.D.s, are if you dangle a shiny enough object in front of them.

In the end, all TTSA really wants to do is keep selling us koozies and hoodies.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

UFO Eggheads, Part One

I have to admit, it's kind of cool that people are still reviewing my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, The Close Encounters Man, nearly three years after its publication -- and in an academic setting, no less!

You can read the review here, but I warn you, it's massive: 25 pages! https://www.academia.edu/42856955/Book_Review_of_The_Close_Encounters_Man

Of course I disagree with some of the reviewer's observations, and I expect I will address those issues in upcoming blog posts. One thing I will address right now is that I don't believe that being a scriptwriter in any way disqualifies me from being a biographer. There is no law stating that biographies can only be written by "impartial historians." And since no "impartial historians" have ever bothered to write a biography of J. Allen Hynek, the field was wide open. They had their chance.

I have also become aware this past week of another review of TCEM that came out a while back in a science review. I'll post that soon, as well.

Bottom line: it's always gratifying when The Close Encounters Man is regarded as a science book instead of an "occult & paranormal" book! Not that there's anything wrong with occult & paranormal books, but I always said I wanted to write a UFO book that people didn't have to hide, and this is validation that I've succeeded in that.

PS: Additional reviews  -- here, or on Amazon or goodreads -- are always welcome!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

UFO Nookie?

In response to my reader @LaurieDecatur asking if there was ever any nookie going on between Jennie Zeidman and J. Allen Hynek, I will let Jennie answer that in her own words:

 I do want this on the record:  Allen and I had no physical relationship, of any kind,  ever, unless you count the time in the Hynek kitchen on Ridge Avenue, that Mimi and I were getting supper on the table, and Allen returned home, I had not seen him in several months, and he gave me a peck on the cheek.  Sorry to disappoint everyone, but that's it.  I am concerned that on the (Project Blue Book) TV show, Allen's secretary will be portrayed otherwise.  But I'll just grin and bear it.
      .....That's entertainment........ JZ
 So, Laurie, are you disappointed, or relieved?

This reminds me of the time when I was knee-deep in research for my book and a guy contacted me out of the blue to say that he had worked for Dr. Hynek's Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in the early 1980s, and he knew for a fact that Hynek had left his wife Mimi and had "run off to Arizona" with a beautiful young grad student of his. I didn't believe him for a second -- some people had tried to sabotage my research before and his claim smacked of the same desperation to make Hynek (and me) look bad. But I performed my due diligence; I asked a few people "in the know" whether there was anything to the story and they all laughed it off. Not only that, none of them remembered this guy ever working for CUFOS. Needless to say, his story did not make it into my book.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Flying with the UFOs.

UFOlogy has lost a bright star this month. Jennie Zeidman, friend and colleague of Dr. J. Allen Hynek and a former investigator for Project Blue Book, has passed away.

When I started researching Dr. Hynek's life back in 2012, Jennie was the first person I wanted to interview for The Close Encounters Man, my biography of Hynek. I had come across a thick binder in the archives of Hynek's Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) that contained years' worth of correspondence and photos between Jennie and Dr. Hynek, and I could see immediately that the two of them shared not just an intense curiosity about the UFO phenomenon but a very warm and lasting friendship. Who better, then, for me to interview about Dr. Hynek?

I found that Jennie was living in Columbus, Ohio, and I called her one evening on the phone. We had a nice chat and eventually I asked Jennie if I could interview her about her work and friendship with Hynek. She told me that much of her writing about her work with Hynek was already available online and that I was free to quote from it. I was happy to hear that, of course, but I still really wanted to hear what she had to say now, in 2012, after 60-some years of reflection. But when I asked her again about doing an interview she hung up on me.

I was caught short-- what to do? I thought of calling her back and trying again, but I realized that some people just want to leave the past in the past and I needed to respect that. In the end, I did quote from some of her published writings, but I always felt the loss of not being able to do that interview and the sting of being hung up on.

Jennie and me, in healthier times.
Fast forward to 2017. My book is published, I'm having a blast promoting it, everything is great, and then I get a message from Jennie's son asking if his mom can contact me about the book. I agreed and when I got an email from Jennie I was, quite frankly, terrified to look at it. But I screwed up my courage and found, to my delight, that Jennie had given me the best book review I ever could have hoped for: "Congratulations, Mark! You wrote Allen exactly as I remember him."

I was thrilled, naturally, but then was even more thrilled when she wrote again two weeks later, saying, "Mark, I just read your book for the second time, and for the second time I ended up in tears."

After that Jennie and I became pen pals. She would send me emails (and sometimes snail mails) sharing memories of Allen, and we developed an ongoing conversation about our theories about the phenomenon, our favorite cases, our favorite UFO villains (hers was indubitably Philip Klass), and all things UFO. I loved every minute of it. I had the perfect mentor, the ultimate UFO Yoda, telling me stories that no one else had ever heard before!

Then two years ago I saw the trailer for the History Channel's awful Project Blue Book series and my heart sank. I felt that Jennie needed to know about the show, and that it would be best for her to hear it from a friend, and so I sent her the trailer. She was furious at the flagrant inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the trailer, as I knew she would be, so I said, "Jennie, maybe now I could do that interview with you. This could be your one chance to set the record straight."

Well, we set about conducting a slow-motion email interview, and she started to fill in some of the missing pieces of the J. Allen Hynek/Project Blue Book history. I was thrilled that the interview was finally happening!

Around this time I got my own TV project off the ground, and I asked Jennie if she'd be willing to continue our interview on camera, for the new show. She was very shy at first, but she agreed to do it.

So, we've done two interviews with Jennie, for a total of 12 hours of video, and I can tell you that she is a national treasure. During the first shoot, I had the rare opportunity to talk with Jennie for an hour and half in her office as the crew set up, and it was just a brilliant conversation. Jennie told me her life story, she shared more UFO secrets, she told more Hynek stories (of course), including one very, very bad joke, and then.... shocker: she apologized for having hung up on me back in 2012, and explained to me why she had done it! CLOSURE!

But then, bad news. In February Jennie fell ill and we had to postpone, and then cancel, our additional interview shoots with her. A few weeks later Jennie's son informed me that his mom was now in hospice care. He said she apologized to me and thew crew but hoped we could make use of the video we had. No apology needed, Jennie!

Then about 10 days ago I got word from Jennie's son that she had died. That was the same day that my mother-in-law passed away, so you can imagine what a rough day that was in the O'Connell household.

I am happy to say that we have enough video of Jennie to use in the first 2-3 episodes of the show (out of 8), but the truth is it's not enough. It's not nearly enough. I can guarantee that if you see Jennie in the show, you will be amazed, and you will understand a lot more about J. Allen Hynek, about Project Blue Book, and about the UFOs and why they're here. And it's all real.

God bless you, Jennie! I know you're up there flying with the UFOs now.

PS: Someone associated with the Project Blue Book series contacted Jennie and asked her to help promote the show. She told me her response was "I want nothing to do with your silly soap opera!"
And then she added, "I think I made myself quite clear!"

I have no doubt of that, Jennie.