Friday, February 19, 2010

TV Air Force, Real Air Force

Jack Webb's televised weekly homage (with assistance from former USAF officer William Coleman) to Project Blue Book, "Project UFO," ran on NBC-TV in the late seventies. Every week, things were much the same. An Air Force captain (played by two different actors as seasons progressed) and his faithful staff sergeant (eventually promoted to tech sgt.) sidekick investigated "real" UFO reports, and the case would be solved within a TV hour. However, even while TV Air Force personnel were solving everything in sight, events taking place far away from bright living room screens seemed another matter.

Australian TV news reporter Quentin Fogarty's book, Let's Hope They're Friendly, was published in 1982 and I wrote a brief review for the journal, Pursuit in 1983. While flying over New Zealand in 1978, Fogarty and his news crew filmed a very peculiar blob-like UFO (see photo) over Kaikoura, and radar confirmation was touted as the story became the talk of international news media. Further information may be found about this complex incident elsewhere (check out my links), and I would certainly refer one and all to Fogarty's excellent book, chronicling an event which actually encompassed a series of events. But my reason for bringing the case up now is because New Zealand, like other nations which decided to come clean -- we hope, reasonably -- about formerly secret UFO files is on the move, currently readying files minus personal information.

Though I've forgotten so much about the 1978 incidents, my intrigue was renewed when reading an article in The Press (New Zealand) dated January 23, 2010, written by reporter Charlie Gates. Discussing the pending file release, Gates writes:

Lights were seen in the sky over Kaikoura in December 1978 and filmed by an Australian news crew. Aircraft tracked the lights, also seen on radar. A man who worked for the Transport Ministry's civil aviation division when the Kaikoura lights were seen said he would like to see the government files. The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he was working at Christchurch International Airport at the time. He saw United States Air Force planes with unusual call signs touring the area and believes the full story about the lights has not been disclosed. "For the US Air Force to come all that way and spend three days here, there must have been something going on," he said.

Whatever the purpose of U.S. Air Force involvement, I think we can all agree that anything potentially insightful or jaw-dropping will not appear in the files. Still -- if the witness's account is correct, what would be the role of the USAF? Some might be inclined to say, aha! -- there was a military project and UFO activity was not involved at all. Others might be suspicious that the U.S. was very concerned about the Kaikoura incident, thus a, perhaps, enhanced U.S. Air Force presence.
I'll opt to speculate a bit further. Barely two months before the New Zealand film received widespread TV airings around the globe, 20-year-old Australian pilot Frederick Valentich disappeared over the Bass Strait, 130 miles south of Melbourne, following what seemed, by all accounts, pursuit by an unidentified object with four green lights and a metallic appearance. Chilling radio transmissions between the young pilot and distant control tower personnel paint a picture of a dangerous and, ultimately, deadly encounter. No trace of Valentich or his Cessna was ever found, though an oil slick discovered during search operations the day following final radio contact gave authorities a glimmer of hope -- until they determined the substance was unrelated to the Cessna.
If the Kaikoura occurrences presented to military officials as something special and glitzy -- strategically informative -- then concentrated official interest is exactly what one would expect. However, what of the raw nerve created by the Valentich incident just weeks before off the Australian coast? And there were other UFO sightings and witnesses wishing to be believed.
My pointless point: Said interested observer who worked for the Transport Ministry's civil aviation division in New Zealand likely won't learn much about U.S. Air Force involvement. Concealing the juicy stuff under national security labels is just too easy, even necessary now and then. My question is, why merely stew over Fogarty's news crew film when a young pilot conversing with a tower about a dramatic UFO encounter disappeared mysteriously? That was big stuff. If the USAF was on site in force in that general area, there had to be more going on, much more. It was all too coincidental. If critics suggest that the Kaikoura UFO event was somehow engineered by covert military, then I suppose they would assume that Valentich was also intentionally taken out by the same military operation, amidst some vast war game conducted for reasons unknown.

The New Zealand film, plus the Valentich disappearance, plus who knows? If the USAF really had flown into that part of the world on some UFO-related mission, the reason wasn't simply a film.

So, Quentin Fogarty authored a book to tell the world his story, and research scientist Dr. Richard F. Haines published in 1987 his thoughtful and heartbreaking account of young Frederick's apparent disappearance (Melbourne Episode: Case Study of a Missing Pilot) due to a bizarre encounter which, perhaps, rivaled the strangest of them all. Haines offered up several possible scenarios, not the least of which conjured an early "Star Wars" military experiment, during which the pilot and his craft might literally have been vaporized in error by "friendly" forces. Oops.
Aside from mysteries aplenty, there remained the often forgotten and tragic figure of GuidoValentich, a father mourning the presumed loss of his son, never able to gain closure through official channels. Too bad the Valentich affair and a dramatic episode high in the skies above Kaikoura couldn't have been featured on NBC-TV's "Project UFO." Capt. Ben Ryan and Sgt. Harry Fitz would have nailed down all the loose ends in an hour, with a little help from Joe Friday behind the camera.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tech-NO-logically Speaking

Owning and driving an automobile, up until the sixties, was a relatively visual experience: What you saw was what you got. Any serious breakdowns could be chalked up to mere mechanical failure, and problems could generally be traced using eyesight, good hearing capabilities and common sense. This was attached to that, and that was attached to something else, and if you replaced, moved or lubricated the troublesome what's-it with a simple tool or two, operations quickly became normal.

Things were pretty much cut-and-dried for auto/UFO encounters then, too. In case after case, a motorist would suddenly approach a strange object hovering over a road or highway, and almost simultaneously the car engine would quit with complete failure of electrical systems. Once the UFO finished doing whatever it was doing and ascended into the sky toward destinations unknown, the motor vehicle operator usually discovered that all systems had returned to normal, and away he and his passengers would drive, shaken over the UFO experience (the part committed to conscious memory, that is, depending upon the circumstances) and puzzled about the automobile's dysfunction during the encounter.

Oh, to return to the days of functional simplicity. But the future is now -- and we might have outsmarted ourselves.

So, we've now not thousands, but millions of automobile recalls, and the culprits seem the best-engineered among the world of high-tech autos. The dilemma? Accelerators and/or floor mats dressed to kill, air bags that won't behave, brakes that have a "software problem" and undependable steering abilities. It's as if the movie, "Christine" has come true, infecting cars internationally with murderous little demons -- except, in this case it's high-tech demons, engineered by people relying upon computers, not other people, for perfection. The computer never lies, you know. No, it's worse than that, when computers replicate humans' best intentions and the finest details of engineering blueprints, multiplying simple errors into colossal industrial headaches. Or is that technological headaches?

As if auto recalls aren't bad enough, considerable publicity has been generated about the damage a nuclear missile explosion high over Earth can inflict upon our digital world. Basically, every computer, every digital device, every every every everything relying upon the simplicity of a computer chip or the complexity of the newest computerized innovation would be toast. If my not-so-techie mind has this right, we wouldn't be taking "fried" equipment down the street to some overpriced shop for repair because there's nothing to repair. Think small, think large -- with the high-tech world destroyed in a high atmospheric flash, those affected would return instantly to -- according to those who know about this sort of thing -- hardships rivaling the 18th Century, or something not much better. No computerized vehicles, digital TV or personal communication devices to stand in the way of a tough return to nature. No water filtration plants, no functioning electric power grids, no -- well, you get the idea.

It would be interesting to know just how many vehicles encountering UFOs since the seventies and eighties, when computerization became common in the auto industry, ended up with fried components, because higher technology in human terms also means more vulnerability to shocks, collisions and even weather -- and when components fail, the standard-issue screwdriver reposing in the glove compartment won't be useful. If something equivalent to a microwave or ultrasonic blast from a nearby UFO meets the latest automobile technology under the hood, I'm betting that the opportunities for electronic disaster increase substantially. We won't even speculate on unexplained airline catastrophes.

May I suggest ever so helpfully to the auto industry: Please, save yourselves a lot of future trouble. Bring back roll-down auto windows and abolish power door locks. Scrap as much essence-of -computer as you can in at least some vehicles, with a return to some modicum of simplicity. Give the consumer the power once again to self-fix a few things as necessary, rather than obviously hiding the basics behind mysterious protective coverings which exemplify cautionary doom and high repair bills. How long can anybody be self-impressed with a totally computerized car whose advanced functions appear to be controlled by Hal from the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey?" Who wants to die in a flaming car wreck, one's demise tainted with the further indignity of a tombstone epitaph which reads, "Left us too soon because of an unfortunate software glitch?"

Whatever incredible technology -- if that's a valid word -- lies behind the UFO enigma, can there be any doubt now that it certainly isn't ours? Please, Professor Marvelous, spare me the tales spun by less than honorables, misguideds and the rest of the bunch who claim our computer technology came from direct and intimate contact with UFO technology.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Can't Shoot Straight

Well, looks like it's Social Issue Day on the old blog, so you just might want to reconsider whether to stick around. Today, we're all going gay.

That is, we're addressing the matter of gays in the military. I've had this 1993 letter from former President Clinton's Administration (click to enlarge) around for years and never really had an opportunity or reason to post it. Actually, it's strange that the White House even had to issue a letter of this sort, since so many other countries have openly allowed gay people into their military services for years without problems. Based upon my observations, I had written the White House to encourage the inevitable. Yes, I wish Mr. Clinton's letter had actually read, "Dear Robert: Hillary and I realize, like you, that the UFO issue is real and important, and soon I'm going public with demands that all U.S. government information on this subject be released. . ." Well, dream on. That was supposed to happen during the Carter Administration, too.

Politically, I fear that significant national public policy is currently administered by something akin to misguided lunatics, radicals, maniacs and others who may be too smart for our own good. Less arrogance, a dash of humility and a respectful attitude toward those of us who don't dwell in the official Big Boys' circle might be helpful, because those of us with even a modicum of common sense see lots of trouble coming down the pike. Well, who doesn't these days? Change we can believe in, yes-we-can, oh yeah, uh huh. Some days, I wake up wishing I could bottle up all the human testosterone and estrogen in the world, stuff it in a rocket ship and send it to the sun, gender problems being what they are, but that's another story. So now the gays-in-the-military subject is back atop the pile and President Obama swears the policy will change. Ah, where to begin. . .

You may already know that I'm ex-military, having spent four years in the Air Force during the Vietnam years, and I served in a medical field in USAF hospitals stateside. During those years, I both worked among gay airmen and WAFs (Women's Air Force) and encountered gay patients. In fact, those patients were usually about to be discharged simply for being openly gay. It was common for them to be hospitalized in the psychiatric section, and on occasion I learned of outrageous experimental things the psychiatric staff would do to attempt a "cure." Remember, this was 1968-72, still a "dinosaur" era in terms of attitudes about homosexuality in general. I met some of the most talented and essential personnel one could imagine who were booted out the door merely because of their sexual status.

The gay thing is serious stuff with the Armed Services. It's like the cartoon elephant and mouse, where the elephant screams, "Eek! A mouse!" and jumps up on a chair, in mortal, unreasonable fear of something non-threatening. At my own pre-induction physical, when the military draft caught up with me before I enlisted soon thereafter, there literally perched before me the psychiatrist everybody reads about in the humor books, the one whose sole obligation appears to be an ability to ask the question, softly, soothingly, in a fatherly manner, "ARE YOU A HOMOSEXUAL?!!?"

Later on, during Air Force basic training, I recall a session where our entire flight (a "flight" in the Air Force is sort of like a gaggle of geese) was ordered to sit down and relax on the grass, and then our training instructor gave a standard-issue speech about venereal diseases one might catch in town amongst the prostitute community and so on, and, of course, there was one more obligatory low-key mention about h-o-m-o-s-e-x-u-a-l-s and how anybody who was one or thought he might qualify as one should tell officials immediately so he could exit the Air Force and save the military any further expense or embarrassment. Oh, the absurdity of it all. I wonder how many young men from all branches of service falsely, but successfully, "claimed gay" just to avoid the Vietnam nightmare.

The letter posted here reflects President Clinton's attempt (yeah, I know, first line, second paragraph, do as I say, not as I do. . .) to put a reasonable face on what would soon become the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, as he abandoned more ambitious plans in the face of opposition by, frankly, a preponderance of stubborn old blockheads in Congress, feigning the wisdom of their ages, refusing to let gay military personnel serve openly.

It's my understanding that today's young military folk, the ones from age 18 and up into their thirties, are far more informed and much more at ease with the gay military issue. Did anybody "ask" them if they had anything to "tell" about the controversy?

It's way past time for modern military forces to take a tip from ancient armies -- the gay thing was always there. Imagine the countless numbers of gay people who served and died in wars for this country. Why should they be forever invisible and unacknowledged? Thank you for your service, but you don't exist, nope, you were never here, couldn't be, we don't allow those kinds of people into our ranks. Why, it's just not compatible with our religion (our religion?). . .
Truth be told, current psychological military radar is probably focused more upon non-gays than gays, and to this end I reference nationally syndicated radio host and M.D., Dr. Dean Edell. When the issue of homosexuality materializes on Edell's show, he often mentions a reliable study performed where a cross-section of young men were attached "strategically" to equipment which registered their responses to viewing photos of males in various stages of undress. To the surprise of researchers, the most homophobic (defined as a fear or hatred of gay people) among these men were the ones who evidenced sexual stimulation and arousal. The homophobes? Wow.

If this is true, official efforts cannot ignore the likelihood that some heterosexual servicemen, obsessed with perpetual demonstrations of masculinity, also have a deep psychological ability or desire to chase something other than women's skirts. Therein lies the biggest problem for military officials -- keeping a tight rein on potential heterosexual berserkers who subconsciously question their own sexual insecurities. The most dangerous pressure-cooker in town.

Ma Nature, it seems, has her own little way of having a good laugh at our expense, and attempts to legislate and sort gender into neat little compartments, even in the military, seem increasingly ridiculous. Good grief, there's nothing new here. Let's get over it and let gay men and women who wish to serve their country do so with honor. Then we can get back to determining what the government knows about UFOs observed over and apparently influencing operations at military nuclear missile bases, an infinitely more troubling and legitimate national security issue.

(WINDMILL COLLAPSE UPDATE: Engineers checking a windmill in the town of Fenner, NY that toppled over mysteriously one night a few weeks ago were scheduled to issue a final report, but plans were put on hold as they apparently announced continued puzzlement and inability to determine a cause. Should more information become available, I'll include it in a future entry. Hmm. Maybe some unknown ethereal recipient of the windmill's air flow became upset and decided to blow back.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Truth Maze

It's funny how the newsstand tabloids are absolutely reviled by folks who believe themselves far above reading such "trash" -- until, for example, the National Enquirer suddenly earns rave reviews (sort of) for revealing that former U.S. Senator and potential presidential candidate John Edwards had a secret love life and love child whose existence he denied up until the bitter end, after the Enquirer stubbornly pursued allegations that other media grand exalteds considered themselves too proper to investigate. Edwards might have been elected the morality-perfecto president many Americans craved, had the personal closet skeletons not been exposed.

Yes, I do miss the sixties, seventies (in particular) and eighties when the Enquirer investigated international UFO incidents with enthusiasm and hard-nosed, determined journalists. Bob Pratt and a few others. I think the National Enquirer was a major influence in convincing Americans of the UFO phenomenon's international reach.

August 15, 1978 was the date of an Enquirer featuring this curious headline: "U.S. Air Force Officers Lied About UFOs." Written by reporter David Wright, the article served as one of numerous opportunities to consult C.R. McQuiston, co-inventor of the Psychological Stress Evaluator (PSE), an instrument designed to sort out truth from lies based upon the pattern of one's speech when responding to questions.

On this occasion, there apparently had been some controversy about a June 27 article charging the U.S. government with an ongoing cover-up of UFO reports. Well, no big surprise there -- but the tabloid editors did find this a great time to allow Mr. McQuiston access to tape-recorded interviews with three U.S. Air Force officers interviewed for the previous story. His opinion, post PSE evaluation: "There is a clear pattern (of deception) here that is common to all of them. They all had characteristics that lead me to believe that there is indeed a cover-up."

That sounds pretty sinister, and while I may agree in part with McQuiston's conclusions, more could be said. Shortly, but first. . .

Maj. Edward Lansdale of the Air Force Office of Information in Washington, D.C. was asked if the USAF still investigates UFOs. His response: "The Air Force does no longer have a program."

McQuiston stated that Lansdale "doesn't really believe what he is saying. . .has definite reservations about the validity" of the statement. "He appears like he is saying, 'Well, I am saying this, but I don't believe it.' "

Asked if Project Blue Book files were complete, Maj. Gary Hawksworth said, "I don't know whether I could say that."

C.R. McQuiston advised, "He's hedging. There's very definite reservation in that statement. He obviously knows of cases that didn't go in the Blue Book. He's not telling the whole truth and shows the stress line."

Finally, Capt. Charles Wax had told the National Enquirer that "there's no Air Force procedure for reporting extraterrestrial type spottings," leading McQuiston to suggest:

"The PSE shows that's not true. There's a lot of stress there. He doesn't pass the test at all."

For its time, over 30 years ago, the Enquirer piece and McQuiston's evaluation made sense. After all, the Air Force had supposedly given up on UFO projects, but the troublesome UFOs continued to flit in and out of observers' lives across the country. However, as a former military serviceman, I can see the three officers' statements in a much different way, and maybe the Enquirer did as well, but neglected to take that extra, not so clandestine step.

I doubt that any of them was deliberately bending the truth. Instead, they were merely repeating what official policy required them to say in response to such questions. Maybe they personally believed what they were saying and maybe they did not, but could their voices not fail the PSE simply because they were spewing policy, not hardcore individual opinions?

In addition, just as time has shown that the trusty polygraph ("lie detector"), overly-lionized in many a detective thriller, is hardly foolproof, surely the PSE system possesses its own shortcomings. Nevertheless, as I recall, the PSE system was fairly new to the public in the mid to late 1970s, and as the most recent technological toy in town, everybody wanted a piece of its abilities, even the National Enquirer. I'm just not sure that this PSE exercise was worth the result, but I'll give the Enquirer credit for trying to sort out the facts. The officers themselves? One wonders how they felt about being voice-analyzed for readers from coast to coast.