Tag Archives: The Great Taboo

Billy Cox Bids Ufology Adieu … Again

Bill Cox & The Great Taboo

Ever feel like you’re going crazy?

     For whatever reason, my farewell-to-De Void post from 9/13/16 has vanished. It was titled “A shift in the weather.” Don’t know exactly when or why it was removed … but if only the bewilderment ended there. When I went noodling through some of the earliest blogs that still hadn’t auto-purged, from 2009, it was like getting punted into some parallel universe. The comment threads had been erased and replaced with exchanges in Cyrillic. Seriously, I’m not making this up. There were, ostensibly, Russians having conversations by piggy-backing off my blog. This sounds totally insane, but this actually happened. And why me? My biggest regret

By Billy Cox
De Void / Herald Tribune.com
7-14-17

is I didn’t do a screen grab, because when I revisited the same posts the next day, all reader comments – Cyrillic, English, whatever – had been removed. A clean wipe.

Anyway, I’m reposting a version of that mysteriously spiked September blog because I’m still a little pissed. So don’t be erasing my history, whoever you are, or I’ll rewrite it with even less accuracy.

Due to professional circumstances beyond my control, I have been reassigned to a new job here at the Herald-Tribune, a beat which involves a steep learning curve and my undivided attention. As you know, newspapers are undergoing a radical downsizing transition, and no one is immune to these pressures. So at least for now, and for the foreseeable future, I will step away from De Void, which I started writing in April 2007.

By serving up a combination of reporting, analysis, industry criticism and a few other quirks in between, I had hoped I might be able to make a difference in the way my colleagues in traditional media cover UFOs. And in fact, the last nine years have provided some remarkable opportunities for the MSM to rethink its strategy in the way it approaches The Great Taboo. But that was the flaw – assuming there might actually be a strategy in play. Beyond resorting to requisite clichés (e.g., “This next story is out of this world” and “Is the truth really out there?”), chasing balloons (“Mystery shiny objects floating over Manhattan, spark UFO frenzy” – NY Daily News), and hyping common lens flares for ratings (“UFO or Lens Flare in Google Street View? You Decide” – ABC’s “Good Morning America”), big media falls apart when approaching the gorilla in the room. Even CNN’s Anderson Cooper, maybe the most qualified interviewer on corporate television – even his brains roll around in suntan oil and head for the beach whenever he gets near UFOs. And that’s what’s making the blown opportunity of 2016 so dispiriting.

Contrast where we are today with the 2007 Democratic primary debates. That’s when NBC’s Tim Russert asked longshot pacifist Dennis Kucinich to confirm a report that he was eyewitness to a UFO event. Russert, of course, had no interest in the material, and simply wanted to muscle the fading Ohio congressman off the stage and back to the fringe where he belonged. Remember that? Looking like he didn’t know whether to wet his pants or vomit, Kucinich fell back into the shopworn stance of trying to joke it off. And it didn’t help him a lick. Now fast-forward to 2016 and a scenario that would’ve been unthinkable nine years ago – a presidential frontrunner has not only publicly and repeatedly discussed her curiosity about UFOs, she has even advocated releasing related government documents.

Put aside, as if that’s possible, your emotions, pro or con, about Hillary Clinton. Because this is not about her. Nor is it about veteran Beltway operator John Podesta, whose gamble to encourage the former First Lady to speak rationally and fearlessly about The Great Taboo has provoked negligible media blowback. Think about that for a moment. Whenever a public figure in this country utters something stupid or outrageous, the peanut-gallery microphones are always there to rain torrents of snark and reality-based facts and figures on the offender (not that facts make much difference in this day and age). And yet, although the echo chamber has dutifully regurgitated the quotes Clinton has made on three separate occasions about reassessing UFOs, no significant major news platform has bothered to follow up or ask what the hell she means by that. No debate moderator has raised the subject. Not even Clinton’s myriad foes have chosen to weaponize or even make an issue of her remarks concerning undoubtedly the most unconventional topic ever raised on a campaign trail. They’d rather talk about pneumonia.

Folks, this is flat-out freaky. And it begs the question of just how far watchdog journalism has strayed from the public interest. Even badly worded polls show nearly half of Americans believe UFOs are all about ET activity in our own atmosphere. Into this vacuum of empty space comes Hollywood, advertisers, cable television, tabloids, etc., all of whom are far more astute about engaging sustainable numbers than the press. The entertainment industry has also enabled conspiracy paranoia, stoked delusional hopes and unreasonable fears, and made loads of cash off a growth market that shows no signs of dissipating. And for reasons likely best summarized in a groundbreaking 2008 essay appearing in the journal Political Theory, America’s most influential institutions have proven incapable of leading us out of the woods. They remain stubbornly, willfully, perhaps even aggressively, uninformed.

For more than nine years, De Void attempted to bridge that gap, at least on the journalism frontier. With the discoveries of extrasolar Earth-like planets becoming so common they rarely make headlines anymore, with millions of research dollars being dumped into radioscope dishes trolling for alien signals, and given innovations in portable technology designed to track anomalies in our skies, there would appear to be no better moment for the media to snatch the permission slips extended by Clinton/Podesta this year and start asking truly skeptical questions. But that hasn’t happened. Maybe it can’t. Denial and avoidance are the results of faltering attention spans, national and global. We don’t read anymore. We want shortcuts. We think in bumper stickers. Glossy campaign pamphlets are called literature. We want our Cliff Notes rationed in 30-second video bites. We want our favorite colors back, black and white.

Despite the gloom, however, De Void has actually been a lot of gun. It’s forced me to become more discerning and (hopefully) a more careful thinker. It’s given me a deeper appreciation for those who’ve chosen the thankless tasks of attempting to rescue history buried in forgotten archives, for those who pressure bureaucracies for radar records, and the researchers giving voice to veterans whose stories have been disregarded, mocked or repressed for half a century or more.

Most of all, in this era of anonymity and internet cowardice, I have appreciated the civil, thoughtful and provocative tones that often characterize these comment threads. We don’t always agree – in fact, we may rarely agree – but I appreciate the level of sophistication you guys have been bringing to the table. And who knows, we may, in fact, have future discussions here on De Void. If, for instance, Stephen Hawking’s projected ET conquistadors do something as callous and disrespectful as zapping the Kremlin or the newly refurbished Capitol Dome, I’ll probably make time to weigh in as soon as I get through cheering.

And I’ll remain keenly interested in whatever comes next.

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Ufology: Corporate Media Blew Its Most Promising Opportunity

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The media disgrace

Ufology: Corporate Media Blew Its Most Promising Opportunity
“…corporate media blew its most promising opportunity — ever — for instigating a policy-level discussion of The Great Taboo…”

     Two tantalizing developments in late October, just days shy of the most demoralizing U.S. presidential campaign in the history of the world:

1) Using NASA data, a journal called Proceedings of the National Academy of Science announced it had calculated that more than 8.8 billion Earth-like planets inhabit the Milky Way galaxy alone. Which is depressing enough. But also: 2) Another journal, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, identified 234 stars amid a survey of 2.5 million in which light-pulse signatures were consistent with theoretical models


By Billy Cox
De Void
11-10-16

predicting extraterrestrial intelligence. The second item is far more speculative and controversial than the first, but the confirmation of either would turn our conceits upside down. Or at least we wouldn’t have to resign ourselves to the idea that the way we do things in this joint is as good as it’s ever going to get.

Nope, unfortunately, UFOs haven’t destroyed Capitol Hill or the Kremlin, and De Void is not back. But after seeing how corporate media blew its most promising opportunity — ever — for instigating a policy-level discussion of The Great Taboo, it’s difficult to sit back and pretend we’re not in very deep trouble, and on such a fundamental level. Market-tested and auto-programmed for parroting trivia, fear and anger, the Fourth Estate appears to have also severed its links to those things that can evoke the best of who we are or hope to be.

I used to follow crowds of visitors onto the banks of the Indian River Lagoon and the beaches of Cape Canaveral, where they converged for the countdown to shuttle launches and planetary missions, most of which rarely made their deadlines. But no matter. Taking expensive chances with the weather and the inevitable hardware glitches, they rolled in from everywhere, from around the world, pickup trucks, RVs, lawn chairs, binoculars, bug spray, SPF50, coolers, Coleman grills, lanterns, campfires, tripods, radios, you name it, they packed it. And it wasn’t just to watch — they could’ve tuned into network coverage for that, and with a lot less aggravation. They came to participate, to be a part of something that reduced to irrelevance whatever affiliations that divided them, even if they weren’t aware of it. And they were united by storylines that generated parades of firsts:

First woman astronaut, first black astronaut, first teacher, first Saudi, first Israeli, first American in orbit giving it another shot to see if his 77-year-old bones could withstand, 35 years later, the rigors of space flight. There were multi-ethnic multi-racial shuttle crews fulfilling Gene Rodenberry’s “Star Trek” prophecy. There were astronauts pushing back against skittish administrators, demanding a chance to risk their lives to fix a failing telescope renowned for peering into the edge of time. There was the 96-year-old widow of the astronomer who discovered Pluto, on hand to watch an unmanned craft programmed to deliver, among other things, her husband’s ashes to that unimaginably distant world.

These stories fueled pilgrimages. And the entire planet joined the learning curve, sometimes in horror, learning to exhale only after solid-rocket boosters cleared the fuel tank 90 seconds out. On the high frontier, death is the ultimate price of knowledge; yet, the waiting list to engage that voyage swells. And it has been this way since the first crazy people hopped into hollowed-out logs and splashed off for nothing more than invisible hunches and theories on treasures their faith said lay waiting beyond the horizon.

Walter Cronkite once said history will look back on America’s Apollo moon program as the 20th century’s crowning achievement; indeed, 50 years later, the study of the neurological shading that occurs when space travelers gaze upon Earth — called the “Overview Effect” — is only beginning. But Cronkite’s sensibilities were nowhere in evidence during the presidential debates. There were 27 national stage-managed auditions during the campaign of 2015-16, and unless I missed something, not a single journalist bothered to solicit a candidate’s vision for space, the arena in which the U.S. and Russia are indispensable partners. Not a one. In fact, after securing their party’s nominations, neither Trump nor Clinton could find room for a website blurb on NASA policy. But you can bet your ass those two would’ve dashed off something, no matter how cynical or meaningless, had a single member of the press stepped up to ask about it in a public forum.

Which brings us to journalism’s great lost moment. Let’s do this again:

For the first time ever, a monopoly-party candidate attempted to post UFOs on the Beltway talkboard. With persistent nudges from campaign director John Podesta, Hillary Clinton on three separate occasions showcased not only a conversational grasp of the phenomenon but also a rhetorical willingness to pursue the issue wherever it led. All three statements rated dutiful cut ‘n’ paste coverage worldwide. But not a single major daily or network or public radio station had the guts, or the foundational knowledge, to ask HRC why — exactly — she was so interested in broaching such a politically radioactive topic. It made no sense, tactically or strategically. It was a baffling non sequitur, with no moneyed momentum to propel it. Where were the payoffs? Who was the audience? It was intended to be a counterweight to — what?

Well, given how no news division or editorial board saw fit to mention our once-bejeweled space program, their failure to confront Clinton with her counterintuitive UFO remarks was at least consistent. And as a final kick out the door, Esquire magazine’s snark over the Podesta/Clinton gamble, published two weeks ago, mirrored the prevailing media tone over the last 11 months: “Cracking the Crackpot Vote — How do you win over true believers (in extraterrestrials) in an election this crazy?” If you were too stupid to get it, the editors punched it up with an illustration of HRC sitting on a flying saucer shooting a laser beam from its belly.

Someday, these presentations will be compared with what “Reefer Madness” did for marijuana laws. For now, what is truly unforgivable is journalism’s demonstrated inability to revitalize rigorous inquiry into whatever may be waiting for us out there, conventional angles or otherwise. Even as the universe grows more crowded, more vivid and more complex with each flip of the calendar.

Like an amoeba, our species assumes its definition not at its middle, but at its leading edges, at the margins, where it decides to go next. If we’re losing our capacity for awe — not to mention an appreciation for the human ingenuity required for translation — let’s start calling out the usual media suspects. Clinton-Trump ’16 flagged an opportunity for institutional journalism to explore documentation it has never properly addressed, to make a different kind of history, no matter who won. And like a streak of summer lightning, that moment flickered and vanished. It’s already almost like it never existed.

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“Pablum that Passes for UFO Coverage in The New York Times”

Lapdog journalism at the NY Times

By Billy Cox
De Void
11-18-15

     God, how I do so hate reading the pablum that passes for UFO coverage in The New York Times. Had a link to its latest trifling not appeared on a Facebook post over the weekend, I might’ve been lucky enough to have missed the thing altogether. The headline – “Bright Lights, Strange Shapes and Talk of U.F.O.’s” – should’ve been sufficient warning to take a pass. But NOOOO. De Void just had to click and see and hope against hope that just once The Gray Lady might serve up an original recipe on The Great Taboo. Just once. Please.

So now the question I’m asking myself is why? Why did I do that? Which particular character flaw drove me to click onto something whose outcome was as preordained as a Wile E. Coyote canyon disaster? I want to blame it on something beyond my control, e.g., the rush of communications technologies currently reducing civilization’s attention span to a debris field of autonomic impulses. But the inner voice tells me to man up, to take responsibility and own it.

De Void refuses, however, to link to this banality. That would be wrong. Likewise, De Void declines to rain on reporter Jonah Bromwich because maybe it wasn’t his idea. Maybe it got dropped on his plate by a harried editor who needed to plug a hole quickly and reached for the first thing in the pile. In this case, it was the Nov. 7 sub-launched missile test off the nighttime coast of California. Lots of surprised people posted dramatic footage, which prompted CNN to lead its next-day coverage this way: “Panic and speculation spread Saturday night when a bright white light shot through the night skies in Southern California …”

When I think of panic, I tend to think of people trampling each other to get away from gunfire and explosions, or diving out of skyscrapers to escape roaring flames, but whatever, if CNN says panic, it must’ve been true. CNN also mentioned how the launch triggered “theories of aliens,” as did countless other newsgatherers. Anyhow, five days later, here comes the nation’s unofficial paper of record, bringing up the rear with this lead: “When strange things appear in the sky, many people can’t help but turn their thoughts to extraterrestrials. But there’s usually a more down-to-earth explanation.”

A lead like this makes De Void practically vomit with excitement.

Brownstein goes on to reassure readers that we’ve simply been conditioned to attribute murky lights in the sky to space aliens, thanks to cultural cues like “Close Encounters” and “The X-Files.” Which is refreshing; nobody’s ever heard that explanation before. Then he gives the final say to Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer: “In a way, extraterrestrials are like deities for atheists. They’re always described as these vastly superior, almost omnipotent beings coming down from on high, very much like the Christ story, or the Mormon story or the Scientology story.”

This is a tired and tiresome complaint, but the longer the Times keeps covering UFOs this way, the more exposed its amateurish vulnerabilities on this topic become. Maybe it’s part of the enduring legacy of its late iconic science reporter Walter Sullivan. In 1969, Sullivan wrote the laudatory introduction to the so-called Condon Report, the seriously flawed government-funded analysis that sounded the death knell for critical institutional thinking on UFOs. Try to imagine the prestigious Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism going to reporters investigating an issue he attempted to lay to rest half a century ago.

Descendants of that storied tradition, Bromwich and/or his editor are just wasting space and undercutting the Times’ reputation as All The News That’s Fit To Print. Of course it would never occur to them to raise questions about why U.S. Customs and Border Protection is stonewalling efforts to authenticate UFO footage it shot with its own camera, or to press the Federal Aviation Administration on why it began exempting raw radar records from FOIA requests nearly a decade after 9/11 allegedly changed everything. But it does make you wonder how long they can afford to ignore the numbers. Google “UFO” and 86.5 million returns pop up. For readers looking for an intelligent forum on The Great Taboo, The New York Times isn’t even embarrassing. It’s irrelevant.

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‘…NARCAP From Its Inception Ditched The UFO Acronym…’

'...NARCAP From Its Inception Ditched The UFO Acronym...'

Broccoli or smores? Hmm …

By Billy Cox
De Void
5-15-15

      OK, let’s face it, nothing competes with dead space aliens when it comes to creating orgasmic worldwide hype. And when the pyrite that tried to pass for bullion dissolved into snake oil during last week’s “Roswell Slides” calamity in Mexico City, there were plenty of critics quick to point to the hogslop as the industry standard for evidence attending The Great Taboo. So now might be a good time to step back and revisit the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena website, which would probably do somersaults if it could get even a fraction of the attention provoked by the clumsy mummy farce.

On April 10, without any fanfare (no dead aliens/visuals = no buzz), NARCAP executive director Ted Roe issued a status report on the non-profit’s ongoing research, at home and abroad, since 1999. And just for reference, stunts like the “Roswell Slides” have so poisoned the well for inquisitive fence-sitters, NARCAP from its inception ditched the UFO acronym altogether for the more neutral unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP. Either way, institutional American attitudes continue to stagnate despite NARCAP’s attempt to frame the mystery as a potential flight safety issue.

“Data regarding aviation related UAP observations and incidents flows away from the aviation system and is not examined for safety factors by US aviation authorities, the NTSB, etc.,” writes Roe. “In fact, the FAA refers pilots and air traffic controllers that want to make a UAP or ‘UFO’ report to contact civilian UFO research groups and private businesses. These organizations have not published a single study nor demonstrated the slightest concern for the matter of UAP and aviation safety.”

Led by retired NASA scientist Richard Haines, NARCAP’s multi-disciplinary, multi-national contributors labor thanklessly to educate (mostly) pilots on the potential hazards of close encounters, which have never gone away despite nearly a half century of wishful thinking from the University of Colorado and the U.S. Air Force. As technical work, this is forbidding stuff, dense with physics and geometry, largely inaccessible to general audiences and most assuredly not for the sound bites that pass for journalism these days.

Take a single report from 2010, Project Sphere, which attempted to get a better grip on those elusive white blips and metallic-looking orbs that have, for decades, been photographed and detected on radar. Fifteen contributors weighed in — from Spain, Canada, France, the U.K., Brazil and Japan, joining American scientists like NASA engineer Lawrence Lemke (his chapter: “Aerodynamics of Spheres”) and Richard Spalding from Sandia National Laboratories (“An Atmospheric Electrical Hypothesis for Spherical Luminosities Occurring at Aircraft Altitudes”).

Properly circumspect, NARCAP declined to hang a label on this puzzle, but felt secure enough in its data to make seven recommendations, including the integration of UAP characteristics into flight-simulator training, alongside more conventional variables like wind shear and bird collisions. If knowledge alone wasn’t a sufficient motivator, perhaps the threat of liability could make the case.

“If UAP are judged to be naturally occurring so-called acts of God …” wrote Haines in the report’s conclusion, “then airlines have less to fear in terms of litigation. If, on the other hand, UAP are discovered to be intelligently controlled or otherwise artificial, then a quite different legal judgement could be made, one whose outcome could only be guessed at. It makes good sense, then, that we should try to discover the core nature of UAP sooner than later if, for no other reason, (than) to obviate some of these problems that are associated with aviation accident litigation.”

Not even a shrug, of course, from U.S. authorities. But in his blogpost, Roe reminds us of how the rest of the world has made adjustments to The Great Taboo since Uncle Sam bailed in 1969, e.g., the rise of government studies sweeping South America, the expansion of NARCAP’s links into Chile, Germany and Mexico, even a concession from the British Ministry of Defence — which proclaims itself officially disinterested in these matters — “that UAP exist is indisputable… and they (UAP) are probably a threat to safe aviation.”

NARCAP’s work should be news. If only it could find some dead alien mummy pix. . . .

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The Search for Life in The Universe

The Search for Life in The Universe

Time wows us again

By Billy Cox
De Void
4-3-15

“If Time’s cutting-edgers wanted to be really subversive … they might’ve found room for a small but growing grass-roots movement to collect that elusive evidence in our own atmosphere.”

     Ever notice all those special-niche impulse-buy glossies larding the supermarket magazine sections? Items like Newsweek’s “Jesus” and “Lincoln” editions, Time’s “Mark Twain”? How do these things make money — massive personnel layoffs? They’re slicky produced and have few, if any, ads. The other day, just for the sheer dispiriting hell of it, De Void picked up a copy of Time’s “The Search for Life in the Universe,” at $14 a sizeable sum for product that, according to the stack on the rack, wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves.

I probably should’ve just left it there — not a single story on The Great Taboo anywhere among its 96 pretty pages, natch — but De Void wanted to spend a little time trying to understand what corporate media means when it slaps this subtitle on its cover: “Is Anybody Out There? Science is Finding New Clues.”

The “New Clues” included extensive copy devoted to SETI, which has been failing to detect alien signals for only 55 years now; a look at deep-space telescopes (who knew there were such things?); a review of the 20-year-old transiting techniques astronomers are employing to confirm a growing harvest of extrasolar planets; decades-long efforts to draw theoretical corollaries between Earth’s microbial “extremophiles” and life in hostile off-world environments; plus discussions of our potential ET roots facilitated by organic compounds embedded in asteroids. Those panspermia debates have only been underway since the 1970s.

But Time’s time-warp disconnect from the culture it serves was evident in the opening paragraph of the lead story: “When the subject of extraterrestrials comes up in polite conversation, any scientist whose lonely life’s work is listening for distant radio signals often has to deal with what Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute calls the ‘giggle factor.’ And to be fair, amid a backdrop of The X-Files and The Twilight Zone and conspiracy nuts convinced the Air Force has aliens on ice in Area 51 — not to mention those who figure visitors from space must have built the pyramids — even learned men can begin to sound ridiculous.”

Um, learned men like who? Whom? SETI is so mainstream, it first procured federal funding in the 1980s. And just last summer, Shostak appeared before a Congressional committee to request more cash. Did the Time editors miss the Jodi Foster film “Contact,” which pretty much muted with the giggle-factor in 1998? Did they miss the PBS treatment in 1999? How about NOVA’s “Learning Media” spinoff (suitable for grades 6-12) featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2004?

If Time’s cutting-edgers wanted to be really subversive and go off-road for “New Clues” (which they don’t; they’re too busy trying to think outside the box), they might’ve found room for a small but growing grass-roots movement to collect that elusive evidence in our own atmosphere. Thanks to evolving and accessible technologies, regular folks are getting eager to navigate around institutional timidity and conduct science without waiting for approval by the learned men.

Take Project Connecting Evidence, for instance. First unveiled early this year, PCE’s “UFO detector” offers free downloadable software which, with an assist from a USB webcam, can automatically trigger recording modes — no operators necessary — if it detects what it determines is anomalous airborne movement. Leave your laptop running and, presto, no more hand-held jiggles. Clearly, the catch is determining what constitutes anamalous airborne movement.

The brains behind PCE — a German software developer who prefers to identify himself solely as “Rust” — cautions that users will encounter the beta version, and that he’s working out the detection algorithm bugs, literally, right now. He’s asking users to send him false positives like bugs, birds, bats, etc., in order to make those adjustments. And with myriad apps tracking satellite flyovers and websites like Flight Radar 24 posting archived and near real-time transponder air traffic, PCE operators already have the means to eliminate broad categories of junk suspects.

What we know for sure about PCE is that it isn’t dispensing viruses or malware. Black Vault page founder John Greenewald has been testing the program for six months. He posts a few examples of potential anomalies on his website. As Greenewald notes, the images so far are sublime, at best. “This is not the smoking gun, nor proposed as such,” Greenewald states, “but rather, shows that if something is there to capture, this will capture it.” And as Rust continues to sharpen the system, he tells De Void, “All aspects of this project are and will always be free. I am strongly against charging money for UFO related information. The overall goal of this project is to change the way we collect and analyze UFO footage.”

At a recent Florida MUFON gathering near Tampa, volunteer officers announced plans to deploy cameras patterned on New Mexico State University’s “sky sentinel” project, which charts atmospheric movements, like meteors, to assist satellite operators in separating man-made from natural clutter. Tampa Bay state section director Bill Schroeder, an Army veteran who once had a harrowing on-duty radar encounter with a UFO, predicted the envisioned horizon-to-horizon wide-angle camera network would be “the finest UFO detection system in the world.” Theoretically, once in place, the MUFON Aerial Surveillance Team would notify logged-in network members statewide of UFO activity that might be headed in their direction. Crowdfunding is anticipated for all-sky cams and software that can assess trajectory, speed, distance traveled, and other flight characteristics of selected targets. Again, existing website data can eliminate satellite, astronomical and conventional aircraft.

“Most of our cases are taken from what witnesses saw, but we want to be proactive and monitor events while they’re happening,” said Morgan Beall, MUFON’s director of technology, who reviews some 40 cases a month as it is. “The cameras we’re developing will get the full spectrum of unfiltered images. It’ll be like the technology in satellites, but they’ll be pointing up. So it’s going to be revolutionary stuff.”

The most revolutionary stuff, of course, is being developed by Hollywood special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull. Architect of what he calls “immersive” media, Trumbull’s groundbreaking 2014 short, “UFOTOG,” showcased 3D footage shot at 120 frames per second, four times the industry standard. Trumbull’s team hopes not only to aim his multi-spectrum lenses at UFOs in the sky, but also to record anomalies in the ocean as well.

Hmm. This sounds kind of interesting. Maybe, in another decade or so, with a little Time’s next “Are We Alone?” special edition might devote a few paragraphs to it.

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“UAP [UFOs] Maneuverability Makes … Drones Look Archaic”

Drones vs UFOs

The new scapegoats?

By Billy Cox
De Void
1-27-15

     The quadcopter drone that crashed into the White House lawn on Monday may have been innocuous, but at some point there’s going to be a disaster — and everybody sees it coming. The global skies are getting more cluttered by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) morphing into increasingly bizarre and complex designs, and regulators can’t scramble fast enough to keep up with the galloping technologies, many of which now employ stealth configurations.

In November, The Washington Post reviewed FAA records and discovered pilots had reported “a surge” of near-miss incidents since June 1, where drones came within a few feet or seconds of colliding with conventional aircraft. In an environment where the odds of potentially catastrophic encounters are accelerating, could an unintended consequence be getting more critical eyes on UFOs?

Drone Survival Guide
Credit: dronesurvivalguide.org

Since 1999, the nonprofit National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena has been studying The Great Taboo — preferring the less loaded acronym UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena) — from flight-safety perspectives. NARCAP’s concerns aren’t so much over mid-air collisions — UAP apparently don’t obey the laws of traditional aerodynamics and are agile enough to turn on a dime — as they are about pilot reaction. NARCAP researchers scoured FAA cases dating back to the 1950s and discovered the biggest danger was a tendency by pilots to overcorrect when confronted by the often abrupt approach of UAP. No fatalities on file, yet, but a few injuries here and there, and certainly a potential for disaster anytime a pilot attempts a sudden evasive maneuver.

Inject drones into that lengthy FAA track record and things get dicey real quick. In a 2013 report titled “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unidentified Aerial Phenomena: Can We Tell Them Apart?,” NARCAP’s Richard Haines and Wayne Reed drew distinctions between UAP and UAV. To mention a few, drones can be pretty noisy; UAP are largely mute. Unlike UAV, most drones have range, altitude and speed limitations. UAP maneuverability makes even the most sophisticated drones look archaic. “Unless something basic has been overlooked in this overview,” states the report, “it seems reasonable to assert that none of the UAV that are reviewed here are able to disappear suddenly from sight, execute instantaneous ninety degree (or other angles) turns, accelerate at extremely high speeds, hover in complete silence or perform small, constant radius somersaults or corkscrew flight around a single point, suddenly change shape or size (without changing their orientation or distance from the viewer) — all of which UAP have been reported to be able to do.”

NARCAP published yet another example just this month, from Australian researchers Keith Basterfield and Paul Dean. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), described it as “a near collision with an unknown object involving a De Havilland DHC-8, VH-XFX near Perth Airport, Western Australia on 19 March 2014,” and filed it under the “serious incident” category. The charter turboprop had 53 passengers aboard that clear morning when it was confronted by an “unknown object” that, according to the crew, was coming head-on and sported “a bright strobe light” up front that “appeared to track” toward the DHC-8. The pilot had to bank the avoid the collision with the bogey, which passed within 65 feet horizontally and 100 feet vertically.

A strobing light amid clean skies was weird enough, but the ATSB report, which also said the object left no radar tracks, logged it as “cylindrical in shape and grey in colour.” But get this: The DHC-8 was traveling at 3,700 feet; at the moment of the encounter, according to the ATSB, the area below 3,500 feet was restricted military airspace. Upon being interviewed by Paul Dean, the chief pilot said the object was shaped like a cigarette, only “it was green, military green, in colour.”

The pilot informed Dean nobody told him to shut up about what he saw. But after that interview, which was conducted through the airline, Dean’s access to the pilot, and to the safety officer he hoped to question, went dark. “No more emails, no more return calls,” Dean writes. “It was like they’d either had enough of the case, or, were told not to keep discussing it.

“I wonder of course, if it was a missile or rocket, where the body of it is,” he continues. “If it was a UAV then we have to wonder what type?! I looked and looked and no UAVs are pencil-like, all green-grey, or have a strobe at the front. It’s weird. Whatever it was it nearly took that plane out.”

Just one more thing we’ll likely never figure out. But what if drone technology — military or otherwise — begins to seriously imperil our skyways? Might authorities start chatting up UFOs as a cover for their mistakes?

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France and Chile Embark Upon a Joint Exploration of UFOs

October 28, 2014: from left to right: Paul Kuentzmann, Colonel Jorquera (attache and air defense, Embassy of Chile), Pierre Bescond, General Bermudez (Director of CEFAA), Luke Dini, Alain Boudier, François Praise

Formally into terra incognita

By Billy Cox
De Void
12-12-14

     Bon chance and buena suerte to researchers in France and Chile as they embark upon a joint exploration of The Great Taboo. After agreeing to collaborate in 2013, Chile’s government-sponsored Committee for the Study of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena (CEFAA) and a French NGO, the SIGMA2 Technical Commission, announced their “first working meeting” in Paris on Oct. 28-29. The following day, CEFAA chief Ricardo Bermudez and GEIPAN’s Xavier Passot, head of the official French research group, convened to offer their governments’ respective stamps of approval.

First, a few definitions. We know about CEFAA, they’ve been around since 1997 by order of Chile’s civil aviation department. And we know about GEIPAN, the French agency that, as a branch of its space program, has been collecting UFO data under various acronyms and incarnations since 1977. GEIPAN assigns an A through D rating system to its UFO reports, with D being the truly puzzling cases without explanation. Some 20 percent of its 2,200 cases on file fall into the D file.

This part is news to De Void: SIGMA2 is a branch of 3AF, a private-sector technical society, the rough equivalent of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics here in the States. According to SIGMA2 Commission President Luc Dini, “We work with GEIPAN to look at ‘D’ cases … where GEIPAN has no special expertise to look further for explanation and causes. Since our role is not official, without direct involvement into the field investigation, we are focused on the analysis of physics and measurements … after the preliminary investigation.”

According to Dini, Chile has concluded UFOs, or UAP, or PAN in the preferred local parlace, pose a “potential aviation risk,” but CEFAA has no analytical component like SIGMA2. And that’s significant because, says Dini, CEFAA “wants to go beyond the investigation and attempt to scientifically explain the causes” of the phenomenon. If only they were a bit more ambitious … At any rate, Dini says SIGMA2 is not only eager to move forward, but that this “axis of cooperation” has “confirmed its intention to develop a network of scientific and technical expertise, in France, in Europe and outside Europe, to conduct physical case studies and discuss technical analysis.”

Clearly, one of those partners will be American, the nonprofit National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena. For 15 years, NARCAP has been assessing The Great Taboo’s potential for catastrophic air corridor encounters, despite being underfunded and underpublicized. Imagine what NARCAP could do with even a modest federal grant of, ohh, say, $307,524. That’s how much the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research are spending on their so-called “Sea Monkey study,” which concludes in February. The goal is to see if brine shrimp can be trained to swim with enough synchronization to affect a healthier circulation of ocean currents.

Sea Monkeys.

Anyhow, life goes on without Uncle Sam, and as Jose Lay confirms in an email to De Void, a lot of credit for what’s happening now goes to the foundation laid by the “Symposium on Official & Scientific Investigations of UAP (UFOs)” in North Carolina last year. An invited speaker and CEFAA official, Lay met with GEIPAN’s Passot during the two-day event, and “we exchanged information and agreed in principle to start formal cooperation between our entities.” Then they actually followed up on it. And the rest is history.

“I know from personal experience that the relationship of other governments to this issue is important to members of the U.S. government in terms of considering a new official involvement with this issue,” states author Leslie Kean, who played a key role in organizing the conference in Greensboro. “The fact that the two leading agencies in the world – one from Europe and the other from South America – are joining forces is extremely significant, and hopefully this step forward will help encourage our government to take the subject seriously and to join in the growing international effort.

“The U.S. role is important, because once the U.S. is on board – even by simply appointing one staffer to evaluate the validity of U.S. involvement – many other countries will come on board. Even a crack in this now shut door would be enough to radically change the picture. If we can simply assign a government appointee to evaluate the question — are UFOs worthy of investigation? — then we have made a giant step forward.”

Lay cited Kean and conference financier Kent Senter, who dropped a load on the symposium despite his struggle with cancer, for creating such a rational and productive climate. So yeah, some things do work out. And who knows, maybe they all will, eventually, if you’ve got the patience of a saint.

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"…UFOs are Most Definitely Off the Table"

"...UFOs are Most Definitely Off the Table"

Rubber? Meet the road …

By Billy Cox
De Void
9-13-14

     Fortunately, Hollywood maverick Douglas Trumbull has always manned up to his interest in The Great Taboo. And as the special effects wizard behind classics such as “2001,” “Close Encounters” and “Blade Runner” told a German audience in 2012, he’s in good company:

“If you poll people in the world, most people will say they believe in life in the universe. But there’s a big stigma attached to UFOs. And aliens. In the sense that it’s been so demonized in movies and so trivialized in science fiction movies that nobody who has an academic credential will touch that subject. It’s an interesting thing.

Douglas Trumbull
Untenured and unencumbered by the protocols of academia, sfx maestro Douglas Trumbull’s fearless pursuits of The Great Taboo are creating new technologies/CREDIT: www.cinefilos.it
“So astronomers, physicists, astrophysicists, people in the space program, people in NASA, they all believe in life in the universe,” he continued, “but nobody wants to talk about UFOs. Because they’ll lose their job. They’ll lose tenure, they’ll be ridiculed, they’ll become the laughing stock, and so no one wants to talk about it. I think it’s actually a really huge and interesting story. And I’m not afraid of it because I don’t have tenure and I’m not a scientist. So I don’t have anything to lose. So I think it’s very fun territory, very fertile ground.”

De Void brings this up to draw attention, once more, to the massive gaping hole in next Thursday’s two-day symposium, “Preparing for Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Impact of Finding Microbial, Complex, or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” in Washingon, D.C. The thing is co-sponsored by NASA and Library of Congress, and true to form, UFOs are most definitely off the table. No surprise, we expect that from the radioastronomy/SETI culture dominating the lineup. But here’s another little contradiction.

Paul Allen, the Microsoft billionaire who has dumped some $30 million into SETI’s empty-handed search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is clearly a huge Douglas Trumbull fan. Four years ago, the man who created Spielberg’s mothership at Devil’s Tower was inducted into Allen’s Science Fiction Museum Hall of Fame. And in April, Allen’s Seattle Cinerama Theatre hosted the premiere of Trumbull’s revolutionary 10-minute 3D film, “UFOTOG,” described as “a dramatic short story about a lone man attempting to photograph UFOs.” The showstopper was “UFOTOG’s” state-of-the-art technology. Filmed at 120 frames per second, or four times the industry standard, Trumbull unveiled what he called “a new cinematic language.”

Equally significant, “UFOTOG” is also autobiographical. Trumbull went national with his determination to document The Great Taboo during History Channel’s “UFOs On the Record” in 2011. Turning a tricked-out Hummer into a mobile camera and instrumentation platform designed to acquire UFO signatures in various modes, Trumbull’s efforts to develop and synchronize corroborative technologies have proven hugely expensive. So the plan now — after teaming up with modeling whiz and chief MUFON imaging analyst Marc D’Antonio — is to make the system more portable, more affordable, and to increase sky coverage.

Fully loaded, these downsized “platters” are being engineered to detect not merely speed, direction, and altitude, but transponder indentification, imagery in night-vision, infrared, ultraviolet, etc., along with electromagnetic and even gravitational perturbations. Ideally, Trumbull’s evolving multispectral cameras would be triangulated — the farther apart, the better — with instant communications features to alert each other to the approach of a bogey. D’Antonio calls them Land Deployment Units and Sea Deployment Units, because the strategy involves scanning the oceans for activity too.

As D’Antonio told Open Minds UFO Radio host Alejandro Rojas last month, the UFOTOG campaign hopes to mass-produce LDUs and SDUs because “this whole project is about finding the smoking gun.” They’ve even worked out a theoretical framework for identifying what that smoking gun might look like; part of it involves string theory and gamma radiation. And again, all this stuff costs $$$.

The obvious question here is, where’s Paul Allen?

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"… Avoid Contact with the UFO Elephant in The Room …"

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Avoid Contact with the UFO Elephant in The Room

Progress, American-style, sort of

By Billy Cox
De Void
9-2-14

     Twice in the past year, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has held brief hearings on Earth’s strides toward the confirmation of extraterrestrial life. Although said proceedings have been exceedingly superficial and accomplished nothing, for the least productive Congress in modern history, those sessions may be as symbolically visionary as Capitol Hill will ever get. Regardless, it makes good political sense that, on Sept. 18, NASA has invited Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) to open its two-day conference on astrobiology in Washington, D.C.

Co-sponsored by the Library of Congress, the symposium’s title — “Preparing for Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Impact of Finding Microbial, Complex, or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” — is conceptually a great idea. It offers a diverse lineup. There’s even going to be a Vatican emissary to tell us what “discovery” might mean in a religious context.

But nope, you guessed it — no room at the inn for The Great Taboo. And what makes this symposium particularly mind-bending are the contortions in play to avoid contact with the UFO elephant in the room, especially given how so much of its content is devoted to hypothetical scenarios. Garnished heavily (not surprisingly) with SETI radioastronomers, its topics come with provocative titles like “The Moral Status of Non-Human Organisms,” “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?,” “Equating Culture, Civilization, and Moral Development in Imagining ETI: Anthropocentric Assumptions?” and “Communicating With the Other.” But here’s the one that really grabs De Void by the eyeballs — “Alien Minds,” by Susan Schneider,

Schneider is an associate professor with the University of Connecticut’s Department of Philosophy, and here’s part of her lecture description: “Drawing from the computational paradigm in cognitive science, thinking about the technological singularity and philosophical work on the nature of consciousness, this talk comments on what alien minds might be like,” etc. Did you catch that? The nature of consciousness? Many UFO researchers are beginning to agree that consciousness is an integrated component of The Great Taboo. Excerpts from Schneider’s web page: “My current work is on the nature of the self and mind, which I examine from the vantage point of issues in philosophy of mind, cognitive science, metaphysics and neuroethics.” Flirting with metaphysics? At a NASA symposium? Say what?

Even more to the point, earlier this year, in an essay for The New York Times addressing the conundrum of artificial intelligence raised by the Spike Jonze film “Her,” Schneider contemplated the possibilities for uploading one’s mind into a futuristic digital realm in order to escape biology’s programmed obsolescence. And of course, this could easily have originated in some of the earliest SETI discussions about AI-propagated robotic space probes from other worlds. Furthermore, as De Void frequently reminds readers, the idea of ET “postbiologicals” capable of repairing and upgrading their capabilities while exploring the universe was presented in a 2003 International Journal of Astrobiology paper by former NASA chief historian Steven Dick.

Today, as the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Dick had a big hand in arranging this imminent “Discovery” symposium. To his credit, it includes at least a cursory nod to the frontier of consciousness. But that’s about as avant-garde as this event gets. As long as Dick continues to keep the non-hypothetical evidence for UFOs off the agenda — evidence that might even validate, or at least support, his own robotic probe theories — this exercise will probably be like visiting Disney World to admire the parking lot. Those hoping for a more ambitious agenda might be better served by leaving the northern hemisphere altogether and attending more intellectually intrepid reports from scientists in, say, Chile.

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‘Just One Good Example’ of UFO Evidence, asks SETI’s Seth Shostak

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Delphos UFO

Careful what you ask for

By Billy Cox
De Void
7-23-14

     Radioastronomer Seth Shostak, last making headlines in May alongside colleague Dan Wertheimer by appearing on Capitol Hill to appeal for congressional SETI funding, is one of the nicest, brightest and most approachable scientists you’ll ever want to meet. Even during disagreements over The Great Taboo, the SETI Institute’s senior astronomer is unfailingly cordial. So when British chemist Erol Faruk tuned into a podcast in which Shostak asked listeners to send him “just one good example” of UFO evidence, Faruk took him at his word

The results of Faruk’s quixotic quest for a fair hearing from Shostak and mainstream science have just been released in his self-published ebook on Amazon. It pretty much strips away the myth that institutional scholars would welcome Great Taboo data if Only They Had Decent Stuff To Study. Its title is a mouthful – The Indisputable Scientific Evidence for a UFO Landing and Deposition (aka The Delphos Case) that was denied Publication by Scientific Journals —but it’s a relatively succinct reiteration of the hallmark timidity that characterizes — or more aptly, impedes — America’s learning curve into terra incognita.

First, Erol Faruk has what exclusive groups like to call standing. He has a PhD in chemistry, worked research posts at Oxford and Nottingham universities, and became a development chemist at the corporation that became GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He has published peer-reviewed papers in arcane industry journals such as Helvetica Chimica Act, and The Journal of Antibiotics. He holds several formula patents. He speaks the language.

Years ago, Faruk got interested in the 1971 Delphos, Kan., UFO case. No need to rehash the whole thing here, you can read all about it online, but what sucked him in was the ring of glowing soil it left behind. The family took pictures moments after the UFO took off, local media and law enforcement converged on the scene, and the ring scars lingered long afterwards. Fungal growth was the chief suspect at the top of the conventional explanations list, but it couldn’t account for the temporary blindness alleged by one witness, nor the numbing sensation reported by another who touched the glowing earth when it was still fresh.

Faruk, years later, subjected several grams of affected soil to chemical analysis and discovered some puzzling behaviors in the sample compounds, including an apparent paradox in water soluble and water repellent properties. Most intriguing to him was how, as he would later write, the UFO “appears to have contained within its periphery an aqueous solution of an unstable compound whose likely sole function would be light emission.” Many UFOs are reported to glow. Maybe these trace effects held implications above and beyond this single event.

Faruk’s research was published in the Journal of UFO Studies in 1989. Analytical chemist Phyllis Budinger later weighed in with her own study. Budinger interpreted some of Faruk’s findings differently, but she also discovered complexities that he had missed. JUFOS published Budinger’s work in 2002.

Their combined efforts vanished with little comment. Faruk figured maybe that was because they were circulated in narrow-niche publications, and that it needed more eyes. So he decided to approach mainstream science journals, starting with Nature, the bible, in 2012. Maybe the exercise was doomed from the beginning, given the title of his paper — “The search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence on earth; strong chemical and physical evidence for the existence of an unconventional luminescent aircraft (commonly called a UFO) observed by multiple witnesses at a farm in Delphos, Kansas, USA.” Ugh, that acronym again. But this is where things get interesting.

After being initially rejected outright since his work had been previously published, Faruk explained how the paper could be reworked to satisfy Nature’s exemptions to that rule. But the Nature editor declined to even run it past journal referees. He said he was “unable to conclude that the work provides the sort of firm advance in general understanding that would warrant publication.”
(De Void will interject at this point that De Void would have run with the editors’ names. Faruk stated in an email “I didn’t wish to put any names on journal editors, since this isn’t a personal issue. Each of the editors have to watch their own backs anyway, and aren’t likely to risk their own careers by publishing material their bosses might not be happy about.” De Void would argue the unnamed editors could earn brownie points among fraternal colleagues by being recognized for standing firm against The Great Taboo, but whatever …)

Anyhow, Faruk shopped it to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, which informed him “the subject matter is not within the [journal’s] publication scope.” When Faruk reminded the editor a UFO-related paper had been published in its ostensibly unsullied pages seven years earlier, the editor retorted that was under another regime. “As I am Editor of JBIS,” he assured Faruk, “it is not my policy to promote the publication of UFO report papers.” The same editor admitted he hadn’t even read Faruk’s paper, “although I am sure it is a good read.” And oh, btw, “This is not to say it isn’t a worthwhile ‘phenomenon’ to study, I just don’t believe JBIS should be the home of such studies, where a higher standard of scientific rigor is required.”

Ouch. And without even reading it. Faruk would later discover JBIS had run yet another UFO article — alien abductions, actually — in 2010. JBIS declined to respond to Faruk’s subsequent appeals for additional discourse.

Enter Seth Shostak’s encouraging podcast solicitation for UFO evidence. So Faruk forwarded his material to the guy. “I’m not a chemist, so can’t really speak to how unusual this ring was,” Shostak wrote back. “… And beyond that, the SETI Institute doesn’t investigate UFO sightings (we don’t have the staff … we’re a very small group.”)

Oy vay!

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