Friday, June 22, 2007

An Editorial Comment

Looking back at many of the columns that I have written for this blog, I am a little disturbed about the negative nature of many of them. I have offered solutions to many sightings, have suggested that some witnesses and researchers are less than reliable, and provided prosaic answers to some of the more interesting mysteries. When I began this, I had envisioned a place where ideas could be discussed calmly and rationally and where we all could search for some of these answers.

The problem, I think, is that as we age, our sense of wonder is tempered, if not ruined, by the intrusion of reality. As a young adult, having had the responsibility as a helicopter pilot and a flight lead in Vietnam before I turned twenty, I still had some of that sense of wonder. I believed that mysterious forces were causing ships and airplanes to disappear in the Bermuda Triangle, I thought there was some kind of undefined and undescribed fantastic creature living in Loch Ness, I thought Bigfoot roamed the more desolate areas of the Pacific Northwest, and believed the Allende Letters might actually be a key to understanding UFOs as was claimed by some researchers.

But then I read Lawrence Kusche’s book, The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - Solved. I had originally bought it believing in the old adage, "Know Your Enemy." If I was going argue persuasively that various craft really did vanish mysteriously in the Bermuda Triangle, I had to understand the arguments against that theory. Here was one book that flew in the face of all the others. One book that offered a solution, as opposed to all the others that offered more mystery.

Imagine my surprise when I found the answers making sense to me. Ships that weren’t really found drifting and abandoned in the Bermuda Triangle as often claimed. In one case, the ship, alleged to be found without crew and abandoned was recovered in the Pacific Ocean and had nothing to do with the Bermuda Triangle. (Wreckage, on the left, from the Marine Sulfur Queen proves it didn't disappear without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle.) That certainly removed it from the rolls of those lost in the Bermuda Triangle.

I had the opportunity to investigate one of the aircraft disappearances, but not as an outside researcher, but as an inside intelligence officer. In the late 1970s, I was assigned to the 928th Tactical Airlift Group of the Air Force Reserve. Our parent organization was the 440th Tactical Airlift Wing and one of its C-119s (a similar aircraft seen below and on the left) had disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle without a trace, according to legend (see Disappearing Aircraft - Part 3: The Bermuda Triangle published here in September 2006).

Since I was now a member of that unit, I could ask questions of my counterparts at the higher headquarters that an outsider or reporter might ask and might be ignored if he thought to ask them. We had a conference there, meaning hosted by the parent unit, and in the course of the conversations, I asked, casually, about the aircraft. I was careful, but only because I didn’t know if any of those I asked had been friends with the crew that had been lost.

I was told then that the aircraft had a history of electrical problems which is a real clue to what happened. I was told that they were lost at the end of a leg which could mean they were tired and not as sharp as they might have been. And, I was told that the crew had reported electrical problems on that flight, which meant, if they lost electrical power, they would lose their flight instruments, and at night, in the kind of weather they were in, not bad, but hazy, the horizon could disappear, meaning the sky merged with the ocean and without that reference, and without instruments, they could become disoriented and crash.

And, I was told that wreckage had been found. The aircraft hadn’t disappeared without a trace. The majority of the aircraft had not been found, but debris identified by serial numbers and markings had been found. This was not a mysterious disappearance, it was a tragic accident that cost the lives of the men involved.

Kusche was able to provide other answers by looking at the primary sources. He found that writers of later books reported information from earlier books, apparently assuming that those first writers had reviewed the primary sources. By looking at the primary sources himself, he learned that disappearances often happened in bad weather, or the facts didn’t check out, or that the ship or airplane had not disappeared without a trace. Some wreckage was found. Many of the mysteries of the Triangle were solved that way.

Which sort of leads us back to the Warren Smith post not so long ago (See Warren Smith: UFO Investigator or Hoaxster, published here in May, 2007). Smith made up stuff when he needed to add detail or credibility to a story. He seemed to think nothing of this. He thought it was part of doing business as a writer of the unusual and paranormal. If you didn’t have what you needed, why you just invented it.

Others, following Smith, then quoted his published work, assuming that some kind of vetting process had taken place. They believed that Smith wouldn’t have made it up and that if the facts didn’t check out, well then, the fact checkers at the publisher would catch them and correct them. The sad truth is that many publishers don’t care what the facts are as long as the book is interesting and the public will buy it. Cash in the pocket is the bottom line and truth has nothing to do with it.

Which, I suppose, brings us to some scientific truth. For the Loch Ness monster to be a real, viable creature, there must be more than one. As an anthropology student at the University of Iowa, I was introduced to the concept of a breeding population. This is the number of animals that must exist to keep a population alive and reproducing. If the number falls too low, say under about thirty healthy individuals, then that population is on the verge of extinction. Any minor disaster can wipe them out. A reduction in the food supply, an outbreak of disease, a reduction in the size of the habitat or just encounters with trigger-happy humans.

This means that there must be thirty or forty creatures in Loch Ness, not just one. And while I can accept the idea that some kind of huge, bottom dwelling creature in the loch could escape detection, even with all the attempts made to find it, it is not so easy to accept the idea that thirty or forty could have done so.
These attempts to find the creature, some of them quite sophisticated and some of them well equipped with the latest technology, should have found something other than rather murky photographs that show something exciting, but only after they have been enhanced.

No, in this case, science seems to suggest that there is no Loch Ness monster. If there was, we’d have better data about it. And like so much of the rest of the paranormal world, the best bits of evidence have been exposed over the years. The surgeon photograph, taken in the 1930s is now an admitted hoax ( seen on the left). There really is no reason to challenge this conclusion given who made it and the circumstances under which he made the claim. Until other, better evidence is presented, we must conclude that there is no monster in Loch Ness.

Which is really what we can conclude about Big Foot. Same problems as with Loch Ness. You need a population large enough to breed and a population of that size would leave bigger and better clues than we have.

Once again, we do not have the proof necessary. We have some poor photographs. We have hundreds of footprints, many of which were left by people who thought it amusing to confuse the issue. We have some hair samples that do not lead us to conclude that an unknown primate is roaming the Pacific Northwest, but that known creatures are.

Which brings us to the Allende Letters, those mysterious documents that so interested the Office of Naval Research back in the late 1950s. The story, as it is usually told, is that a copy of Morris K. Jessup’s The Case for the UFO, apparently annotated by three unidentified, but very knowledgeable men, was received at the Office of Naval Research. Over a period of weeks, a number of letters, obviously written by one or all of those mysterious men, arrived at the home of Jessup. He turned them over to the ONR. Officers there were so impressed with all this, according to the legend, that they had it duplicated, notations and all, and included the letters in an appendix. The Navy began to investigate the claims in the book and because the Navy was involved, it lent a note of authenticity to the story.

The story was a wild one. According to the letters, the Navy, during the Second World War had teleported a ship in an experiment that had something to do with Einstein’s Unified Field Theory. According to Carlos Allende (the man who signed two of the letters, the third was signed by Carl Allen and is seen on the left), the experiment had been a success. The ship was teleported. The sailors, however, were failures. They manifested all sorts of bizarre side effects from their teleportation.

In the early 1970s, while I was still on active duty with the Army, and right after I had returned from Vietnam, I learned that one of those involved in the creation of the annotated copy of Jessup’s book., Sidney Sherby, was working for Varo Manufacturing in nearby Arlington, Texas. I called him to arrange an interview.

He told me that contrary to the published information, the Navy had not been interested in the Allende Letters or the annotated copy of the book ( a sample page seen on the left). Two of the officers there were (Sherby and a guy named Hoover) and the Navy had no objection to their following up on it as long as it didn’t involve any Navy resources or personnel. In other words, according to Sherby, the Navy had no interest in the matter and the investigation was not Navy sponsored.

Then, in the 1970s Carlos Allende appeared at the headquarters of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization and told the international director, Jim Lorenzen, that the whole thing was a hoax. He’d made it up because the writings of Jessup had scared him. He signed a statement saying that, left a suitcase or two with Lorezen for safe keeping, and left.

But in the world of the paranormal, nothing is that easy. Allende surfaced again several years later saying that his claim of hoax had been coerced by, who else, the CIA, and that the story contained in the letters was all true. The CIA had made him claim it was all a hoax.

Still later, Robert A. Goerman, a researcher living in Pennsylvania, discovered that Allende, or Allen’s family, lived nearby. He investigated and in an article published in the October 1980 issue of Fate, explained the whole tale, concluding, based on the evidence, that the Allende Letter saga was a hoax. It is a conclusion that should be noted because, like so much else, it is often ignored. The man who created the Allende Letters said it was a hoax, those who were at the Office of Naval Research said there was no interest in them by the Navy, and independent investigation has shown the case to be a hoax, and yet, we still discuss it. (In the mid-1970s I wrote an article about my findings... Allende or Allen... saw it and sent an annotated copy back to the magazine and is seen at the left. Yes, those are Allende's markings and comments.)

The point here is not to rehash old UFO cases, or to argue for or against some claim of the paranormal, but to examine what we know, and why it continues to recycle. We have good answers for some cases. The mystery has been solved and when we look at the evidence with an open mind and in a dispassionate way we can seen that the answers are correct.

I believe that we need to publicize those answers periodically, and we must publicize new answers to old cases as we find them so that we can spend our limited time and resources on the cases that deserve them. I believe that we must publish this "negative" information as we learn it so that our whole inquiry can be advanced.

To me, the discovery of an answer for a mystery, the solution to a UFO case is as exciting as the mystery itself. I am delighted that we can look back at the disappearance of the Stardust, an airplane that disappeared without a trace in the late 1940s and say we now know what happened to it. A tragedy for those on board but a mystery that has been solved, in this case, by chance.

And, of course, the discovery of the airplane doesn’t answer one of the questions about that. Just what did the word, "STENDIC" mean? (See Disappearing Aircraft - Part 1: Stardust, August 2006).

So, sometimes it looks as if this blog is negative, but the truth is, I’m just reporting, as accurately as possible, what I see as the truth, positive or negative. Solutions come at us slowly sometimes, and there are those who truly wish we had no solutions so they ignore them, but it is all part of what we do.


Mac said...

Keep the "negativity" coming. There are enough UFO researchers/"enthusiasts" who can handle it, although they can probably be counted on one hand ...

Sarge said...

Since the days of our youth another religion has grown to power. The religion of Science.
This religion has a mantra that all that exists has been discovered, or explained by man. That man is the supreme being and that if man can not do, or explain it, it cannot be done.
Those who fail to follow the dictates are either heretics, or fools to stupid to understand the truth.
Anyone, professional or amateur, who makes a claim that falls within the limits of accepted knowledge is praised and any who wander afield are damned.
UFO believers, those who think in terms of ET's, are far outside the limits.
We must police our ranks carefully and keep to the facts if we ever hope to advance beyond the lunatic fringe lable.

Lovey13 said...

In my essay "So Lovey, what’s it with all the creepy UFO and Alien links?" I state that it is the critical and discriminating research done in this field that lends it credibility. Please continue to think things through and please validate everything you explore and report. I only want to hear about the things that hold up to scrutiny. The rest has no value if you are serious about these topics. There must be the mindset that anything could be urban legend, hoax, disinformation from the debunkers up through the government, and maybe, just maybe, occasional facts. Please do what you can to provide me with only what holds up, and I will listen.

Thank you--

Marco - Italy said...

Hi Kevin,

my name is Marco and live in Italy.
I have been interested in the ufo-lore since I was a young boy and collected several books and articles from all over the world.
I am being the more and the more interested in the social impact of this lore and motivations fro society to be so recpetive to the extraterrestrial belief.
I found your article about the Allende letters and the annoted Varo edition a good breath of rational sanity, grounded into real facts, which quits the pseudo-rationale of so many ufo buffers who created a myth on jsut para-logisms, i.e. false correlations between facts which exist just in their minds.
Now, I am very much interested in your meeting with Mr. Sherby in the 70, one of those who brough about the myth of Jessup and Allende and the so called Phil experiement ultimately.
Did he tell you why an officer of the Navy found so much interesting the insane annotations of the Jessup's book?
Why did he take on the charge of personal expensed to get the annoted copy mimeographed?
How many copied did they issue and whom they sent to?
Also, where the original Jessup's paperback of "The case for uso" wind up?
Was it really addressed to general Furth?
They received copy of the annoted book in 1955...why did they expect 1957 to speak with Jessup (id they did) and what was the content of their talks?
Finally, was the Gray Barker famous (and extremely now expensive collectors item) re-print of the Varo edition based upon a real original?

I hope I have not bothered you but I understand you are maybe one of the few rationale scholars of the UFO topic with a first-hand expeirnce of perople and facts!

Best to you,