Archive for the ‘UFOs’ Category

Kenneth Arnold, Flying Saucer Man

June 24, 2017

Kenneth Arnold, Flying Saucer Man

(sung to the tune of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)

It was many years* ago today
Kenneth Arnold taught the world to say
“There’s a flying saucer in the air”
And it gave the people quite a scare
Now here’s another term you know
Today we just say U.F.O

Kenneth Arnold, Flying Saucer Ma-an!

What’s in the sky,
Lighted up, flying by?
Could it be a real alien craft?
Perhaps it’s a star or lights from a car
Or maybe I’m just going daft…

Oh, it’s giving me the ontological bends
Oh, I hate it when a paradigm ends

Could it beeee a delusion?
I just know there’s something there
Or an optical illusion?
I’m getting to the point I don’t care

Oh, this is one of those long-lasting trends
Mm, I don’t know just what message it sends
Message it sennnnnds!


* I think I first published this in 1994…a version I found said, “It was was forty-seven years ago…” I’ve updated it for today, the 70th anniversary of the Kenneth Arnold sighting that established the term “flying saucer” by changing it to “many years”, which will enable me to keep using it for future anniversaries. ūüôā

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The Geeky Seventies

June 9, 2015

The Geeky Seventies

CNN is following up their successful series on the 1960s with one on the 1970s:

http://www.cnn.com/shows/the-seventies

Tom Hanks is an Executive Producer.

The existence of this series is kind of funny to me. I did a comedy bit years ago on our community access TV show (Freedom from Fear) called “In Search of the Seventies”. I treated it as a mystery as to whether or not the Seventies even (culturally) existed. I asked if they were really just “…the end of the Sixties and the start of the Eighties”.

I think that’s because I was too close to it. I was really engaging in pop culture in the Seventies…well, often culture that wasn’t so popular, but you know what I mean. ūüėČ I didn’t have the distance from it and maturity to recognize what was special about it.

Certainly, I thought the 1960s had a unique culture…with the Beatles in part driving the bus.

As to the 1980s, well, New Wave music seemed to stand out to me.

The 1970s? At that time, I wasn’t seeing what made it special.

Now I do. ūüôā

This post is going to give you an overview of geek-friendly culture in the 1970s.

It was definitely¬†a transformative decade…even if the Transformers didn’t arrive until the 1980s. ūüėČ

Geek culture moved mainstream in very big ways. Predominantly, there was Star Wars, which made space opera a blockbuster, but we could also look at The Exorcist for horror, and Interview with the Vampire (Anne Rice) for vampires.

We saw the arrival of Stephen King as a novelist, and the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.

Home video technology meant that people could easily watch movies after they were out of theatres…decades after, in some cases. Prior to that, some of us had three-minute long Super 8 movies, and the real hobbyists might have 16mm reels, but the Betamax and others meant our cinematic history (including the geeky part) was much more accessible.

Star Trek: the Original Series was canceled in 1969…but the fandom continued. That led to the first Star Trek convention in the 1970s. Science fiction conventions went back to 1939, but this was different.

Batman in the 1960s might have made superheroes a hit on TV, but Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk were part of the 1970s scene.

The Weird World interested a lot more people…the In Search Of TV series was only one part of that, but was many viewers’ first exposure to some of these topics.

Let’s look at some of the highlights in different areas:

Movies

How times have changed!

When you look at the top ten US grossing movies released in the 1960s, arguably only two are geek-friendly (GF) and not specifically intended for the family/children’s market:

  1. The Sound of Music
  2. 101 Dalmations
  3. The Jungle Book
  4. Doctor Zhivago
  5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  6. Mary Poppins
  7. My Fair Lady
  8. Thunderball (GF)
  9. Cleopatra
  10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (GF)

By the end of the 1970s, that picture had entirely changed, and would look more like our box office today:

  1. Star Wars (GF)
  2. Jaws (GF)
  3. The Sting
  4. Animal House
  5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (eventually) GF
  6. The Godfather
  7. Superman (GF)
  8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (GF)
  9. Smokey and the Bandit
  10. Blazing Saddles

The Exorcist (1973) brought straight up horror to blockbuster status and mainstream acceptance (along with a lot of protests).

In 1975, Steven Spielberg changed the summer. Up to that point, it had largely been a season of cheapo exploitation movies. People actually went outside (including drive-ins), not to the movies. Jaws reshaped all that, giving us the summer blockbuster season. There have been heated debates about whether or not Jaws is a fantasy (are we supposed to believe the shark is just a shark, or something more?), but it was clearly a monster movie.

Then in 1977, Star Wars changed it all.

While those movies were all big hits, there were a lot of other significant geek movies. Undeniably, we have to count the Rocky Horror Picture Show as establishing midnight movies and a special kind of cult film. It flopped when it came out, but then got a new life in a new way. He’s the hero…that’s right, the hero. ūüėČ

Here are some other stand-outs:

  • Alien (1979)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  • Mad Max (1979)
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • Carrie (1976)
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • Young Frankenstein (1974)
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
  • The Omen (1976)
  • King Kong (1976)
  • Eraserhead (1977)
  • Solaris (1972)
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  • Logan’s Run (1979)
  • The Wicker Man (1973)
  • Live and Let Die (1973) (the first Roger Moore James Bond)
  • Soylent Green (1973)
  • Enter the Dragon (193)
  • The Amityville Horror (1979)
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  • Zardoz (1974)
  • The Wiz (1978)
  • Westworld¬†(1973)
  • Four of the original Planet of the Apes movies
  • A Boy and His Dog (1975)
  • Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
  • Tommy (1975)
  • The Lord of the Rings (1978) (Ralph Bakshi)
  • Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
  • The Andromeda Strain (1971)
  • Phantasm (1979)
  • The Sentinel (1977)
  • Suspiria (1977)
  • Death Race 2000 (1975)
  • Rollerball (1975)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • The Omega Man (1971)
  • Tales from the Crypt (1972)
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  • Freaky Friday (1976)
  • The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
  • The Car (1977)
  • The Muppet Movie (1979)
  • The ¬†Stepford Wives (1975)
  • Dark Star (1974)
  • Eraserhead (1977)

TV

Sure, the 1960s had been huge for high concept TV (with 1964 particularly important), but the 1970s built on that with many geek-friendly hits. Batman on TV had burned out by 1970, but opened the field for other superheroes (DC, Marvel, and bionic). Star Wars and James Bond were both big in movie theatres, and we saw their effect on the small screen as well. Home video arrived, which began to give us more options (although cable wouldn’t be a factor until the 1980s). Saturday morning got trippy with the Kroffts (although H.R. Pufnstuf debuted in 1969), and saw the return of Star Trek with the original cast…in animated form.

Some geek-friendly series:

  • Wonder Woman
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Saturday Night Live (Coneheads! Land Shark!)
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Fantasy Island
  • Mork & Mindy
  • Land of the Lost
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
  • Kung Fu
  • Space: 1999
  • The Six Million Dollar Man
  • The Bionic Woman
  • The Muppet Show
  • The Tomorrow People
  • Isis
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker
  • Blakes 7
  • The Amazing Spier-Man
  • Nanny and the Professor
  • Shazam!
  • Tales of the Unexpected
  • SCTV
  • Paddington Bear
  • The New Avengers
  • Schoolhouse Rock!
  • Super Friends
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series
  • Man from Atlantis
  • Return to the Planet of the Apes
  • Sigmund and the Sea Monsters
  • Sapphire & Steel
  • Star Blazers
  • The Prisoner
  • Quark
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • The Invisible Man (David McCallum)
  • Electra Woman and Dyna Girl
  • Doctor Who in the United States
  • Monty Python in the United States

Books/literature

I’ve gone into depth on the general topic of literature of the 1970s in another blog of mine:

I Love My Kindle: Books in the 1970s

In terms of geek-friendly, it was a huge decade! Just as movies saw the mainstreaming of geek-friendly genres, bookstores saw bestsellers from a new author named Stephen King, and a vampire hit (Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice).

While geek-specific bookstores (and comic book stores) were crucial, you could walk into a the newly national Barnes & Noble chain and get a variety of science fiction/fantasy/supernatural horror. You wanted military SF? You had Joe Haldeman. Light fantasy? Enter Xanth by Piers Anthony. Social science fiction? The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner. Ringworld…Riverworld…we weren’t only reaching out to new planets, we were visiting new worlds and universes.

Here are some of the stand-out titles and authors:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
  • Gateway by Frederick Pohl
  • Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go by¬†Philip Jos√© Farmer
  • Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven
  • The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan
  • Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
  • The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
  • Altered States by Paddy Chayefsky
  • Autumn Angels by Arthur Byron Cover
  • The Cave of Time (Choose Your Own Adventure) by Edward Packard

Gaming

1974 saw the release of Dungeons & Dragons…and we had Advanced D&D by the end of the decade. This was really the decade that saw the RPG (Role-Playing Game) world established, and would include Runequest and Traveller.

Fandom

Star Trek:  The Original Series ended in 1969, but the people who had come together to fight for a third season kept at it. That included the first Star Trek convention (well, the first widely available to the public one in 1972), the return of the original cast for the animated series, and eventually, 1979, to the big screen.

Comics

Again, there was a transition happening, with some significant experimentation.

  • Jack Kirby jumped from Marvel to DC, and introduced Darkseid
  • The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide first appeared
  • Green Lantern and Green Arrow take a philosophical walk-about across America
  • Mister Miracle debuts
  • An arc in Spider-Man features drug use, and defies the Comics Code Authority
  • Ra’s Al Ghul first appears
  • The Kree-Skrull War storyline
  • The Sandman
  • War Machine makes his first appearance
  • Wonder Woman gives up her powers

The Weird World

  • The TV series In Search of… (hosted by Leonard Nimoy) was instrumental in reinteresting people in the Roswell Incident
  • 1973 was dubbed “The Year of the Humanoids” by UFO researcher David Webb…one of the most famous was the Pascagoula incident
  • Uri Geller was famous, even appearing on the Tonight Show in 1973 to “bend spoons”
  • Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by¬†Lynn Schroeder and Sheila Ostrander was published in 1970
  • The Mysterious Monsters was a Sunn Classics documentary, featuring Peter Graves
  • The Legend of Boggy Creek was released in 1972
  • The Unidentified, published in 1975, by Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark, is Coleman’s first “name on the cover” book
  • John A. Keel’s inimitable The Mothman Prophecies was published in 1975
  • Momo, the Missouri Monster, was just one of many hairy bipeds
  • Newsstands had magazines galore, including Ancient Astronauts
  • The “flipper photo” of the Loch Ness Monster was taken in 1972 by Dr. Robert Rines’ team
  • In 1975, Travis Walton is missing for several days, and a report emerges of an abduction by aliens

Records

Listening to LPs was definitely a 1970s thing, and there were some definitely geeky concept albums.

  • 1972: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  • 1973: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells
  • 1978: Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds
  • 1978:¬†Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Science/Tech

  • Home computers became a thing in 1977, with the Apple II, the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor), and the TRS-80 (Tandy Radio Shack)
  • Skylab launched in 1973…and docked with the Russian Soyuz in 1975
  • The Atari 2600 was released in 1977
  • The first Pong arcade game was put to use in 1972. Arcade games would really take off with Space Invaders in 1978

There’s a bit of the geeky 1970s for you! We certainly didn’t cover everything, but you can see the big shift from geek culture being kids and niche to becoming the mainstream pop culture force that it is today. Want to add something? Feel free to comment on this post.

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James Garner reported dead

July 20, 2014

James Garner reported dead

James “Jim” Garner‘s characters were often laid back, non-conforming without being confrontational. If it wasn’t¬†right, they didn’t¬†do it…but “right” and “proper” weren’t¬†the same things.

Certainly (and appropriately) best known for Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, Garner’s career also includes more geek-friendly roles:

  • Space (1984 TV miniseries based on Michener’s fictionalized account of the American space program)
  • Fire in the Sky, based on the Travis Walton UFO abduction case…Garner’s Lt. Frank Watters is investigating the claims
  • Space Cowboys (directed by and co-starring Clint Eastwood)
  • Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire (as Commander Rourke)
  • God, the Devil, and Bob TV series (as the voice of God…Alan Cumming was the Devil)
  • The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration
  • Battle for Terra
  • Garner also voiced the pivotal character Shazam (who gave Captain Marvel powers) in DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam

Audiences had a special affection for Jim Garner: it seemed like it was never about his characters being better or smarter than everybody else…just more stubborn about sticking to the big principles.

Good-bye, Jim Garner: the world might be neater without you, but it isn’t better.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

On the Circumference #4: Keep on Rowling, more than twice as many Americans believe UFOs could be ETs than believe in non-divine evolution?

September 13, 2013

On the Circumference #4: Keep on Rowling, more than twice as many Americans believe UFOs could be ETs than believe in non-divine evolution?*

The On the Circumference posts contain short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Everything old is new again

Despite our analysis showing that original movies may actually be less risky (you can get a higher percentage return on your dollar) than sequels, sidequels, and remakes, we will continue to see them.

Why?

For one thing, they can make gross more, even if the risk is higher. When we look at movies based on their dogro (domestic gross), every single one of them over $200 million so far this year is a non-original. That’s attractive to investors, and is great for ancillary sales, like toys and video streaming rights. A higher gross means more people see it (and know about it), so if you think of the movie as marketing for the ancillaries, big is better.

For another, some of the best, most beloved movies have been non-originals. Rebooting/reimagining can be just as artistically satisfying as doing something original.

So, what is some of the news in S/PSR (Sequels/Prequels Sidequels Remakes)?

  • The fourth Jurassic Park movie (Jurassic World) now has a release date of June 12, 2015. ¬†Don’t be too quick to dismiss this one, in terms of geek values. The director is Colin Trevorrow of Safety Not Guaranteed, which is one of the movies I’ve recommended to people a few times in the last couple of years. Even though it was imperfect, it was interesting and had a deft hand and a geeky perspective
  • From Jurassic World to a¬†Westorld remake…HBO has ordered a pilot from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, to be written and directed by Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest, The Dark Knight)
  • There are some ways to judge the extent of fandom for something. Does it have a Wikia? How many page views is it getting on Wikipedia? (http://stats.grok.se/) How much is there about it at FanFiction.net? None of those would suggest that The Fall Guy with Lee Majors is especially ripe for a big screen remake, but according to this Hollywood Reporter article by Borys Kit, Tatiana Siegel, McG and Dwayne Johnson might be making one

J.K. Rowling and the Potterless Screenplay

Harry Potter fans can look forward to a sidequel based on Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them, according to this

The Hollywood Reporter article by Andy Lewis

The movie will actually be written by Rowling, and should feature magizoologist Newt Scamander’s treks to observe and record magical beasts, which could certainly have some interesting cryptozoological allusions. The movie will reportedly take place 70 years before the Harry Potter books (before the first one, I presume) so you won’t see the familiar characters…except, perhaps, a young Dumbledore. The book (which¬†¬†benefited¬†¬†charity) included marginalia from the Potter kids, so we might get some sort of commentary from them…I’m thinking that might be fun on the DVD, where they could use the original actors without worrying about aging or requiring too much of their time.

HuffPo: “48 Percent Of Americans Believe UFOs Could Be ET Visitations”

This Huffington Post article by Lee Spiegel

reports a new poll conducted by the HuffPo and YouGov which indicates that 48% of American respondents at least slightly agree that “some people have witnessed UFOs that have an extraterrestrial origin.”

It’s an odd wording that allows for a lot of flexibility in interpretation.

For example, some people have apparently identified Mars, Venus, and even the moon as UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects). If you have heard those stories, you would agree with the statement in the poll…it doesn’t say that these are extraterrestrial craft.

On the other hand, you could believe that people have seen something in the sky outside our current paradigm and not believe it was extraterrestrial: it could have been a time traveler, extradimensional, from the hollow Earth, a psychic projection, or simply truly unidentified by you. In all of those cases (and there are others), you would not agree with them having an extraterrestrial origin.

They didn’t put it in the headline, but they also asked a question about ghosts…and that one came out with 60% agreeing that people have experienced ghosts. That’s considerably higher than the UFO positive responses.

I would probably have answered “not sure” to both questions, since saying that you are “sure” indicates a belief in something to me, and I like to keep an open mind.

TV: Heroes of Cosplay

I have been watching Heroes of Cosplay on Syfy, although it is a bit unusual.

It’s been sort of paired with Face Off, but they even the same kind of show.

Face Off is a competition elimination reality show…the contestants are given challenges, and the weakest result goes home each week.

Heroes of Cosplay is more of a documentary. The cosplayers (people who dress in costumes which, in this case, they make, and act like the characters they represent…costumed play) go from con to con to compete in the convention’s costume contests.

It’s a bit weird: it’s entirely possible that none of the people we have been following will win.

Seeing their personalities and some about how they build the costumes has it’s attractions. However, thinking of it as a story doesn’t really work. It’s sort of like…following all the characters from the Avengers, and then when something happens, the police just show up and arrest the crook.

I can appreciate the artistry, but the cosplayers can be quite…unpleasant to each other. They clearly can’t be making money just on the contests, since the top prize I’ve heard announced is $1,000, and it is likely to cost more than that to make the costume (I’m guessing $500 in some cases) and travel to the con and stay in the hotel room and such.

Of course, the producers of the show may be helping with expenses…and no question that there is an observer effect in play here. We aren’t exactly watching the cosplayers as they would normally behave: they know the cameras are there, and I think they have been trying things that are atypical for them because they think it makes better TV.

I want to be clear that I admire their art. I’ve done some fun Halloween costumes, and I did watch all 5 Planet of the Apes movies in a movie theatre…in an ape suit. I used to do some special effects make up (nothing as fancy as you see nowadays). It’s just that, for the most part, it seems like they aren’t having a lot of fun…and that’s kind of the point, right?

* My headline is a bit of an overstatement, as I explained above, concerning the origin of UFOs…that’s why the question mark is there. According to another YouGov poll, only 21% (less than half of the 48% cited in the UFO poll) believe human beings evolved in a non-God-guided process

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

Man in Black talks about…UFO sighting?

May 14, 2013

Man in Black talks about…UFO sighting?

Okay, this was one of the weirdest stories I’ve read lately!

According to this

Huffington Post article

Lt. Col. Richard French recently spoke at the

Citizen Hearing on Disclosure

about having seen two aliens working on a UFO underwater.

That’s not the weird part, though…no, really.

The HuffPo identified French as “…a lead investigator of¬†Project Blue Book¬†in the 1950s”.

Some of you are now saying, “That’s the weird part, right? Wasn’t that the debunking group of the Air Force? How ironic!”

No, we’re still not to the really weird part.

The name was familiar to me, and I knew the names of the big players in Project Blue Book.

“Richard French” was the name given by one of the most infamous Men in Black in ufological literaure!

Before the graphic novel which inspired the Will Smith movie, the general idea was that the “Men in Black” might have actually been aliens, discouraging investigation into UFOs by pretending to be government agents. I’ve written about the history of the Men in Black before.

I mentioned in passing a MIB who tried to drink Jell-O…that was Richard French!

You can read a bit of that story here:

UFO evidence excerpt

It’s taken from John A. Keel, who loved the high strangeness stories like this. It’s reported in UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (AKA Why UFOS).

So, this is bizarre!

If the 1967 Jell-O virgin was an alien, did that alien just speak out about seeing other (very different looking) aliens? If so, why? Would it still be part of an alien plan to discredit UFOs or discourage reporting?

Another possibility is that in 1967, the alien just “borrowed” the name of this Richard French. Keel says, “There proved to be a Richard French in the Air Force in Minnesota, but he did not even remotely answer to the above description. In that case, the one who just recently told the story might be the real Richard French.

That description, by the way? Again, from Keel:

“He was about five feet nine inches tall with a kind of olive complexion and pointed face. His hair was dark and very long…” (page 172 of the Manor Books edition).

Is that the person who spoke May 3rd? Well, honestly, it’s hard to tell in the video at the HuffPo article…remember, the Jell-O thing was more than forty years ago.

Here’s another possibility: Richard French was having a laugh at the expense of the UFO witness in 1967, pretending to be an alien.

One could also argue that Keel wasn’t accurate…but why use the name Richard French?

Perhaps the name is a coincidence…but the Richard French who recently spoke should have been investigating UFO sightings, which is what the 1967 Richard French did.

Let’s see…I’m just trying to cover the possibilities. Could the person who spoke have chosen that name, knowing it was the name of a famous Man in Black? I would guess the background would have been checked by the people presenting the speakers. I tried to open the document at the website with the testimony (figuring it might have a bio), but Word didn’t like it…and warned me not to open it if I didn’t trust it…

I have to say, I find it a bit odd that other people don’t seem to have made this connection, even people who are very knowledgeable of the UFO literature.

Thought you’d want to know…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

Flying saucers turn 65

June 24, 2012

Flying saucers turn 65

June 24, 1947: pilot Kenneth Arnold reports seeing nine objects flying near Mt. Rainier in the State of Washington. Within a few days, the term “flying saucer” is being used in the press.

Arnold’s sighting certainly wasn’t the first one to report strange, apparently manufactured things in the sky. Those go back centuries. Among the previous terms used were vimana, chariots, airships, and foo fighters.

Later, the term UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) became more commonly used, while others (such as UAP…Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) did not.

“Flying saucer” suggests something specific: a manufactured craft, shaped like a disc.

“UFO” was intended to be more general. It included objects of various shapes (such as the “cigar-shaped” “mother ships” that were being reported). A UFO might eventually be identified as something normal that had been seen under unusual circumstances…it might become an “IFO” (Identified Flying Object).

However, UFO still made two important presumptions: the object was flying (moving through the air under its own power); and it was a physical thing, an object.

A glare of light on a cloud might be mistaken for a flying saucer, but it was neither an object nor exactly flying.

“Unidentified aerial phenomenon” is sufficiently non-specific…but not much fun, really. ūüôā

Nowadays, you won’t see “flying saucer” used much to refer to a current sighting:

Google flying saucer news search

Compare that to the use of UFO:

Google UFO news search

Still, there is something so evocative and easily understood about “flying saucer’. I suspect that if you asked anybody you met today what it was, they would almost all know.

Not bad for sixty-five years after…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

My take on…Men in Black III

June 2, 2012

My take on…Men in Black III

MIB III Official Site

MIB III at IMDb

MIB III at MRQE

The Men in Black are back!

It’s been ten years since the second movie and fifteen years since the first*…so, the obvious question is, was it worth reviving the series?

The answer is yes.

Men in Black III is worth seeing. Screenwriter Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder), and original MIB director Barry Sonnenfeld have created a worthy successor.

Rick Baker’s physical alien makeup designs, along with the CGI, can still surprise you with their whimsy and cleverness.

Josh Brolin, as a younger Agent K, is no mere imitation of Tommy Lee Jones…while his performance is spot on, it is, if anything, more nuanced than the original: no mean feat.

Does that make it the best of the MIBs, as I had someone ask me?

Not for me. The original had the real advantage of discovery of a novel concept, and that just can’t be matched. However, the latest movie both honors the previous entries (there is a nice little shout out to Frank the pug, for example), but stands as a story in its own right.

One of the surprising weaknesses for both my Significant Other and me was Will Smith. We are both fans, but we both said the same thing…it felt like his timing was off. My SO tried to argue that perhaps Smith was playing Agent J after ten years as an MIB: still trying to be jokey, but being weighed down by all the death and destruction. Maybe…I think that might be a generous interpretation, particularly because the script didn’t seem to reflect it. To be clear, Smith wasn’t bad…I just didn’t feel that same magic.

¬†Bringing new magic was Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Stuhlbarg, with a truly charming and simultaneously melancholy performance.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say much about the script. My favorite line, though, was wisely used as a throwaway by director Sonnenfeld, and felt particularly Sonnenfeld-esque. It’s in a scene with Will Smith and a small child…I’m not sure most people in the theatre even got it. It was subtle and¬†subversive, without being mean at all. It made you think about something important, without stepping aside to make the point. Kudos to Cohen and Sonnenfeld for that small bit of business.

Overall, I’d recommend the movie, even though it probably won’t be the best movie you see this year. Not everything needs to be, to be enjoyable.

* There was also an animated series from 1997 to 2001.

Bonus: here’s an article I published nearly 15 years ago, before I had seen the first movie…

===

Who are the Men-in-Black?
Bufo Calvin

July 2, 1997

Who are the Men-in-Black?

The movie opening this week is based indirectly on a sub-plot of the UFO story. At its most basic, it concerns mystery men who visit UFO witnesses and investigators and advise silence.

The variations are many, as are the theories. Often noted is their immaculate dark clothing, and new appearing cars. More ominous, though, are details that suggest something other-worldly about these intimidators. Perhaps the brand-new car they drive is a model many years old. Maybe they step outside the door and vanish when there is nowhere to go. Sometimes they show unfamiliarity with common objects, like ball-point pens, or the MIB who tried to drink Jell-O. Maybe they’ll make a coin vanish or perform some other apparently magical feat. In the most extreme cases, they do not even appear to be human!

The legend really began (although there were precedents in other paranormal fields) with the publication of THEY KNEW TOO MUCH ABOUT FLYING SAUCERS in 1956. Gray Barker, a movie-booker and flying saucer investigator, penned this volume. While it covered such things as the “Flatwoods Monster” and a possible shifting of the Earth’s axis, the bulk of it was devoted to the “Bender Mystery”. Albert Bender had founded the International Flying Saucer Bureau in 1952. It became quite successful, and then Bender got out of the “saucer business”, claiming to have been visited by three men who influenced him to do so. Barker found it all quite mysterious, and gave it a great build-up. This is how he sets it up in the book:

“Three men in black suits with threatening expressions on their faces. Three men who walk in on you and make certain demands.

Three men who know that =you= know what the saucers really are!

They don’t want you to tell anyone else what you know.”

THEY KNEW TOO MUCH ABOUT FLYING SAUCERS (page 92) by Gray Barker, 1956

These original Men-in-Black are certainly nefarious, threatening, and seem to have an unusual knowledge. However, they are not portrayed as supernatural or non-human. In fact, Barker ties them in with a man in a black suit who was allegedly involved in the Maury Island Affair. This series of events, now widely (but not universally) considered a hoax, involved Kenneth Arnold, the pilot whose sighting on June 24th 1947, started the modern interest in “flying saucers”. He went Tacoma to investigate a report of a flying saucer in trouble having spewed out some sort of material. One of the witnesses, Harold Dahl, told Arnold that the morning after his encounter, he was visited by a man in a black suit who invited him out to breakfast. At the restaurant, the MIB proceeded to describe everything that had happened the day before. The shocking part was that no one had reported it anywhere yet!

It seemed that the man might have somehow been involved in the event. The stranger then warned Dahl not to talk about it, and threatened him and his family.

Thus established, the “Bender Mystery” had enough steam to last until 1962, when Bender’s own book about it, FLYING SAUCERS AND THE THREE MEN, was released. As described here, they were definitely not human. This is how their first clear appearance is described:

“The room seemed to grow dark, yet I could still see. I noted three shadowy figures in the room. They floated about a foot off the floor. My temples throbbed and my body grew light. I had the feeling of being washed clean. The three figures became clearer. All of them were dressed in black clothes.

They looked like clergymen, but wore hats similar to Homburg style. The faces were not clearly discernible, for the hats partly hid and shaded them. Feelings of fear left me, as if some peculiar remedy had made my entire body immune to fright.

The eyes of all three figures suddenly lit up like flashlight bulbs, and all these were focused upon me. They seemed to burn into my very soul as the pains above my eyes became almost unbearable. ”

FLYING SAUCERS AND THE THREE MEN (page 90) by Albert Bender, 1962

He also gives us a clearer description when they appear to him in a more physical form:

“Their clothing was made of a black material which reminded me of cloth used in the attire of clergymen. It was well pressed, appeared almost new. All the other apparel, such as ties, shirt, stockings, and shoes was also black.

Their faces were unpleasant to look at. Their eyes shone like tiny flashlight bulbls, and the teeth were pearly white, set in a very dark complexion. I could not see their hands, covered by black gloves. A bluish radiance enveloped their entire bodies, and I wondered if this was giving off the sulphuric odor.”

FLYING SAUCERS AND THE THREE MEN (page 106) by Albert Bender, 1962

At the time, Bender’s tales of lights in his room, out-of-body-experiences, underground bases, and telepathic communication were so wild that it was suggested the book (published by Barker’s own Saucerian Books, with an introduction and annotation by Barker) was a put-up job to throw saucer researchers off the track and make them look crazy. However, in the context of today’s reported alien abductions, it doesn’t sound as strange. In fact, there are several clear correspondences.

For the next twenty years, until 1983, Gray Barker continued to put out books trumpeting the MIBs. One such title was M.I.B.: THE SECRET TERROR AMONG US (New Age Books, 1983)

Other authors have also contributed considerably to the Men-in-Black mythos.

Timothy Green Beckley, who is known for reporting the more sensational stories, started covering the subject in 1962. In about 1970, he put out MEN IN BLACK: THE EXPANDING CASE FOR ALIENS AMONG US (Kitchener). In this book, he claimed that MIB reports went back to the great nineteenth century airship crazes. 1979 saw the release of his similarly titled MIB: ALIENS AMONG US (Global Communications). In the simply titled UFO by Milt Machlin, which was written with Beckley (Quick Fox, 1981), there are several pages on the MIB. The authors describe several types, including this:

“Another type of MIB, now common throught the United States, is represented by men who travel in pairs. The same description is always given. One is tall, blond (usually witha crew cut), with a fair complexion, and seems to be Scandinavian. His companion is shorter, with angular features and an aolive complexion. The blond usually does most of the talking while the other remains in the background. There seem to be several identical pairs of these individuals operating simultaneously in various parts of the country.”

UFO (page 82), by Milt Machlin with Tim Beckley (1981)

The connection of MIBs with the occult was stressed in Ramona Clark’s 1970 volume (also by Kitchener), THE TRUTH ABOUT MEN IN BLACK. The same year, Kitchener released two more MIB titles by Kurt Glemser, THE MEN IN BLACK, and MEN IN BLACK: STARTLING NEW EVIDENCE (by Clark and Glemser together). They followed up in 1973 with THE MEN IN BLACK REPORT by Glemser.

John A. Keel is an amazing on-the-scene investigator and author. Even though he’s “been there, done that” on many “fortean” topics, he still comes across as a pragmatic journalist. Several of his books have been highly influential in shaping the beliefs of those in the “UFO community”. One of the reasons for this is his implication that he is only giving some examples of stories from the many people who have contacted him, leaving many untold. This has given added weight to what he does say. In his book UFOS – OPERATION TROJAN HORSE (Putnam, 1970…also known as WHY UFOS), he has this to say:

“Mrs. Butler’s story may sound bizarre, but I have heard the same things too many times in too many different places to dismiss them lightly. In case after case, I have heard about strange men who paid pointless visits and sometimes posed as Air Force officers. The descriptions are always the same – – short of stature, dark olive skins, sharp pointed features. And most of these scattered witnesses specifically noticed that these men were dressed in clothes that seemed =brand-new=. Even the soles of their shoes appeared to be unwalked on. If they have occassion to pull out a wallet or notebook, that also is brand-new. (Most men, even Air Force officers, carry beat up old wallets.) I have carefully kept many of these small details to myself and have never published them or discussed them. They provide a yardstick by which I can measure the validity of new stories.”

WHY UFOS (page 173), by John A. Keel (1970)

Keel’s 1975 book THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, is a great book regardless of your beliefs. Much of it focusses on the MIBs. They are definitely not simply agents of the government in this one. These excerpts from the Christiansen family’s meeting with one will attest to that. They had just moved into a new home, and had not yet been published in the phone book. A visitor came to the door, asked for Edward Christiansen by name. The huge man, at least six foot six (two meters) tall, and very broad-shouldered, said he was from “…the Missing Heirs Bureau”:

“…an unusual head, large and round while his face seemed angular, pointed…his eyes were large, protruding, like `thyroid eyes,’ and set wide apart. One eye appeared to have a cast, like a glass eye, and did not move in unison with its companion…When he sat down they could see a long thick green wire attached to the inside of his leg. It came up out of his socks and disappeared under his trousers. At one point it seemed to be indented into his leg and was covered by a large brown spot…The Christiansens said their visitor had an unusual pallor. They assumed he was sick. His voice was also strange, with a high `tinny’ voice…he spoke in clipped words and phrases, `like a computer.’ Connie said he sounded as if he were reciting everything from memory.”

THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (pages 76-78) by John A. Keel (1975)

There are many other authors who should be mentioned: folklorist Berthold Schwarz brought us a great case in FLYING SAUCER REVIEW; Alan Greenfield, who pointed out the occult historical connection; Brad Steiger; and many others.

I apologize to those I didn’t cover.

===

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the¬†The Measured Circle blog.¬†Who Are the Men-in-Black originally appeared in Bufo’s Weird World in 1997.

My take on…Aliens in America by William J. Birnes

April 8, 2012

My take on…Aliens in America by William J. Birnes

Aliens in America: A UFO Hunter’s Guide to Extraterrestrial Hotpspots Across the U.S.
A UFO Hunter’s Guide to Extraterrestrial Hotspots Across the U.S.
by William J. Birnes
published by Adams Media
original publication: 2010
size: 712KB (256 pages)
categories: nonfiction; UFOs
lending: enabled
simultaneous device licenses: 6
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: yes
text-to-speech: yes

“From Roswell, New Mexico, to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the United States is dotted with UFO hotspots dating back to the 1940s.”
–William J. Birnes
writing in Aliens in America

Bill Birnes is the right person to take you on a guided tour of America’s UFO sight-seeing destinations. As the publisher of¬†UFO Magazine¬†and the host of¬†The History Channel’s UFO Hunters, this is no armchair theorist. Birnes has been there and done that: the field investigations, the recreations, and interviewing witnesses.

In a way different from other similar field guides, Birnes gives you practical travel advice: hotels, restaurants, and local attractions.

The main focus for most people reading the book will be the UFO reports.

Birnes covers

  • Portsmouth, New Hampshire (the Betty and Barney Hill case)
  • Pine Bush, New York
  • Hudson Valley, New York
  • Bucks County, Pennsylvania (and Mercer and Hunterdon Counties, New Jersey)
  • Kecksburg,¬†Pennsylvania
  • High Bridge, New Jersey
  • Washington, DC
  • Braxton County, West Virginia (the Flatwoods Monster)
  • Gulf Breeze, Florida
  • Stephenville Texas
  • Rachel, Nevada (Area 51)
  • Pascagoula, Mississippi
  • Kokomo, Indiana
  • Roswell, New Mexico
  • Dayton, Ohio (Wright Field)
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Landers, California (the Integratron)
  • Maury Island, Washington
  • McMinnville, Oregon
  • Holland, Michigan

If you are a UFO buff, you probably already know why all of these were chosen. If you aren’t, Birnes gives you a nice summary of the incident(s) that put them on the map.

For the most part, Birnes doesn’t do a lot of speculating. If you were a family with an interested child and you happened to be vacationing in one of these areas, you don’t generally have to be worried about the book trying to convert anybody to a point of view.

However, there were a couple of statements that pulled me up a bit short:

“…if it were able to warp time, Die Glocke might have been able to win the war for Germany by traveling backwards in time to alter the timeline itself. It could plant weapons to destroy the enemy even before the war began, restructuring history. Indeed, this Wunderwaffe could win the war even in the final minutes. But all of this might be mere speculation: no one knows for sure what the purpose of the device was.”

“…One of the UFOs brought down by fire from our jets in September 1952, crashed in remote Braxton County. One of the ship’s weapons, a humanoid machine, began a search-and-destroy mission in the area to¬†protect the craft until its navigators could be rescued. That humanoid creature, whether an actual life form or an android, has gone into local legend as the ‚ÄúFlatwoods Monster.‚ÄĚ”

Even if you’ve read about the Flatwoods Monster before, I’m not sure you thought of it as on a “search-and-destroy mission. If it was, well, it wasn’t very successful, since the most damage it is reported to have done is make people sick. One might think that something that Birnes suggests arrived in a craft superior to human technology that wanted to “destroy” things would be armed with something more effective than pepper spray.

On the other end, I was very surprised to see Birnes refer to John A. Keel’s classic book, The Mothman Prophecies, as a novel. Even though some may have doubted Keel’s sincerity, I’ve always only seen it presented as non-fiction.

I read this book on my Kindle Fire.¬†¬†In terms of the production value of the book, there were a few minor typos, but not enough to really distract me. Even though apparently converted form a paper copy (the cover image shows tears in it, which I don’t think are there for effect), it has an Active Table of Contents (meaning that you can click on a chapter to jump there), a definite plus. Unfortunately, there appear to be paragraphs that were in some sort of sidebar or call-out which now appear simply in the middle of other text.

For example, the section about the New Jersey Balloon Festival below (which I’ve italicized to identify it) interrupts the narrative:

“Then the boy convulsed and a light started to shine above his head. THE NEW JERSEY BALLOON FESTIVAL Nearby Readington and White House Station, New Jersey, boast the New Jersey Balloon Festival at the Solberg Airport. Every July, families can ride balloons, see an air show, and enjoy outdoor concerts, and participate in fun and games for the kids. The witness described how the light…”

My guess is that the paper version has the Balloon Festival information in a box of some kind, or otherwise separated. It took me a bit of reading to realize that’s what was happening. I think that’s something that could be fixed in subsequent editions. I will try to send my observations to the publisher.

The e-book edition could also have benefited from live hyperlinks to the hotels and other resources mentioned. Again, I presume that’s because it was converted from a paper edition.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and thought it was informative. If you live in one of the above areas, or plan a visit there, I’d recommend it.

Disclosure: while I don’t know Bill Birnes well, we have served on the Board of a non-profit organization together. ¬†The organization is¬†OPUS, and I served as the Education Director. It was my goal there for the group to present non-advocatory (neither for nor against)¬†¬†information about the controversial subjects which concern it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

“You know, I’m not a scientist, and…”

March 21, 2012

“You know, I’m not a scientist, and neither are you, but it seems to me that you gotta sort of take a scientific approach to this. Either you prove they exist, or you prove they don’t exist…but you don’t pretend they’re not there.”
–Colonel Pete Moore (played by Glenn Ford)
The Disappearance of Flight 412
screenplay by George Simpson, Neal R. Burger

I‚Äôve been working, from time to time, on a book of quotations for many years.¬† I call it, ‚ÄúThe Mind Boggles‚ÄĚ, from one of my favorite quotations.¬† I do source quotations a bit differently from a lot of people.¬† In the case of a work of a fiction, I consider that the character said the line‚Ķnot the author.¬† As a bit of an author myself (in a minor way), I can tell you‚Ķmy characters definitely say things that I would never say.¬† These are all quotations that I‚Äôve collected myself: I‚Äôve read the book, seen the TV episode, and so on.

Hope you enjoy them!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

White House: “Searching for ET, But No Evidence Yet”

November 6, 2011

White House: “Searching for ET, But No Evidence Yet”

In this

Official White House Response

Phil Larson says:

“The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.”

This response is to two petitions:

Immediately disclose the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings
5,387 Signatures

formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race – Disclosure.
12,078 Signatures

Whew! I’m glad that’s settled. ūüėČ

It’s not, of course. Many people simply won’t believe it. It’s also inaccurate: we know that evidence relating to UFO encounters has been redacted in released documents. However, that evidence doesn’t need to confirm an extraterrestrial position, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Another interpretation could be that UFOs are real…but aren’t extraterrestrial. There have been other hypotheses, including time travel and “ultraterrestrials.”

Still, it’s nice of the White House to respond…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.


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