Wednesday, April 1, 2015

51 Notes on Real UFOs and Sharknado

1. It’s April Fools’ Day. And yet:

2. Every one of these mostly UFO-themed 51 items is true, to the best of my knowledge.

3. Indeed, I expect to write an article on the reality of the seven-decade UFO cover-up by the government for a major national magazine very soon.

4. I’ll also likely be appearing as a fan/commentator in a documentary about Sharknado.

5. And I’ll be writing the definitive intro book on libertarianism, so prepare for a movement defined by me.

6. As of today, I’ve completed my transition to just blogging weekly about books (when not doing actual paid assignments) and thus won’t be using Facebook or Twitter except to plug those items.

7. One of numerous reasons to think Facebook is increasingly creepy and perhaps to be avoided is that they will now be the ones operating at least some of the oft-seen, convincingly-reported, giant, hovering triangular UFOs.

8. This talk of UFOs may seem bizarre coming from someone like me who is still a hardcore skeptic in intellectual methodology, but then, today is the start of a “Month of Heresies” on this blog.

9. It can’t be any wackier than last month’s “Month of Decadence,” which climaxed with transvestite car thieves being gunned down at the NSA headquarters.

10. And don’t get me wrong, the UFO talk in no way changes the fact I’m excited I saw my hero James Randi profiled in the great documentary An Honest Liar -- and excited that one sequence, about Randi and fellow magicians demonstrating that even scientists can easily be duped into believing “psychics,” will be dramatized by Barry Sonnenfeld in the film Project Alpha.

11. Thanks to James Randi, remember, anyone claiming to exhibit any psychic or supernatural power under carefully-observed test conditions can get a prize of over $1 million. No takers have emerged. I suspect there are no real psychic powers at all.

12. Similarly convincing, I think, is the failure of Spike TV’s 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty to yield a Bigfoot. I suspect there is no real Bigfoot at all.

13. Needless to say, given the immense rewards that could be reaped by any preacher, theocrat, or theologian for demonstrating God exists, I’d say ample reward has effectively been offered for doing that -- and no dice. I suspect there is no God.

14. A libertarian has to love people putting their money where their mouths are, so I also applaud a skeptic group’s new initiative to give $100,000 to anyone who can prove he was a passenger on a UFO. I suspect all those alien abduction stories are bad dreams -- which is not to say I think the UFO phenomenon has been completely explained, as I will examine at greater length elsewhere soon.

15. The UFO situation is slightly weirder than other paranormal claims, I would now contend: There may be no alien visitors and indeed may be no life beyond Earth at all for all we so far know (unlikely though that seems), but there are at the very least some odd and oddly-moving lights in the sky -- and surprisingly elaborate government disinformation campaigns on the topic.

16. One small indicator that something is going on in that area: it may have nothing to do with aliens, but at least five of my Facebook friends (who are smarter than average, I’d contend) claim to have seen giant, hovering, silent triangular craft. They may just be military (or henceforth Facebook), but I’m pretty confident at this point they’re real and are seen with some regularity.

And that’s without me even surveying everyone -- though one of my Facebook friends did that with her Facebook friends and, sure enough, got some convincing-sounding, familiar light-patterns-in-the-sky sorts of tales that didn’t sound like mere planes or weather phenomena. Again, I suspect there’s something going on we haven’t yet pinned down.

17. Still, confusing and hoaxing people is easy, and I once hosted a debate between one of my aforementioned triangle-spotting Facebook friends and Chris Russo, the skeptical prankster behind this New Jersey UFO.

18. It’s certainly not just your ordinary dupe who sees these things, though, and there’s a new book on the long history of U.S. presidents taking an interest in the topic.

19. And our cozy mainstream picture of history can be wrong, of course. Heck, they just realized they had the date of Anne Frank’s death wrong.

20. Perhaps the best overview of the whole UFO phenomenon (amidst innumerable idiotic books, let’s be frank, and I don’t mean Anne) is Richard Dolan’s UFOs and the National Security State. In Volume 1 (of a planned 3), he presents surprisingly good evidence, much of it simply government documentation extracted by FOIA requests, that the government, rightly or wrongly, has taken a great interest in the phenomenon -- and largely been baffled and alarmed by it -- since around World War II, perhaps especially since, yes, Roswell in 1947.

That volume ends in 1973, with the post-Watergate, post-Church Hearings era of skepticism about government contributing to a rare time of openness, inquiry, and FOIA efficacy in our political history.

21. Volume 2 makes things a good deal more complicated, covering 1973-1991, during which time government secrecy is largely restored by Reagan and Bush in the waning days of the Cold War and two new layers are added to the opacity of UFO investigations: government demonstrably engaging in shockingly elaborate and time-consuming monitoring and disinformation-spreading among UFO believers -- and the UFO believers themselves spouting ever more bizarre and factionalizing theories.

22. What began in World War II with quite reasonable questions like “Where are those slow-moving cigar-shaped objects coming from?” had evolved into mini-religions and elaborate conspiracy theories meant to answer all questions about life and human destiny.

23. The interesting thing about the era that Dolan plans to cover in Volume 3, 1992 to the present, will be the fact that the past generation has simultaneously seen the rise of (1) better and more commonplace cameras for catching whatever purported anomalies exist and (2) sites like YouTube for quickly distributing information without going through (censorious) official channels but also (3) more stealth vehicles and drones that might be mistaken for far stranger anomalies and (4) more readily available computer graphics for creating outright fakes.

As a precaution, given how easily footage can be faked these days, even if there are alien visitors, we’re nowadays mainly reduced to looking for them in those few pieces of footage that are widely agreed to have been broadcast live and not tampered with -- though it’s impressive that that still leaves us with several UFO sightings, alien or not (remember, UFO merely means “unidentified flying object”).

It’s worth asking yourself, just as a mental exercise, how you’d react to the countless purported pieces of UFO footage if you were persuaded even one were “the real thing” and thus that you couldn’t dismiss all the others out of hand either.

24. Volume 2, by the way, has an introduction written by Linda Moulton Howe, who, much like Dolan, is no skeptic but still deserves credit for research effort, her biggest claim to fame being this 1980 TV documentary, Strange Harvest, on the phenomenon of cattle mutilation.

Could the oddly clean wounds of the many mutilated cattle have simply been caused by, say, tiny nibbling voles or something? I don’t know, and questions like that should have been addressed, but you might still find the documentary creepier than you’d think.

25. It’s arguably less disturbing (but more convincingly reported) than this one on human mutilations and their purported cover-up, though, if you just feel like taking the creepy up a notch.

26. But maybe cows themselves are the cattle-mutilators. Those things even eat kittens, apparently (h/t Mary Madigan).

27. If this all sounds hopelessly fringey, watch this forty-second clip of John Podesta, advisor to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, passionately calling for UFO disclosure in 2002. He was not joking when he sent that recent tweet about his failure to secure UFO disclosure being his biggest regret. (He also wrote the foreword to Leslie Kean’s book UFOs, which I blogged about earlier.)

28. Maybe Podesta will soon work for a third president, one who has a history of employing private spies to give her Benghazi info and private eyes back in Arkansas to intimidate overly intrepid reporters.

29. I may not wield as much influence but will at least do the occasional video chat, like this one featuring me and other associates of Lucy Steigerwald talking about UFOs and related paranoid-sounding ideas.

30. As more formal treatments of the topic go, this 1950s newsreel ain’t half bad.

31. But again, no matter what things exist in this world, it is vital to remain skeptical. Those bright spots on Ceres may be intriguing (and last month two moons, around Saturn and Jupiter, were revealed to have subsurface oceans), but what we’ll most likely find in these places is just lots of shiny ice.

32. Then again, slow-moving green fireballs like that filmed over Colorado last month were so routine decades ago over Los Alamos that scientists there sought federal government aid in figuring out the cause of the incursions, and I suspect we don’t yet really know why our skies have so many weird lights in them.

33. We all miss Leonard Nimoy, who passed away last month, and who tried to keep an open mind about such things.

34. In fact, I have only recently realized just how easily the brain of young Todd was led by Nimoy from fantasy to reckless speculation but then to sober skepticism, since I watched him on Star Trek from about age four, was thereby made more susceptible around age six or so to the kooky paranormal theories he narrated on In Search Of, and yet because of its faux-scientific tone and attitude was happy to transition over to Carl Sagan and Cosmos at age ten.

Sort through enough nonsense, you may find your way to science.

35. Photographic evidence of note in this area will soon (upon its May 5 unveiling) include purportedly independently authenticated photos from 1947, known to be part of a stash of photos taken by a well-connected rich couple who hung around with and photographed presidents and celebs, that at least look like they show the infamous Roswell alien autopsies.

If photos of a highly-convincing but fake alien autopsy were created in 1947 and remained hidden for seven decades, that would in itself be odd, especially since the whole Roswell autopsy idea didn’t really become popularized until the 70s or so. We’ll soon see what the photo-possessors, authors of the (once more thorough though not very skeptical) volume Witness to Roswell, have to say about their new find in one month.

(I must reluctantly say that whatever they unveil will probably be more convincingly strange than the photo fellow libertarian Kennedy thinks was a ghost in her apartment but is probably just one of her own young daughters hanging out. I wish them all pleasant, terror-free dreams regardless, though.)

36. But hey, if tardigrades can survive in outer space, who knows what’s possible (h/t Chuck Blake, the skeptic I’ve known longest).

37. Even the Catholic Church puts some limits on miracle claims, though. I see that the very famous (children’s) visions of Medjugorje, probably the most well-known modern miracle claims in many people’s minds, are not only unrecognized as miracles by the Catholic Church but were the subject of an announcement the Church recently sent out to St. Louis-area Catholics reminding them not to participate in a Medjugorje-themed celebration, since the Church has not officially recognized those miracle claims.

The Catholic Church is still crazy, but it has some standards. Gotta respect that.

38. I’m reminded by religious/theological factionalism ever so slightly of the almost adorably technical and hairsplitting in-fighting among factions of UFO researchers. And maybe in the end we’ll realize all of these people have literally been fighting over nothing. Who knows.

39. Then again, one reminder that skeptics can be hastily dismissive is all the scorn heaped for years upon the idea that portentous lights appear in the skies before earthquakes. And now we know that luminous gas clouds actually do sometimes get released from faults prior to quakes (and luminous orbs and other likely-natural UFOs have often been reported near hot springs, probably no coincidence).

40. Speaking of crises and portents, THE MULTIVERSE AS WE KNOW IT ENDS TODAY, or at least today’s when DC Comics releases four comic book issues that may be looked back upon as the final gasp of a coherent DC fictional continuity. Today, there’s the final issue of Earth-2: World’s End (#26), the final issue of New 52: Futures End (#48), and the final issue of Batman Eternal (#52) but also the first issue (#0) of the miniseries Convergence.

After today, though? Two months of a nostalgic mix-and-match alternate realities storyline replacing all DC’s usual titles, at a time when Marvel’s doing much the same thing. Marvel may go back to its usual fictional history after their spring crossover ends. DC has already announced they’re abandoning continuity in favor of stylistic eclecticism and contradictory storylines. Well, the DC Universe was fun for the eighty years it lasted.

41. The depressing thing about World’s End is that DC’s Earth-2 had already been through rough times: World War II, reboots, conquest by Darkseid. But all that wasn’t grim enough for the modern DC, so this series featured Darkseid slowly killing off the entire population of the planet, leaving only two million refugees and a handful of superheroes. Sad.

42. Futures End tossed around Brainiac, Brother Eye, Mr. Terrific’s robo-orbs, and the Batman Beyond cyber-suit and still didn’t really weave all the A.I. subplots from the past few years into a coherent whole.

43. Maybe that will happen in Convergence, in which every old version of reality you can shake a stick at gets smushed together by Brainiac or Telos or Blood Moon or some other alien machine-intelligence and they all fight or say their goodbyes or whatever. Sounds exhausting.

44. And yet when opportunity stares the editors right in the face -- like Batman Eternal featuring the villainous Owlman, who is near-identical to the Owlman from the recently-destroyed Earth-3 -- do they connect the dots and reveal the former to be synonymous with the latter, perhaps fled to the main Earth as a refugee and linking all their current series into one mighty multiversal tapestry? More often than not, no.

That’s old-school now. Just crank out a bunch of self-contained experiments that, God willing, might yield a decent TV pitch.

45. I’m disappointed, too, there’s been no serious mention of the villainous Time Trapper amidst all these final multiversal shenanigans -- except the mention that he is the reason the cowboy-themed Earth is “trapped” forever in nineteenth-century-style living. I have to admit I’d enjoy the goofy revelation that “Trapper” will henceforth be taken very literally as a description of his m.o., maybe with giant spacetime-deforming bear traps and him wearing a cowboy-era coonskin. Do it to the hilt. It doesn’t really matter anymore anyway.

Take heart, though, fellow Time Trapper fans: He was prominently featured in an animated movie last year. Good for Time Trapper.

46. It’s an apt time for the DC Universe as we have known it to end, since DC Comics is relocating to Burbank, to be closer to the Warner Brothers movie people. With them, after twenty years of living in NYC and hanging around with me, goes my college pal Scott Nybakken (a collected editions editor at DC). Maybe he should change his name for the occasion from Nybakken to Labakken. (If Nybakken is Norwegian for “new hills,” I assume Labakken would be Norwegian for “hillside apartment that suffered smoke damage during that last brushfire.”)

47. But here on the blog, this “Month of Heresies” will yet cover tomes more weighty than comics, rest assured, beginning in my next weekly entry with Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism.

48. Then it’s on to people I know -- but who are brilliant nonetheless -- as we look at Jacob Levy’s Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom.

49. And Christine Caldwell Ames’ Medieval Heresies: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

50. And finally Benjamin Hall’s Inside ISIS: The Brutal Rise of a Terrorist Army. Well, I know his agent, really, since she’s mine as well, but you see how it fits, how all these books fit, right? It’ll be fun.

51. And then it’s back to economics topics come May Day. Will the commies thank me? I do it all for them. 

1 comment:

Lucy Stag said...


What is wrong with me, and how much of it is your fault?