Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ancient Aliens or Modern Misconceptions?

I'm going to share (not much of) a secret with you:

I will watch almost anything with a paranormal/UFO theme to it, even paranormal reality shows, even the Ancient Aliens series on the History Channel.

I also have fond memories of the release of the first Von Daniken book, Chariots of the Gods!

You have to like a guy who isn't ashamed to use exclamation marks at the end of every sentence, no matter how silly or far-fetched.

Wait. What I meant to say is,

You have to admire a guy who isn't afraid! To use exclamation marks! At the end of every sentence! No matter how silly or far-fetched!


I also really, really like the Greek fellow with the crazy hair who edits his own magazine about this stuff. He is always very well-dressed and well-spoken, and he has hair that defies the laws of physics. Seriously, that hair is proof enough for me of almost anything he has to say.

I know I'm being a bit of smart aleck here and I usually try not to do that. But it seems to me that there are a number of basic misconceptions underlying the ancient alien hypothesis. Un-coincidentally, mainstream archeology shares a few of these too. That way, we get the classic crackpot/debunker deadlock polarity that for some reason HAS to emerge in any discussion of the unexplained.


Here are just a few of those (for my money) faulty assumptions:

  1. The Myth of Progress.  This myth has it that human beings are naturally progressing toward greater and great sophistication and intelligence, so that anything in the deep past that we can't replicate and improve upon today must be evidence of some kind of intervention by a superior force. We can't build Stonehenge without machines so aliens must have done it. We can't build a system of aqua ducts to Roman specifications so aliens must have done it. We don't know how the Pharoahs slapped up those pyramids so quickly and so mathematically/astronomically correctly so aliens must have done it. This assumption is deeply disrespectful of ancient peoples, many of whom were as sophisticated and intelligent if not more so than today's top scientists. It is egomaniacal in the extreme to assume that we are the pinnacle of human development and therefore anything we don't understand must have inhuman origins. 
  2. The Aliens Are a Lot Like Us Assumption.  Not only are aliens assumed to be bipedal, hominid-type organisms of more or less the same height and girth as homo sapiens, they are assumed to be 'technologically advanced', meaning they have an affinity for shiny aerodynamic shapes, bright lights, and tight-fitting jumpsuits. But even a cursory look at alien species invasions on our own planet--and there have been many--reveals that aliens can be as small and goopy as a zebra muscle or as florally lovely and rabid as a strand of purple loosestrife. In fact, the first aliens we meet from outer space might have already arrived--in the form of microscopic viruses. So the 'a lot like us' assumption seems more a byproduct of science fiction stories and movies than common sense. If the aliens are aliens, you would, if anything, expect them to be so different from us that we would barely recognize them as living things. 
  3. The 'They Want Our Wimmin' Assumption.  So, let's just get this straight. Alien invaders came from across time and space to visit Earth eons ago, and the first thing they did when they got here was try to get laid? Seriously? When was the last time a zebra mussel put the moves on your wife? Even if that did happen, how far do you think such a mussel would get with its dishonorable intentions? Why don't humans try mating with chimpanzees so we can get them to run our Walmarts? Because it's disgusting, that's why! I mean, come on! We have some good-looking wimmin here on earth, but they're not all that and a bag of chips.
You get my drift.

I could go on, but I won't.

I actually think the notion that alien species found their way to earth in our deep past is a real possibility and a credible one.

It's just that the analysis going on on both sides of the fence, at least for now, isn't.

That doesn't mean I'm going to stop watching the show.

I still haven't figured out how that guy gets his hair to stay like that.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy Anniversary Kevin Arnold

Sixty-four years ago, on June 24, 1947, Air Force pilot Kevin Arnold reported that he had seen several silver flying discs from his plane that moved like stones skipping over water.

Arnold's description of the objects as 'disc shaped' led to invention of the term 'flying saucer', and the modern era of ufology was born. Arnold later modified his report to say that some of the discs were shaped more like flying arcs (see photo).

Kenneth Arnold had over 9,000 hour in flight and was widely respected both within and outside of the military. He claimed that he was not worried about the sighting at first because he assumed the discs were classified U.S. military aircraft.

When that assumption turned out not to be the case (so far as we know), Arnold became more involved in the investigation of UFOs, interviewing several witnesses and contactees and eventually writing a book on the topic.

Some UFO researchers and conspiracy theorists (i.e., Bruce Macabbee, Jim Marrs) claim Arnold had seen UFOs over Yakima Washington and even had some contact with military intelligence agents (either knowingly or unknowingly) in early 1947, before his famous sighting.

Whether or not that is true, after a few years Arnold refused to talk about UFOs any further and began to decline all interviews.

Make of it all what you will.

If nothing else, these claims prove that dissembling and controvery are par for the course when it comes to UFOs, and have been from day one.

And that is a fact you can take to the bank.

UFOs have been seen in the skies and reported in detail for millennia of course (see the recent book, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times, by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck), but Kevin Arnold's sighting is widely regarded as the beginning of the 20th century incarnation of these elusive phenomena.

Whether you believe, just want to believe, or think it's all total rot, why not celebrate?

Have some star jelly on your toast today.

Make cupcakes!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Super 8 and Alien Anger Management Issues


The new J.J. Abrams movie "Super 8" could have been called "Cloverfield Goes to Steeltown and by the Way I Really Like Stephen Spielberg," but that doesn't roll off the tongue as easily, and it doesn't fit on the screen any easier than its rampaging (but mostly absent) extraterrestrial star.

Basically a monster movie set up as an homage to Spielberg's "ET: The Extraterrestrial," "Super 8" is less sugary and hopeful than Spielberg's alien offerings, but tamer and less noisy than Michael Bay's roller coaster ride of back to back explosions (i.e. "Transformers").

Oh, there's lots of explosions and noise in "Super 8," but the young actors are great and the story is good too.

I liked it.

But then, I like ALL monster movies, with alien movies being a close second, so you can't totally trust my judgment.

Watching "Super 8," it did hit me how much aliens have changed since Spielberg first gave us that cute little bug-eyed thing with a glowing finger and a heart light. By the time "Close Encounters" came out, aliens were still friendly, though more mysterious.

But then we got the "Alien" series with Sigourney Weaver and that black bitch creature dripping acid (really they were mirror image bitch creatures, very cool, Ridley), and then came the Predator series, and then "Independence Day", so that today, 30 years post-Super-8 setting (Super 8 takes place in the 80s, when Abrams came of age), you can pretty much count on aliens being pissed off, even if it is only because they are so misunderstood.

So basically, we've seen aliens morph into really scary incarnations of the Goddess: Kali, maybe. And that's interesting because 4,000 years ago the Goddess is exactly who these big-eyed critters served. (See image, left.)

Monsters are almost always about the Goddess or an incarnation thereof, and the connections in "Super 8" are obvious enough to knock you out.

(I won't spoil the movie by describing any of them here.)

"Super 8" isn't a great movie, and it isn't Spielberg, but it isn't "Lost" either. It's a fantastic 'B' movie though. I hope more are in the works.

If the 'B' monster movie comes back, I will be one happy camper.

In the meantime, go see "Super 8" if it's really hot out and you need a break.

Take the kids. Buy popcorn.

Just don't expect an epiphany. (It's a MOVIE for chrissakes!)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Area 51: A New Book by Annie Jacobsen

The sad thing about the publication of Los Angeles Times Magazine reporter Annie Jacobsen's carefully researched book about Area 51 and the history of covert aerial U.S. intelligence operations, is that all readers will take away from her treatise is the very last bit about where the three little bodies recovered at Roswell really came from.

And no wonder!

As alien/ufo stories go, it's a doozy.

That's what bothers me most about it, actually.

It's impossible to tell whether any part of the surprise ending of Area 51 is true, and though Jacobsen's explanation makes compelling fodder for conspiracy theorists (as if they needed any more compelling fodder), the claim itself is problematic.

Why?

Well, for lots of reasons. Here are just a few:
  • U.S. military intelligence has a long, well-documented history of screwing with people who are writing UFO books. They approach then with juicy tidbits, then feed them disinformation. Right now, there are so many bits of fantabulous false info out there--all of them planted by 'reliable inside sources' and all of them contradicting one another in some way, that it's hard to know which way is up. Every author believes his or her particular source is unimpeachable, and swears that that person would never, ever lie. OK. Whatever.
  • I'm pretty sure that a series of X-Files episodes featuring Jacobsen's revelation were televised fifteen years ago or so. If you are an X-Files geek like me you probably remember them: They were the ones in which Mulder finds a bunch of railroad cars filled with alien bodies buried in the Arizona desert and the Cigarette Smoking Man shows up and torches them. 
  • The revelation itself is internally inconsistent in some ways, which is to say, some details make no sense and the answers to questions about them are unconvincing. 
In short, Jacobsen claims that the bodies recovered at Roswell were genetically and/or surgically altered human children, made to look like aliens by using the insane 'research' of Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele. Jacobsen's source claims that when the Soviets saw the internal chaos created by the Orson Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds, they hatched a covert operation to create chaos within the U.S. by faking an alien landing. Roswell was the first attempt.

The dates are off though. Roswell happened in the summer of 1947. The Nazis abandoned Auschwitz in 1945. How could children have been genetically altered for such an experiment in two years? When NPR hostess Terry Gross put this question to Jacobsen, she had no answer.

But a bigger problem with the story is why keep it secret then? If the U.S. meant to discourage UFO stories after Project Blue Book ended (as many assert), why not just disclose what really happened? People would be appalled, but once proof was produced they would accept it and write it off to the horrors of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. The end. Mystery solved.

Jacobsen's source had a strange answer for this, one I personally find less compelling than the timing issue. (Mengele did do a lot of horrifying surgical 'research' on dwarves, so it is not inconceivable that the Soviets could have replicated this in two years, although it is quite distasteful to think on it.) He said that the U.S. has not disclosed this information because we have continued the genetic research. 

Why? To what purpose?

It makes a good conspiracy story or X-Files episode, but beyond that, it's hard to understand what the U.S. government might gain by genetically changing children into creatures that look like aliens.

Still, it's good to see serious books being written about UFOlogy as various files become declassified. If they catch on, perhaps we will get serious books that ask harder questions and avoid sensatonal cliffhanger endings.


    Monday, April 11, 2011

    How Would You Talk to a Snail?

    OK, my last entry was dense and unreadable.

    In my own defense, I did post a warning beforehand that it would be. And this is my obligatory apology afterward.

    Look, sometimes I just have stuff I need to get off my chest, and I know it's weird unreadable stuff that only about six people on planet earth give a shit about (hence the title of this blog), and you know, I can't help it.

    I just can't.

    (Hence the blog itself. A container for my personal madness.)

    Anyway, that all reminds me of a joke an employer of mine used to tell about a snail:

    A guy is sitting in his living room watching television when suddenly there's a loud knock at his front door. He goes to the door and opens it, looks around, sees no one, shuts the door and goes back to his TV program. No sooner has he sat down than that loud knock comes again. Again he gets up, opens the door, sees no one, and stomps back to his seat, irritated. Almost immediately the knocking starts again, so he gets up, stomps over to the door, yanks it open, and this time looks down at the porch and sees a snail sitting there, facing the door. Infuriated at the constant interruption, the guy starts cussing wildly, picks up the snail, and hurls it as hard as he can and as far as he can out into the street.

    Five years later he's sitting on his couch watching TV when again, BAM! BAM! BAM! He hears that same knock on the front door. He gets up opens the door, and there sits that very same snail. The snail looks straight at him and asks in all innocence,

    "What the hell was that all about?"

    The scene is kind of poignant, really. I mean, here's this snail who's perfectly cool with a five year crawl back up to the door. And here's this guy who is in meltdown mode after losing a mere minute or two of a leisurely afternoon.

    Time is relative.

    I think about that a lot in regard to aliens and how they might communicate with human beings should they desire to do so.

    The truth is, we'd have a hell of a time even having a decent conversation with a snail never mind a creature from another world. For one thing, we're on different time schedules. Then there's the language barrier and the size barrier.

    And yet, even though we can't even converse with a lowly snail, we figure mega-advanced but totally alien life forms will approach us, speak in language that makes sense to us, and do it on our schedule and in terms of our interests.

    So many alien abduction and alien encounter stories involve distortions in time that make no immediate sense. I've often wondered if this is because we are receiving communications from a species with a completely different conception of time, one we don't fully grasp.

    The message, the content of the communication, is also at issue. If you were a snail trying to convey some snail concerns about humans to a human, your first move attempt might not get total uptake. Probably the human would wander away before you were one tenth of the way through it (that or throw you as hard as possible into the street).

    Now think of these poor aliens. We'd like to think they'd show up understanding English and armed with some mathematical formulas to bridge the creature gap, but possibly their agenda and their schedule is quite different than ours.

    That's what makes the notion of using visual symbolic communication so appealing as a possibility. Symbols are dense and capable of carrying an enormous amount of information in seemingly simple form. Work them into narratives and dramas and they're even more powerful and complex. Symbolism and visual information also cuts through the language and the education barrier.

    We like to imagine that intelligent aliens would seek out brilliant scientists or powerful politicians as their first point of contact, but why would they? Again, if that's our bias.

    I have another alien/snail story that really sticks with me even though most people think it's stupid.

    Suppose a snail was sliming slowly along a damp sidewalk. A human comes by, picks up the snail, moves it six feet forward in a matter of a second or two.

    The snail would have absolutely no clue what just happened. Also, it would seem to the snail as if no time had passed, as if it was just suddenly somewhere else.

    That kind of thing actually happens to abductees and experiencers.

    They're not snails, I know.

    Are they?

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Aliens in the Mirror: Message or Mirage?

    Counter culture psychologist R.D. Laing argued that mental illness is often socially manufactured. Laing believed that if you examine the contents of psychological 'delusions' you will often find perfectly sensible commentary on real situations... commentary no one much wants to hear:

    "For Laing, it is the family (or perhaps even society) which is destructively mad; those whom society labels as mad are only reflecting the craziness by which they find themselves surrounded. Their mimetic response to the insanity of the world into which they are thrust takes the form of a creative reworking of the insanity to which they are exposed. This response is labelled by that diseased world (or family) as an 'illness' and this view determines how the individual is perceived.."

    Sander Gilman, from "The Mad Man as Artist: Medicine, History, and Degenerate Art", Journal of Contemporary History, (London), Vol 20 (1985), 575-597.

    http://jch.sagepub.com/content/20/4/575.extract


    Laing was talking about individual mental illness, not cultural phenomena, but his thinking can easily be expanded to illuminate alien abduction experiences and other strange claims.

    If we look at alien abduction as a form of cultural madness (a perspective many researchers vigorously reject a priori), then Laing's views can useful as an interpretive lens.

    Laing's theories don't provide a full explanation of alien abductions: what they are, why they are happening, whether or not they are materially 'real'.

    Laing's theories do, however, provide a different framework for interpretation of alien abduction experiences; an interpretive framework that opens up a whole new set of questions.

    Living in a Material World

    Most of the resistance to framing alien abduction experiences as a cultural analog to individual psychosis stems from a form of reductionism that dictates that only matter is real.

    Science tells us that images, experiences, emotions, sensations--all of these universal dimensions of human existence are merely reflections of or reactions to the primary reality of physical matter.

    As refections, science says, images are often distortions; as  reactions, both experience and emotion are highly subjective and unreliable. Only a detached observer rigorously trained in the scientific method can sift out the underlying physical reality; the only reality that is really real.

    This is the mainstream view, anyway.

    Craving authority and epistemological legitimacy, ufologists therefore accept this view and try hard to 'prove' the physical reality of UFOs. They bristle at any kind of psychologized, mythological, or creative interpretation of their subject.

    Most ufologists rigorously reject the testimony of anyone who may be the least the bit unstable (sic: mentally ill) and they almost always make a big point of vouching for the sanity and ordinariness of their witnesses. If UFOs, alien abductions, or any of the common features of such phenomena are  frequently found in psychotic delusions, they certainly don't want to know about it--much less include that fact in their data.

    Weirdly, ufology and mainstream science start from the same premise: that only physical matter is real.

    Ufology says, the evidence overwhelmingly points to the material reality of UFOs and aliens. Science says, bring us a corpse and a fusilage or get lost.

    That is a very boring (and also very dated) discussion.

    And yet it's been going on for over 60 years.

    More Things in Heaven and Earth

    Weirdly, this material version of reality is already obsolete, and science knows it.

    Science knows, for instance, that there is really no such thing as a detached observer; that the very act of observation impacts and alters the behavior of whatever is being observed. This dictum has not been handed down from Star Trek, but rather from quantum mechanics; an especially difficult branch of theoretical physics that is already busily imaging parallel universes--tons of them.

    OK, this is not where I make the argument that, "Hey, aliens are from parallel universes!"

    Maybe they are. Maybe they aren't. Who really knows?

    That's not the point of this essay.  The truth is, quantum mechanics is hard to understand, and if you want to really irritate a quantum theorist, just start babbling about how that branch of physics proves absolutely that aliens are popping into your bedroom while you sleep, or whatever other pet New Age belief you currently hold.

    Seriously, they hate that kind of thing.

    The point of this essay is that the paradigm used by both ufologists and scientists to investigate and discuss UFOs and alien abductions (the one that says only matter is 'real'), is already obsolete and everyone knows it. So why not try something else?

    That's where Laing's theory comes in handy.

    Abduction as Parody
    Campy depictions of alien beings as they carry off swooning terrestrial females have populated pulp fiction and B-movies for decades.

    Before that, as early as the late 19th century, Freud, Charcot, and others performed the same feat in front of eager audiences of male medical professionals--in that earlier case using female 'hysterics' and the new discipline of hypnosis.

    (See my previous post for some illustrations of this emblematic pose.)


    The similarity of the female posture in all these illustrations and its relationship to 1) male authority, then 2) robots, then 3) big-eyed aliens is visually striking and symbolically telling.

    First there is the extreme control (of the hynotist) and the total submission (of the female patient). Control calcifies into a robotic agenda, with robotic others now carrying off swooning women. Finally, the robots morph into monstrous alien 'others' with huge eyes (recalling the hypnosis cliche, "Look into my eyes...) who carry off prone women.

    The scene dramatizes extreme control mirrored by extreme lack of control, but it quickly moves from a male/female human agenda (male hypnosis of women with an invented illness), to an increasingly psychotic displacement in which the agent of control is not the male dominated intellectual establishment, but a feared 'other' that becomes stranger and stranger and more and more alien and monstrous.

    The scene can be understood as a symbolic image that portrays the Western intellectual tradition in the midst of a complete psychotic break.

    More than one alien abduction researcher has noted that the typical abduction experience resembles a symbolic mockery of how contemporary human science actually proceeds: by use of advanced technology that is devoid of basic emotion, an inability to reproduce (in science, imagery and emotion are invalidated as legitimate ways of knowing), and an obsession with human sexuality and control and yet a complete inability to make the simplest human connection.

    In other words, the aliens are us. Or a mockery of us.

    In my next post I'll raise some issues and questions that naturally follow when alien abduction experiences are viewed as an artifact or symbolic depiction of a kind of cultural psychotic breakdown.

    The main question of course is this:

    If alien abduction experiences are a symbolic parody of Western science, is this parody generated by humanity itself?  (As Jung and company theorized in the 1950s.)

    Or is something else--something not-human--trying to tell us something using its own highly condensed visual language?

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011

    Forbidden Swooning & Sexual Alienation

    I'm sitting here with an essay about R.D. Laing, Freud & Charcot, hypnosis, alien abduction, science and imagination, and social hysteria swirling around in my head, and words are kind of spilling out of my ears all over the floor and I keep tripping over them and watching the dog skid across the kitchen floor on all the loose punctuation and stuff so... while I grapple with my Pam-thinks-too-much demons (and the essay), I thought it would be cool to just post some artwork.

    The first image (above) is of Charcot hypnotising a female 'hysteric' around the turn of the century (from 19th to 20th) for an audience of scientists and physicians. What tools those guys were!

    This is what R.D. Laing and Thomas Szasz said in so many words: that those guys were major tools.

    Anyhoo...

    Next we have Tobor the Great (representing mechanistic science and logic and so forth) with a similarly swooning beauty. Tobor is starting to rattle humankind a bit... I mean, the robot is out of control and worse, he wants our wimmin!

    Like most men, Tobor the Great has 'every human emotion" (see top of poster), but not the slightest clue how to handle said squishiness. I mean, eeuuuwww.

    But what he can do is make really dishy blondes faint and carry them off to...well, we don't know yet, but he can sure carry them off, huh?

    These alien intelligences continue to carry off our wimmin until the situation approaches meltdown, as illustrated in a later poster.

    They are now triggering RAW PANIC! and worse, they are about to TARGET EARTH!

    Something has to be done about this, right?

    Something IS done about it, and pronto!

    Now we have human men carrying off swooning women again. (Whew!)

    But seriously, is it enough?

    What if, what if, what if this thing that wants our wimmin isn't robotic at all? What if it isn't symbolic of hardware headed science nerds who can't remember their wedding anniversaries and still think women are, eeeeuuuwww...gross!

    What if, instead of that, it's really bug-eyed aliens carting off our swooning gals?


    Oh the creeping horror of it all!

    In such a situation, it is indeed hard to know how to proceed.

    It might be a good idea to start by asking the girls themselves. I mean, how do we know they aren't asking for it? You know how girls are.

    But they don't speak science!

    How can we ever get to the truth about this alien invasion when the humans closest to it are devoid of legitimate language?????

    Luckily, some tools who were pretending to practice neurology back in the late 19th century found a way to neutralize the inherent gooiness of the female race and to get at the truth by telling these females--rendered harmless by the old hynotic gaze of course--what the truth is.

    Thank God for Freud!

    Seriously, you can't be asking GIRLS what's going on without first telling them what's going on, right? That would just be cruel and unusual.

    Anyway, to cut to the chase, it turns out that what is going on is that aliens are abducting and making hanky panky with our wimmin.

    This has been going on for awhile.

    This makes the women they are making hanky panky with quite mad. (How could it not? I mean, it's disgusting, right? We have no idea how much goo is involved in such activities, but it has to be really, really super-gross.)

    Luckily, we do now have a way of keeping tabs on these nefarious activities...Yes, that's right...

    Abductee Betty Andreasson under hypnosis
    Hypnosis!

    By rendering the victims immobile and dreamlike, we get at the stunning truth of the matter (and if we sell tons of paperback books and get invited to conferences by doing so, hey, is that our fault? Is that wrong? A guy has to eat, right????)

    OK, I'm done being a smart ass.

    (For now.)

    All I'm saying is, we might get more interesting answers about alien abduction if we asked more interesting questions.

    Also, we might get more interesting answers if the popular books posing the questions had cool pictures like these.

    Yes I will write my boring ass essay. I promise.

    But this is the internets, you know.

    If I'm going to write academic blather and use big words I must first atone with pop graphics and an appropriate amount of snarky commentary.

    You might want to skip my next post. 



    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    Pam & Rocky Get Buzzed by a Black Helicopter

    So I'm walking my dog out at Asylum Lake Nature Preserve, over by the prairie, and along comes a HUGE black helicopter, flying low enough for me to see that it has no markings.

    It flew past us, then circled back, hovered right over us, circled again, hovered again, and then took off slowly to the west.

    It would be cool to imagine this had something to do with UFOs, but I think it had to do with some National Guardsman learning to fly a big Chinook helicopter and wanting to check out a big Alasksan Malamute trotting alongside the prairie.

    Have you seen this dog?
    Later, driving home from our walk, I saw the helicopter parked at the National Guard amory.

    Tons of cars were parked by the side of the road checking it out. I don't know what was going on, but it caused a small stir in the neighborhood.

    Chinook helicopters are HUGE. (So are Malamutes.)

    I am still all tingly over having this X-Files moment, right here in Michigan.

    The truth is out there, kids.

    Let me know if you find it and I'll blog about it.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Are You Paranoid Enough?

    Back when I was an undergraduate psychology student (about a hundred years ago), our Abnormal Psych professor told us that every year a significant percentage of paranoid schizophrenics were discovered to have been telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth all along.

    In other words, they really were picking up radio signals with their tooth fillings, or were followed by creepy government agents who knew their every move, or were stalked by unknown malevolent others who wanted them dead.

    At which point the psychiatric hospital would update their charts and release a report that said, "Oops."

    Ha, ha. No not really.

    Psychiatric hospitals don't apologize!

    Crazy people do regularly turn out to be telling the truth though, which brings me to a point I keep meaning to make in this blog and keep putting off because it makes my head hurt.

    In a nutshell (so to speak), the point is this:

    In a sea of conflicting disinformation, the most compelling disinformation, the disinformation that seems the most 'out there', the most disinformed if you will, is always the truth.

    Every good con man knows that the best place to hide is in plain sight--the trick is to set up the situation such that the truth is indistinguishable from bullshit--not that hard to do, really, if you make the effort.

    So here's how that gambit goes with UFO stuff: lie, story, lie, delusion, delusion, lie, truth, lie, delusion, story... Hey! That sixth explanation is BONKERS!

    Can you believe someone actually believes that?

    The U.S. government has been messing with the minds of ufologists and others since the late 1940s. Are they really covering up some kind of alien agenda?

    I'm thinking, no. I think they started out trying to deflect public attention away from the atom bomb, discovered how effective it was to mess with people's heads that way and how broad the applications were, moved into various 'Shock Doctrine' psy-op experiments that yielded creepy good results, and now, having done all that experimentation, have gotten to be experts at keeping us all talking about utter nonsense 90% of the time while they continue whatever dasterdly crap they are up to these days for whatever dasterdly reasons.

    So when I'm looking at UFO stuff, I always think to myself, "Which of these things is not like the others?" Where in this mess of weirdness is the paranoid schizophrenic telling the bald truth?

    Because he's there all right.

    He's probably monitoring my thoughts right now.

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Are You An Alien? (Or Just Alien-ated?)

    Recently I responded to an internet post about the U.S. economy. I don't do that very much anymore (for reasons that will shortly become obvious).

    This time it seemed safe.

    It wasn't.

    My response was fairly bland, general and dispassionate (for me), citing a book I read recently about how industrial jobs have been slipping away from the U.S. for the past 30 years while the financial sector has grown enormously.

    I wasn't saying industrial jobs should come back or that banks are evil or anything like that (although sometimes I do think both things), I was just stating what most people of most political persuasions see as basic statistical fact. As in, Ok, this is what's been happening here for awhile.

    Within minutes someone showed up with an essay length post in which I was called a Lou Dobbs fanatic (I'm not even a fan!) and was told how wrong I am about everything and how misguided. Then, this person proceeded to make all the same points I just made along with suggestions for changes that would help the U.S. economy.

    In other words, s/he was agreeing with me and attacking me at the same time.

    That happens so much anymore on the internet that it's barely even interesting to mention it, but I thought I would mention it in this context because it strikes me how anxious we are to define ourselves by how we are different--or better still, opposed--to others, even when we aren't!

    It's as if we need to find an area of opposition to exist as a unique human being, even when there isn't one.

    Every time we define ourselves by what we are not (not a liberal! not a conservative! not poor! not rich! not sick! not lazy! not you!), we choose to disregard who and what we are. We choose to disregard our common experience as human creatures and our shared thoughts as persons among other persons in favor of standing out as a solitary, unique individual.

    Recently I saw a PBS program about magic and psychology that made the point that in order to perceive an object or event, human beings don't just focus on that object or event and passively ignore what else is going on.

    No, what human beings do reflexively in order to perceive is actively suppress the background in order to absorb and define the figure. This active suppression of the background is also the perceptual mechanism that allows a magician to perform illusions and sleights of hand.

    The surprising fact is, magicians do much of what they do in plain sight. They understand that we're looking over there while unconsciously blocking out over here. So they do what they do over there, in plain sight, and we don't see it.

    We can't help it. It's how we are made.

    It's clear to me human beings do the same with who we think we are. We focus on what what we are in opposition to others, while actively suppressing everything else. We do this order to feel like a separate individual, which is a really big deal in our culture.

    The result?

    To some degree, we end up alienated from ourselves and others, and this perceived separateness becomes abrasive and dysfunctional, even painful.

    Last but not least, consider this:

    If a stage magician can learn to do things in plain sight without being seen by simply understanding human perception, what else might also understand human perception and lurk in the corners of consciousness we actively ignore?

    These are my rambling thoughts on a Tuesday afternoon--shared on a blog I've been severely neglecting for some time, mostly due to a terrible case of writer's block and a sense of having no opinions whatsoever on anything at all.

    Seriously, I'm detoxing from opinions and blah blah. I'm sick to death of even my own opinions and don't give a rat's ass about them anymore. I don't know anything and I don't think anything, but if I can shut up long enough, I do see the world as constantly amazing and stranger than fiction at every turn.

    It's not a bad place to be, right now, that one. It feels like coming home. But I'll venture out again soon.

    See you in space.

    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    "Wonders in the Sky" by Vallee & Aubeck

    I am a major, major, major Jacques Vallee fan.

    (In case you haven't noticed.)

    When I saw that Vallee had at long lost authored a new book about UFOs, I was so excited I could hardly stand myself.

    I might have had a small spontaneous seizure or something. I'm not sure.

    (It's hard to tell these days, given my increasingly space-ranger-ish demeanor. Suffice it to say I was very excited.)

    The new book, called Wonders in the Sky is a chronology of brief historical accounts of anomalous aerial phenomena taken from original sources.

    Starting with a recorded event from 1460 B.C. in Lebanon and continuing up until just before the first airship took flight in the late 1800s, Wonders in the Sky provides persuasive evidence that UFOs and all the attendant weirdness that surrounds them were being reported long before Kenneth Arnold made his famous 'flying saucer' sighting in 1947.

    These historical accounts were meticulously compiled by Aubeck and the crew of his Magonia Project over a period of about six years.

    The Magonia Project is an informal collection of like-minded historians and computer scientists who started out as friends of Aubeck, and who all saw a need for a more analytic, less anecdotal approach to this controversial material.

    Neither debunkers nor true believers, Aubeck, Vallee, and the members of the Magonia Project are now taking an almost unheard of approach to UFO research consisting of:

    1) serious scholarship, and

    2) computerized data analysis.

    Let us now pause for moment, while a rendition of the Hallelujah chorus masks my joyous whoops and hollers and 'yahoo' woot woots!

    Okay then. That felt good.

    Moving right along...

    As you read Wonders in the Sky, it quickly becomes obvious that Vallee's imprimatur was added to the byline to boost sales. Don't let that stop you from buying a copy or at least reading one. Aubeck's analytic, historical approach is a direct outgrowth of Vallee's earlier writings.

    In fact, the forward by Penn State Professor David Hufford (author of the groundbreaking folkloric study on the Old Hag and sleep paralysis, The Terror that Comes in the Night) is worth the cost of admission in and of itself.

    In the course of the first five pages, Hufford references the ontological implications of his own work, as well as the careful criticisms of renowned philosophers of science Charles Fort, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyeraband.

    Be still my heart!

    If you've spent even half an hour wading through the lurid drek in the New Age section of most bookstores that passes itself off these days as UFO research, you know that this is heady and rare stuff indeed.

    Vallee thinks UFO phenomena are important and worthy of serious study, and because he takes the phenomena seriously was also one of the first contemporary UFO writers to reject the ET hypothesis. Vallee has for years now been openly calling for serious academic study and careful data analysis for years.

    Breaking through kneejerk ridicule is no easy task, but if anyone has come close to doing it, it's Jacques Vallee.

    Vallee vigorously argues against forming premature theories and explanations--a position that quickly made him the target of emotional attacks leveled by much-published ufologists who frankly make their living selling exactly that.

    (Are you listening Budd Hopkins, Mark Jacobs, and the rest of you? You know who you are.)

    As early as the late 1980s, Vallee was constructing a persuasive case that UFO phenomena shouldn't really be interpreted without invoking higher standards of data collection and then carefully analyzing that data using established science.

    All of Vallee's books anecdotally recount aerial phenomena in historical literature dating back the dawn of writing and in the oral history and mythology of native peoples and early man.

    This position departs significantly from the 'ancient astronaut' theory espoused by authors like Zecharia Sitchin, Erich von Daniken, and others. While Vallee does believe that these phenomena have been around as long as man has been around, he argues that we have no clue what it's all about and that ancient astronaut theories are premature and probably misguided.

    How about if we try to find out using actual science and tried and true research methods?

    You wouldn't think such a sane proposal would upset or offend anybody.

    You'd be dead wrong.

    Vallee's detractors continue to misrepresent his ideas as a slippery form of debunking.  Critics charge that Vallee tries to equate real spaceships and aliens with fantasy, fairies, and folklore, and to thereby dismiss the importance of the phenomena.

    I believe those charges have way more to do with critics protecting their own intellectual turf (such as it is) and loyal following than with what Vallee is actually saying. Wonders in the Sky contains some terse zingers directed at these folks, and I have to say, I especially enjoyed those small moments.

    In recent years a new crop of researchers represented by postmodern writers like Nick Redfern and Mack Tonnies have tapped Vallee's writings and come closer to his perspective, seriously questioning the ET hypothesis and by so doing also lending support to his call for better research. This has caused quite the tempest in the ufological teapot.

    Go back to that Hufford intro and read about Kuhn and you'll see it's all to be expected, really.

    If careful historical data collection is the early first step in getting closer to a theory if not an explanation, then Wonders in the Sky is the first baby step of that early step. It's an easy read.

    The blurbs drawn from historical texts and reprinted here form the first third of the three part collection. They are by turns fascinating, obscure, humorous, and sometimes completely baffling.

    A middle section outlines some of the most popular myths and hoaxes still floating around the blogosphere and ufological world as fact.

    The final section outlines the methodology used by the Magoniax project to collect the material.

    I hope that, as promised, this is only the beginning of a serious study of these phenomena.

    I look forward to future offerings. In fact, I can't wait.