Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Curse of the Joker

A few days ago, I blogged about Wired's story on The Strange Case of the Dead AI Researchers. It's not so strange a case, but it can be spun that way.

This is how media-legends begin. Here's another: The Curse of the Joker.

The NY Daily News, a paragon of journalistic integrity, says about the recent death of actor Heath Ledger:

Heath Ledger thought landing the demanding role of the Joker was a dream come true - but now some think it was a nightmare that led to his tragic death.

Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in 1989 - and who was furious he wasn't consulted about the creepy role - offered a cryptic comment when told Ledger was dead.

"Well," Nicholson told reporters in London early Wednesday, "I warned him."

Though the remark was ambiguous, there's no question the role in the movie earmarked as this summer's blockbuster took a frightening toll.

Ledger recently told reporters he "slept an average of two hours a night" while playing "a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy ...

"I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."

The article then goes on to talk about how creepy the character is, especially Ledger's expected portrayal of him.

What the article doesn't do is note a later development, that Nicholson was referring to was the use of a prescription sleep drug. Not about playing the Joker.

If you were wondering how things like Tutankhamun's "Curse" began, here's a good example.

No More "Area 51": The World's Least Secret Secret Base has Its Name Revealed

Homey Airfield.

That's right. That's the English-language designation Groom Lake, AKA Area 51 gets. It appears to be a descendant of an earlier nickname for the place, Home Plate, during the OXCART days.

If you prefer, you can also call it XTA.

It amazes me that, because of one reporter in Las Vegas, a guy saying he worked on a flying saucer, and a few activists, "Area 51" has become a legend and a household word across the globe. After its appearance in movies, video games, books, and countless tv shows, you know you've looked at satellite imagery of it on Google Earth.

Meanwhile, the US regularly operates out of secret military bases around the world, moving vast quantities of people, military and contractor, and material. And if you mention this to 99% of people, they stare at you like you're speaking Tzotzil.

William Arkin talked about these bases, for example those in Jordan and Israel, in his impressive book Code Names. Here in his blog at the Washington Post, Arkin goes into some detail about the secret facilities that aren't household words, that aren't even close to bubbling up into mainstream public view. And that of course is the point. As Arkin puts it

"There are some logistic security arrangements that we have with Jordan that I don't want to go into," Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told the AP. I know that Di Rita is just a water boy, but this type of lying about the real U.S. military presence and intelligence relations with foreign governments ultimately undermines the war on terrorism and the American's public's ability to add its wisdom and values to the conduct of that war.

I'm all for legitimate secrecy to protect America's intelligence operations, but official secrecy imposed to obscure what is otherwise observable by the local population and the bad guys only serves to deny the American public the ability to understand what is being done in its name and to have proper context for understanding the not so insane targeting of our terrorist enemy.

Alien Invasion Board Game - Shameless Sort-of-On-Topic Plug

In lighter pop culture news, I recently discovered that some old college friends of mine are publishing a board game (they are apparently taking pre-orders now, according to the website) called E.T.I., which stands for Estimated Time to Invasion. It has many of the themes of the mainstream E.T. hypothesis and conspiracy theory schools of thought, and the rulebook (pdf download) is covered with images of classic flying saucers.

Set in the mid-1960s, the players take on the roles of captains of industry affiliated with a loose conspiracy dedicated to reverse-engineering alien technology in order to fight off an invasion fleet on the way to Earth. Each player heads up a research corporation and competes for choice reverse-engineering projects. While the general goal is to help the Earth survive, like good Skull and Bones types, each player is really out to save themselves and get earthly resources and influence for their efforts. Oh, and like very good Skull and Bones types, one of the players has sold out the Earth and is in league with the aliens. This treachery will be revealed at some point as the would-be Quislings help lead the invasion. The entry at Boardgamegeek has a description and images of the components.

The acronyms, intrigue, mid-60s setting, and gleaming dummy corporations of Science makes me think of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. with a dash of U.F.O., recognizable as a distant cousin of the research phase of the classic computer game X-COM.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stephenville (or Texas) UFO Flap - Military Offers Explanation

Could have seen it coming a mile away. The US military has decided to send scads of ufologists and observers into a fit by offering the exact same explanation given for the Phoenix Lights - Two weeks after the sightings, they now say that initial reports of no jets in the area were mistaken, and that a flight of fighters were on maneuvers after all.

Maybe that's the case. One pilot in the area suggested he saw flares that night.

But it isn't going to be an easy sell. A number of witnesses described a massive craft. Others described incredible speeds. And some noted that they saw jets, but that the UFO was a different animal. Doesn't mean misidentification didn't happen. But since this is a well known meme in the relationship between the US military and the UFO phenomenon (cultural or otherwise), it will be an uphill explanation.

Meanwhile, Axcessnews lists several more sightings in what can be called either the Stephenville UFO Flap or the 2008 Texas UFO Flap, and responds to the F-16 explanation with further perusal of the reports. It also links in a videotaped sighting from earlier in the month in San Diego, California. It doesn't link to a report, also on January 8, from northern California. And a woman reports something strange in Jacksonville, Florida.

Update (January 25, 2008): Looks like people aren't buying the F-16 explanation. A good roundup by a NYTimes blogger points to a Dallas Morning News story that notes the witness descriptions don't sound like F-16 activities.

Update (January 31, 2008): Pilots involved in the sightings say the military explanation doesn't make sense.

The Dueling UFO Hunter TV Shows and Why Ufology May Not Be Ready for Prime-Time

Positioned almost perfectly to take advantage of the increased popular and media interest in UFOs, two different television series entitled UFO Hunters will be airing this year.

Clearly the model for each of these is the popular American Ghost Hunters franchise and similar shows from the United Kingdom such as Most Haunted.

The first will be on the History Channel. Each episode will follow four investigators (one a previously known figure in ufology, but not the others) from case to case. The official website has the reality-style video in the opening promo, but the videos on the site are in droning narrator style, and I suspect may not be part of the show (and if they are, they are pulling a serious bait-and-switch). Much more information about the investigators and cases can be found at Slice of SciFi.

The second is on the SciFi channel, a stylistic spin-off of Ghost Hunters. As with the other show, two lead investigators are the main "characters" with a rotating ensemble cast of investigators. The official site has video previews, and bios of the two lead investigators. It is noteworthy that both have ties to Bud Hopkins. And in a promo for the History Channel show, an implant case is featured prominently. This suggests abduction will be a significant part of the mix on both shows.

Personally, I think the SciFi show has a better chance at success. The format has been tested and works. Two main characters, with an emphasis on them being "everyday" people, rather than degreed experts. The Mission Impossible-style rotating cast of investigators that are called in for each case (and importantly, not all male). The use of acronyms (ala the now famous TAPS). By contrast, the History Channel show focuses on four men (no women) who are older, and in the promos at least one of them, the most well known ufologist in the group, is already talking about how they know many of the answers, etc. in a style more suited to the stock-footage/talking head style UFO tv shows that History Channel runs every week. Furthermore, the History Channel show is focusing on historical cases, from decades ago, starting with Maury Island, hitting Socorro, and others.

This is part of the problem both shows will face. First off, while UFOs are hot now, popular interest in ghosts and ghostly matters is much higher, and was before Ghost Hunters ever hit the air. Second, part of the reason people watch ghost hunting shows of any sort is because there is the supposed chance that the camera crew and investigators, skulking around in creepy dark abandoned buildings, could run directly into the ongoing phenomenon. That can be thrilling and engaging. By contrast, ufology is for the most part a forensic study (if proper research is even being done at all), looking for evidence (physical trace, photographs, testimony) to understand a past event, a sighting. Attempts to build up dramatic tension will be much harder.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

If you are wondering about MUFON Reports, Here is a Recent One

The coverage of the Stephenville UFO flap has focused more press attention on MUFON than the organization has probably had in years, if ever. Several reports quoted the head investigator in saying the analysis and report could take a year before it is completed.

That's about on-par with MUFON's report on the infamous Chad/CARET drones of last year ( whenI made a minor post about them). The report is available here for download as a Powerpoint file. It is worth taking a look at, though I am suspicious of how their conclusions dovetail with a case MUFON is quite invested in. In summary, MUFON reports that the videos are hoaxes, but that the hoaxers are not who you would expect. and that there is a plot afoot.

And here is their interim report on the initial town meeting in Dublin.

Stephenville UFO Update Status

I am still placing new media stories in the earlier Stephenville posts, where appropriate, rather than making new update posts daily. These are marked with (Update) and typically the date of the edit, so you can find them easily. If new developments or a new approach to the story comes to my attention, I'll make a new post.

I will note two stories of interest.

The first is claims by Walter Andrus (former head of MUFON) of UFO sightings over San Antonio the same night as the Stephenville sightings.

The other is a few days old, but I missed it. It is an editorial by the editor of the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, the newspaper that started the whole flap. I believe that without the paper's reporting, no one outside of the area would have ever heard of this, and it would not be a flap, which is not so much a cluster of UFO sightings as a cluster of publicized reported UFO sightings.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Strange Case of the Dead AI Researchers - The Dead Scientists meme

Wired published a story on Friday entitled

Two AI Pioneers. Two Bizarre Suicides. What Really Happened?

that spins the tale of two similar suicides, only four weeks apart, by researchers in the world of artificial intelligence.

Perked your interest yet? I bet it has, it did mine at that point. But there is something else to be learned here.

It brings to mind several manifestations of a powerful meme in the Spooky Paradigm: the missing and dead scientists. I don't know how far back the meme goes, I know it is over fifty years old in the world of fiction. Maybe it goes back to the Manhattan Project. But in brief, it is a collection of disappearances and deaths amongst top-flight scientists, or scientists within a particular field, leaving a pattern that suggests a sinister motive.

The most infamous fictional example would be Alternative 3, a television program that has left a substantial mark on the conspiracy and UFO parts of the Spooky Paradigm. This British programme was supposed to air on April Fool's Day, but because of scheduling issues, it aired in June, leading to many angry viewers who believed the news-style show was real (like the infamous radio iterations of the War of the Worlds). In summary, the show starts by examining a real-world concern of the day, the "Brain Drain" of highly educated workers leaving Britain's flagging economy. But the "drain" turns out to be actual disappearances, leading to a conspiracy of global elites, imminent danger due to global warming and overpopulation, and scientists kidnapped and forced to work on the Moon.

Alternative 3 may have spanned the boundary between fiction and conspiracy theory (some people continued to believe the idea was at least partially true), but there are two major examples within "conspiracy theory" where real-world events are interpreted through the dead scientists meme.

In the late 1980s, people began to notice a series of unusual deaths of scientists and others in the UK who worked on technology projects associated with military contracting (all had worked at GEC-Marconi at some point), including space weaponry. These deaths were considered suicides, though in a number of cases the conditions of death were quite bizarre. This attracted both the mainstream press as well as other outlets, but resulted in nothing more than. While speculation included Cold War spy games, terrorism, and corruption, the narrative that has had the most enduring play was that the scientists knew too much about some project they had worked on, presumably involving SDI or some other aspect of space weaponry.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11/01 attacks and the anthrax murders that targeted the American press and the Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate, a similar list of dead microbiologists began making the rounds. The original version of this narrative in late 2001 noted the death of five scientists, but eventually the list would not only grow but also become merged with the Marconi scientists to make a master list. This time, the story is more obvious: by simply combining the deaths with mention of the anthrax attacks, an article suggests the scientists were involved with or could potentially identify the still-unidentified perpetrators of the attacks. Not surprisingly these narratives are typically constructed by those who also suggest more than al-Qaeda involvement in the 9/11/01 air attacks. Dr. David Kelly takes his place on the list after his strange and high profile death, also ruled a suicide.

Death lists are not restricted to the scientific world. During the 1990s, GOP and others passed along and added to the Clinton Body Count, a list of the deaths of people involved or believed to be involved with the Clintons and their scandals (the Vince Foster incident serves as the main wellspring for this meme). Somehow conspiracy theory martyr Daniel Casolaro ended up on the list, don't ask me how. Even more esoteric, Loren Coleman has created the Mothman Death List, compiling the deaths of people associated with the Mothman incidents, including the film version of The Mothman Prophecies.

All of these lists argue through compilation, bargaining that (to borrow from H. P. Lovecraft) "the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality." Or to steal again from fiction, this time from Ian Fleming, "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action." The counterpoint would be that the deaths are coincidence in a world with a lot of scientists where bad things happen to people.

And more importantly, that the facts got mangled by accident or on purpose by those compiling the lists. The NYTimes Magazine piece, in between soft paragraphs on coincidence, notes.

The article went on to call Benito Que, the cancer lab technician, ''a cell biologist working on infectious diseases like H.I.V.,'' and said that he had been attacked by four men with a baseball bat but did not mention that he suffered from high blood pressure. It then described the disappearance of Wiley without mentioning his seizure disorder and the death of Pasechnik without saying that he had suffered a stroke. It gave the grisly details of Schwartz's murder, but said nothing of the arrests of his daughter's friends. Nguyen, in turn, was described as ''a skilled microbiologist,'' and it was noted that he shared a last name with Kathy Nguyen, the 61-year-old hospital worker who just happened to be the one New Yorker to die of anthrax.

This is where we return to our two dead AI scientists in the recent Wired piece. The title of the piece promises mystery, possibly something sinister. The two men are identified as pioneers in AI, and their suicides linked and called bizarre. The story can write itself from there, leaping past the mundane to exciting plots of a rogue AI, an uploaded machine ghost hellbent on revenge, you get the picture. William Gibson already got the picture when he wrote an X-Files episode with a similar storyline.

Of course as soon as we start reading the piece itself, it becomes clear that other forces are at work, and one of them is the bipolar disorder one of the two pioneers has suffered from for over fifteen years, while the other was in chonic pain from a back injury and depressed as a result. But the title of the piece isn't

Mental illness claims two AI pioneers

is it?

This is the key to understanding so much writing and reporting about Spooky Paradigm topics. The best cases and reports hold up with scrutiny, but in many others, either sloppiness or willing desire to sensationalize or even remotely connect certain facts requires discretely emphasizing certain aspects and ignoring others. Wired is obviously not doing this, but the bait switch between the title (a title that got this piece a place on high-profile paranormal news portals) and the content is a good illustration of the principle. Snappy wording brings the piece far more attention and revenue or sales.

On the other hand, the same approach can be followed by debunkers. The NYTimes Magazine article above on coincidence doesn't just investigate the case of the microbiologists, it also loops in more bizarre pattern recognition such as numerology. This is guilt by association. And I would be clear that I am not trying to do the same thing here by mixing fact and fiction. A pattern of bizarre deaths, if properly investigated, that show common links is something anyone would rightly find suspicious. But it can't be ignored that the meme has a long pedigree in fiction, as attested by the text of numerous discussions of these topics that reference fictional examples.

So why mention all of this? Because I suspect Wired's piece may well end up spawning a new list: The Strange Case of the Dead AI Researchers.

Did I just change my title to The Strange Case of the Dead AI Researchers? Hmm.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Stephenville UFO Flap, Pt. 7 - MUFON Arrives in Town

Over the last day or so, the stories have been primarily about flying saucer pop culture hijinks. But this local news report discusses the arrival and initial perspectives of the MUFON investigation team.

Update January 20th:

A slew of reports about the MUFON meeting. Most give a brief description of the atmosphere, and then describe one or two eyewitness accounts. I will note below if any deviate from this standard.

Local CBS television report (with video)

An account from the Dallas News is fair and interested, though it notes the tin foil hats and has an interesting description of MUFON. A Colorado tv station has a profile on MUFON.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram coverage
. The Star-Telegram also has a story on astronomers exploring the sun dog explanation.

Houston Chronicle coverage. And a followup on witnesses that expands to the general topic of UFO sightings.

Cleburne Times-Review travelogue

Update January 22: Intriguingly, 60% of the reports collected by MUFON were not associated with the recent sightings, but of decades-old sightings.

Update February 8: MUFON will hold a press conference in Dublin, Texas in March to present their findings.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stephenville UFO Flap, pt. 6 - The first videos and photos

As I previously mentioned, a video surfaced from near Shreveport that was initially linked to the Stephenville sightings, but didn't seem that impressive. In the last day, three sets of photos have appeared that are being tied to the case of the Stephensville UFO, this time from Texas (at least one case, the other doesn't have much contex).

1.) An incredibly difficult to see cellphone video of what looks to be a light in the sky. CNN has been playing it today, and it can be seen on their website. It, and the "videographer," are unimpressive and the clip is presented poorly.

2.) More images come from a suburb of Austin, 130 miles south of Stephensville. The reporting outlet specifically states that this is not the Stephensville UFO, but nonetheless it is being linked to it by many people. The UFO was only noticed by photographer Virgil Fowler after he took the pictures. In contrast, the Stephensville sightings are supposedly of something very big, very fast, and looking unmistakably odd.

3.) A photo and sighting description only 45 miles from Stephenville, on the night in question. Unfortunately, the photo doesn't look like much, and has been suggested to be a sundog.

Given the huge media attention, I suspect more photos will appear that may have nothing to do with the Stephensville case, or be glommed onto it by excited news or bloggers. This phenomenon, of noticing unexpected things once they are pointed out elsewhere, is discussed by mori in the essay Attack of the Invisible Gorillas.

Update: More photos, but this time from sightings Monday night (January 14, 2008) south of Fort Worth (Stephensville is to the northwest of Fort Worth). And another video, released on January 23.

Stephenville UFO Flap, pt. 5 - Other Sightings in the Region

While the Stephenville sightings goes on hold until for a bit (the main media activity is now talking to almost everyone in town), other sightings from around the region become linked to the story. In northwestern Louisiana, Shreveport television station KSLA ran this report (video link) (text link) a woman who videotaped a UFO the night of the Stephenville sightings (presumably January 8) in Shongaloo, Louisiana (290 miles east of Stephenville). The videotape, of several white lights with a middle red light is shown to a local "aircraft enthusiast" who identifies the lights as a twin-engine plane. He doesn't answer the report that the object hovered for some time, but I also suspect he would say that is a trick of perspective.

Closer to the epicenter, there is the expected rise in sightings. MUFON has collected numerous reports from Texas, including one on January 8 in nearby Comanche, any of which can be read in their database available at the MUFON site. The question will be, whether this spreads further, as flaps in the past have become larger or more sustained waves.

Update (January 18): Linda Moulton Howe interviews a man from Dublin, Texas, near Stephenville, who says he saw a huge UFO twice during the week before the mass sighting, and once after. He told his story after the flap was in the press. You can read the interview (with photos) at Howe's site (though it will go behind a pay-registration wall after a while) or you can listen on Whitley Strieber's radio show Dreamland.

Update (January 21): Other UFO sightings in Texas being reported because of the Stephenville example.

Update (January 22): Walter Andrus says a UFO was seen over San Antonio on January 8, the night of the Stephensville sightings. Other sightings in Texas still come such as this one. Here's one from January 20.

Stephenville UFO, pt 4 - MUFON Prepares to Investigate as the Fever Turns into a Flap

January 16, 2008 - ABCNews puts the number of people claiming to have seen the UFO at over 30. By now, major news organizations have correspondants on the scene. Read here for more details on that, and the $5000 reward one of the witnesses is offering for a photo.

The next expected development is MUFON sending an unusually large investigative team this weekend. MUFON Texas Senior Investigator Steve Hudgeons is interviewed by San Angelo Live!, which you can listen to here. Findings from that investigation may take time. Though we should expect media coverage of the MUFON investigators talking to people and addressing the community. Realizing that MUFON is about to become a much more household name, the organization has set up a MUFON YouTube account to post their own videos and news media videos associated with the Stephenville case.

I'm using the word flap again because according to that interview with Steve Hudgeons, MUFON is now getting numerous UFO reports in Texas, apparently 19 since the incident broke in the media.

Meanwhile, a pilot who was flying in the area has suggested the sightings may have been due to military flare activity. Within the UFO community, this has become almost as detested an explanation for UFO sightings as swamp gas, weather balloons, or Venus. This is due to the explanation being offered for the Phoenix Lights episode in March, 1997. There, thousands of people stopped to watch lights over the city of Phoenix, Arizona. The case, both as a sighting and as a historical case, is complex, but in summary, after much military hemming and hawing and ridicule by state officials, the military declared that flares, dropped from an exercise, were responsible for the sightings. It does seem likely that the largest group of sightings, which were videotaped, may have been due to flares, but some dispute that and others point out that sightings were made in the area earlier in the evening of a structured craft. This was in turn followed in 2007 by a retired military pilot claiming to have seen a large UFO over Arkansas, only to immediately turn around and call the incident flares. The fact that this story was primarily run in WorldNetDaily, an openly politically hard-right media outlet, followed by a very quick debunking by the pilot, did not help matters. So this explanation is not a popular meme in the community. Completely randomly, also in shades of the Phoenix case, the city secretary has taken to wearing an alien mask as a humor response to the events (link has picture). This recalls former Arizona Governor Fife Symington's dressing of an aide as an alien in order to defuse a press conference on the Phoenix Lights. Ten years later, after ridiculing the people who reported sightings, Symington claimed to have seen the Phoenix UFO himself. So the mask thing isn't going over well, either.

On top of that, a random report on SETI has merged with the intense interest in the Stephenville sighting. Oakland, California television station KTVU ran a piece on January 15 that mentioned SETI possibly receiving an alien signal.


As you might expect, in the midst of a huge public and media interest in a mass UFO sighting, the news that aliens may be contacting earth perked up more than a few ears. Numerous observers were baffled by the report, both by the tone of the report (relatively light given the earth-shaking news) and that no other media were mentioning this. My suspicion was that this was a matter of confusion, involving a signal SETI received last fall, and tonight my suspicion appears to have been borne out. Not that this will help matters, as despite the media (and I suppose public) linking of SETI and UFOs, the camps are for the most part somewhat hostile, a relationship going back decades and in part fueled by the cancellation of federal funding for SETI due to Senator William Proxmire's belief that it searched for "little green men with misshapen heads." As you can imagine, in the context of a big UFO sighting, this hiccup involving SETI will only further some notions that the story of a signal was accurate, but silenced.

This is all happening because many people are following this story intensely, and are waiting for new developments.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stephenville UFO pt 3 - OK, now its getting weird

January 15, 2008 - The story has taken a turn to the strange

As a UFO story, it continues to get picked up by more media, and it has become common conversation amongst people I know.

But today's newest elements come from Bud Kennedy at the Star-Telegram. In his piece today, he notes that on December 11, 2007, a Scottish evangelist recorded a prophecy on a Christian prophecy website, Elijahlist. This states, as follows,

Texas, USA--received on 11-11-07

I see Texas ablaze and a stunning star, like the star from the east rising over the land. I hear the Spirit of the Lord saying to: "Watch for cosmic signs and wonders in Texas." He said there will be a cosmological phenomenon that scientists cannot explain, and the media will carry as front-line news.

People will begin to ask about "the Light." They will remember the Child in the manger; the Lord is calling His Church to tell them about the Child in the manger and the Man of the Cross. For a period of four months--from Christmas to Easter--there will be a window of opportunity for salvations, signs, healings and wonders in Texas, and this season of extraordinary favor and grace will manifest and be confirmed in unusual cosmic occurrences.

Then Mr. Kennedy reminds us that Stephenville was involved in one of the Great Airship sightings of 1897. And according to Texas Monthly magazine, it wasn't just any airship sighting, but it was involved with the Aurora crash, a crashed UFO story that predates Roswell by 50 years. In the Stephenville sighting of that day,

The editor of the Stephenville newspaper claimed that the airship hovered so close to the town that he was able to yell out a request for an interview, which the extraterrestrial pilot denied.

History appears to repeat.

The airship mystery is adopted by many ufologists as being a precursor to what are now called UFO waves. And the Aurora crash (see here for Kevin Randle's conclusions that the story was a hoax) is probably the second most famous UFO crash story after Roswell.

Prophecies coming out of the blue. A history of infamous UFO sightings. This is all starting to get that feel, of a little high weirdness of the type John Keel made famous in his book The Mothman Prophecies. We'll see how it develops.

Stephenville Flap, part 2: The Other Lore and Explanations Kick In

Remember that just yesterday I said: "The story has no discussion of aliens, outer space, or anything fringe or kooky."

January 14, 2008 - As the AP (picked up by CNN) makes this little town at least momentarily famous by fairly "just the facts" reporting, as MUFON prepares to send an investigative team, the local paper that initially broke this story profiles the the local UFO expert (free registration required) who has become part of the case. He says he also saw the UFO that night, but this isn't his first sighting, having shot a UFO video in the same general area in 1995. He discusses some initial investigation of astronomical characteristics that night, ruling out the moon. You can jump over to the profile to also read about his book on UFOs and the author's ESP abilities, and his sighting of photos and chemtrails on January 9 (the night following the sighting).

I'll say no more about that, other than to note that chemtrails are in strong competition with orbs and rods as some of my least favorite paranormal memes.

Update: Well, here's a no surpriser. The UFO "expert" going on about chemtrails, has a past of fraudulent claims about his background.

Update (January 25): Looks like Stephenville is sick of the guy too.

Update: A blogger local to Stephenville posts his explanation, that the sighting is of military aircraft and flares, which he cedits to the the local reserve base at Fort Worth. It should be noted, however that while he could not rule out aircraft from other units, the reserve officer previously mentioned says no aircraft from his unit were in the area on January 8.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Stephenville, Texas - A UFO Flap in the Making

January 10, 2008 - The Stephenville Empire-Tribune reports that two days earlier, four local residents saw strange lights in the sky, a UFO they refer to as a ship. One is a pilot. They also report the "ship" was pursued by fighter jets.

January 11, 2008 - The same paper, from the same staff writer, reports that more people are reporting seeing the strange object or lights, including a constable and an ex-Air Force navigational specialist. A local naval reserve officer believes he can solve what is now a full-blown mystery.

January 13, 2008 - A new report states that MUFON investigators will be arriving to interview witnesses and talk about the sightings. The naval reserve officer believes the sighting was a misidentification of an aircraft under certain lighting conditions.

January 14, 2008 - A local UFO eyewitness, enthusiast, and lecturer does an interview on a paranormal radio show about his claim to have sighted the January 8 UFO. Meanwhile, CNN has picked up the story and is bringing it to millions of readers. The story has no discussion of aliens, outer space, or anything fringe or kooky.

I'm going to try and continue to see what develops here, and if or when other aspects of UFOdom become involved, or what the media does with this.

The UFO as Political Smear

I've already blogged about US Presidents and presidential candidates with UFO interests or connections. One of these is Dennis Kucinich, whose UFO sighting came to a head after it was mentioned in memoirs by his friend Shirley McClaine. While the initial interest in the topic is understandable, the subsequent revisiting months later by the Wall Street Journal is puzzling.

Well, not really. First off, UFOs in politics has become an increasingly popular topic in the media and amongst internet readers. Second, the Wall Street Journal was already a bastion of right-wing media in the US before it was bought by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News. On the one hand, Murdoch knows how to make money, as Billy Cox suggests by noting that the article was straightforward and got a lot of attention, and he has made a lot of money off UFOs (with little-known media properties like The X-Files, Independence Day as well as hosting UFO shows like Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction and Sightings on the Fox Network).

But a credible subtext of the piece, given its timing days before the presidential primary season is: Democrats are crazy people. While it would not matter much regarding the low-polling Kucinich, the story (combined with Bill Richardson's, who recently ended his presidential campaign, promotion of Roswell and UFOs on and off the campaign trail) has the potential to create guilt by association. It's a political smear, specifically at Kucinich but in general at the more progressive end of the Democratic party Kucinich attempts to represent.

A similar piece crossed my desktop today, from, entitled "James Woolsey: Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind." The piece is a hit piece on one of the architects of the Iraq War and a member of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). The first half focuses on Woolsey's history of interest in UFOs, after having had a sighting himself in the 1960s, and associating this interest with his failures as head of the CIA. This is the background, in turn for demonstrating Woolsey's lying and conspiring to create a war in Iraq, a war in Iran, and his efforts to start what he calls "World War IV." Here, there is no subtext, the obvious point is that Woolsey is paranoid and obsessed with the unreal, be it in UFOs or in WMDs.

Last year also saw interest in another alleged use of UFOs as a political weapon, this time by George Bush I's CIA against newly elected President Carter. I am somewhat skeptical of that story, though there are some hints that it may have happened. Louis Farrakhan's contactee-esque story of being taken into a spaceship and being warned of the 1986 American attack on Libya is also mentioned prominently when attacking his claims or activities.

The association with the subject generally seems to go in one direction only. Just as with academics who study the topic, other than as folklore or popular culture, advocacy or even interest in the topic can damage (though likely not be the sole cause of dooming) a politician. By contrast, this interest will find someone ready to embrace a well known figure, even if they are already known as a fringe politician or figure, such as in the case of Canada's Paul Hellyer.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Spooky Laws

Matt Soniak at mental_floss posts on five cryptids that have managed to get state or national legal protection, even though the scientific community does not find sufficient evidence for their existence. These laws protect Bigfoot, Nessie, the Mi-Go (ok, the Migoi of Bhutan, not H.P. Lovecraft's Fungi from the Former Planet Known as Pluto) from poachers or other harm.

While perhaps the highest profile, these are not the only laws or government decisions that touch on Spooky matters.

One of the more famous is the US Presidential Determination that rules the Groom Lake facility, aka Area 51, out of the bounds of US legal action and oversight. This order, which has since been annually reaffirmed by Pres. Clinton and Bush II, quashed a lawsuit brought against the US government by former employees, or their next of kin, regarding toxic contamination and sickness. While not specifically about UFOs, it does touch on one aspect of the subject. Edit: It also now appears that Groom Lake now has an airport designation, one more thing to bring it in line with the rest of the world.

Less famous but more important is JANAP-146. In 1954, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US issued a directive that required civilian airline pilots to report UFOs, in addition to missiles, submarines, foreign military aircraft, etc. to the US military. Once this occurred, because this was considered information important for national security, the pilots were not allowed to talk about the sightings in public. Pilots didn't like being interrogated for hours, and then being silenced, so it is no surprise if any stopped reporting UFO sightings.

One law often mentioned is a 1969 addition to the US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14 Section 1211. As noted by Snopes, this law is often misrepresented as criminalizing making contact with extraterrestrials or their vehicles, when in reality the law is stated to apply to NASA vehicles and personnel, and does not criminalize contact but instead allows for quarantine (which frankly doesn't sound better). The law was repealed in 1991.

In the ghostly realms, there are various state laws concerning whether or not realtors or sellers must disclose whether or not a house is haunted. In 1991, the most famous of these decisions was handed down by the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate division in Stambovsky vs. Ackley. The case involved a house in New York's lower Hudson Valley which had been repeatedly described in the press (with the permission of the owners) as haunted. When the house was sold, the new owner found out the house had a reputation for poltergeist activity, and wanted out of the deal. In the final decision, the court found that the previous press made the house haunted in a legal sense of stigmatized property, regardless of whether a house can be considered haunted from a scientific perspective. Because a haunting cannot be easily determined by a buyer or their inspectors, it is the duty of the seller to disclose the haunting. Since that time, Massachusetts has passed a law that does not require sellers to disclose previous ghostly activity, unless the buyer asks.

Recently, there has been a lot of news about communities deciding whether to allow or to ban psychics, tarot readers, and other diviners. Salem, yes the famous one in Massachusetts, has had a very public fight about the topic, as chronicled (along with numerous other similar cases) in the Wild Hunt.

There are of course various proclamations by the US Congress or state legislatures, never mind laws elsewhere, that designate various days to celebrate religious holidays, and this has at times included the paranormal. I believe New Mexico did this for UFOs a few years ago to promote tourism, and Nevada of course renamed a section of highway near Groom Lake as the E.T. Highway. But these are ceremonial, not involving serious (or semi-serious) law.

That's all I can think of for the moment, but I'll post any other examples I run across.

Update: 4/15/08 - Italian homeowner is suing the former owners for not telling him the house is haunted. Not that it is supposedly haunted, but that it is actually haunted.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

NICAP Online Reading Library - UFO Books

The new incarnation of NICAP has opened up a free online reading library. They currently have eleven titles primarily from the heyday of ufology in the 1950s and 1960s. Worth checking out

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Not-so-Spooky as Terrifying Conspiracy of Nuclear Espionage in the US Government and Terrorism: Sibel Edmonds Breaks Her Silence

This isn't a Spooky Paradigm story on the face of it. Or is it? It's a conspiracy story, and Edmond's allegations have floated in the world of alternative politics for several years, but now that she has broken her silence and named names (something she did in front of the Congress, only to have the US government give her an unprecedented gag order) it is happening now, and if even the allegations here are true, it is the story of the decade. And as of a day later, not a single US news source is covering this story after it splashed big in the UK.

I don't know how much you know about Sibel Edmonds, so here are two links. One is to the story itself in its most recent iteration.

The other is from a blog that has been heavily following this story for years.

I will note that she had to go to a non-US paper to spill this, and a day later, no US media sources are touching it. Her story damns both GOP and former Clinton officials, but many in her naming of names are tied to Bush I, Bush II, Reagan, or are otherwise sympathetic or instrumental to the neocon cult. She names the names, or rather puts their pictures up to get around the gag order, as discussed at this link

To wit (from the BradBlog post)

Foreign intelligence agents from Turkey, Israel and Pakistan enlisted
the support of high-level US officials in order to acquire a network of moles
deep inside of sensitive American military and nuclear agencies, including "PhD
students – with security clearance [at] Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New
Mexico, which is responsible for the security of the US nuclear

● Members of the diplomatic community were given lists of potential
"moles" at the sensitive installations. Edmonds tells the Times: "the lists
contained all their 'hooking points', which could be financial or sexual
pressure points, their exact job in the Pentagon and what stuff they had access

● Well-known US officials were then bribed by foreign agents to steal
US nuclear secrets. One such incident from 2000 involves an agent overheard on a
wiretap discussing "nuclear information that had been stolen from an air force
base in Alabama," in which the agent allegedly is heard saying: "We have a
package and we’re going to sell it for $250,000."

● Nuclear secrets were then subsequently sold by foreign agents to
America's enemies, including Iran, North Korea and Libya.

● Pakistani officials involved in the nuclear black market network have
significant cross-over with al-Qaeda and 9/11. Officials such as the chief of
ISI, Pakistan's spy agency, allegedly sent $100,000 to 9/11 hijacker Mohammed
Atta, and aides of A.Q. Kahn --- who had used the stolen secrets to develop
nuclear weapons for Pakistan --- met with Osama bin Laden "weeks before
9/ discuss an Al-Qaeda nuclear device."

● Elements of the US government have repeatedly shut down
investigations into these crimes under the guise of protecting "certain
diplomatic relations."

● The US government has been aware of all of the above information
since at least 2001.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Bhutto Assassination and the JFK Minutiae

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has been the top global headline, for obvious reasons. But one aspect of the story, interest, and coverage has been somewhat baffling: the specific manner of her death.

No one disputes that shots were fired at Mrs. Bhutto and her vehicle. No one denies that a suicide bomber then attacked killing twenty more people. But much of the focus has been on the exact nature of Mrs. Bhutto's death, and analyzing autopsy, eyewitness, and video evidence relevant to answering that question. This report from CNN is a good example of how much of the media, particularly television, is dealing with the issue. Here's another:

Ok, so what? She was killed in the attack, which everyone admits was complex and multicomponent. Does it matter much if she was killed by a bullet or a shockwave or shrapnel from the explosion? The CNN and other reports suggest that it is a matter of transparency, and makes the government and/or ISI look guilty. There is some truth to that, but other coverage goes beyond that noting that government officials immediately destroyed evidence at the crime scene, starts talking to sources pointing the finger at the Pakistani military, looks at who is most likely involved, or puts the whole Pakistan mess in a larger context. I want to thank Cernig in particular for coverage of this event.

So what's with the fixation on video of the shooter, on the autopsy results, etc.? Yes, part of it is that it catches the Pakistani government out in potentially conducting a cover-up (and for the record, that sounds likely to me). But I have to wonder if some of this comes from the grand-daddy of all assassination memepools in the modern era, the one that gave us an entire subculture devoted to analyzing every detail, the one that gave us the term "lone gunman," the notion of a government assassination investigatory committee, the murder that has come to dominate the identity of its victim, JFK. Have we been taught to look for the grassy knoll, the movement of the head back and to the left (note that in the Bhutto case, this is mirrored by attention to her head and scarf, the movement of which are evidence for a bullet impact)?

Maybe we have, and maybe its a good thing. When another government is involved, the mainstream press is at least open to not simply acting as court stenographers, and what would be called a conspiracy theory if suggested about a domestic event can be propagated without ridicule. This time, the right-wing isn't using the conspiracy theory slur, just attacking Bhutto herself as feudal and corrupt. As Jodi Dean notes in Aliens in America, conspiracy theorizing is a rational response to decentralized information flow.

Update: I'm not the only one making the connection, either the general analogy, or looking at the media treatment. That last one is a good read, as in this excerpt

Now, notice that no one in the mainstream press is screaming, “Conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theory!” in response to the suspicion that Pakistani intelligence agencies might have been behind the Bhutto killing. On the contrary, the mainstream press is actually treating such a conspiracy as a viable possibility.

Yet, whenever someone suggests that U.S. intelligence agencies might have been involved in the JFK killing, the immediate attitude of the U.S. mainstream press is exactly the opposite: “Conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theory!”

UPDATE: I call it a "laser"

The Blingdom of God

Not exactly on topic, but a fun and awesome blog on material culture and spirituality. Check it out.