weird things in sensible places: the NYT UFO articles

Starting off the new year with a bang. Or is it a fizzle?

Obi Wan Kenobi: From a certain point of view
Both? Via.

After a year of news that beggars belief, I can honestly say that this is one I didn’t expect to see. This past year, or ever. And yet, it’s not as shocking or mundane as it first appears.

The short version: former DoD intelligence officer Luis Elizondo arranged the release of classified Pentagon video of…something before his resignation in October. Articles in the New York Times (on the front page, no less) and Washington Post accompanied the videos, describing the activities of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a small Pentagon effort, from 2007-2012. Much of the $22 million funding the AATIP funneled to Bigelow Aerospace, who claims to have refitted warehouses in Las Vegas to store materials retrieved from these UFOs.

Here are my meandering thoughts:

The initial impulse is to cry “Government confirms existence of UFOs!!” Which isn’t news: A UFO is by definition unidentified, and no one has denied that there’s stuff in the sky we can’t identify. But “UFO” is often conflated with “alien”, which leads us to:

“Government confirms existence of aliens!!” But it’s done no such thing. Careful reading of the articles reveal that the writers back off from the word “alien” at every turn.

“Government confirms interest in UFOs!!” Again, not news. See: Project Blue Book; Condon Report.

“At long last, it’s Disclosure™!” I never expected an unambiguous “yes aliens are here” message coming from anywhere in the government. What elected official would admit a potential security breach which they can’t identify and can’t stop? But those beating the Disclosure drum clearly did so I imagine online/print news articles with fuzzy video must sorely disappoint. So: Maybe? Sorta? “Disclosure Lite“? The irony: most Disclosure aficionados don’t appear to trust the government at all so I doubt anything would satisfy them.*

“Why isn’t this blowing up more?” 2017’s news cycle generated such extraordinary stories all year that it simply slipped under the radar. In the face of sexual assailants finally facing justice, Nazis marching in American cities, and Trump & Co’s constant outrages it makes sense that mere government confirmation of UFO research is mundane by comparison.

“How about those alien artifacts warehoused in Las Vegas?” Scientific American points out the existence of massive databases of metal alloys mean that any “unidentified” alloys won’t remain so for long. As I’m not a metallurgist I withhold judgment on this one but do wonder why Bigelow Aerospace hasn’t shared these materials outside the company, or if they plan to do so.

So what’s the real story here?

    • These articles appeared in well-regarded, mainstream news sources. Moreover, they didn’t appear in the Culture or Arts section accompanied by snide remarks; they were tagged under National Security (NYT) and Politics (WaPo). The NYT in particular attempted to curtail ridicule by describing how they decided to publish.
  • This is the first time a government entity acknowledged that UFOs present a genuine mystery. The aforementioned Blue Book and Condon efforts concluded that most reports were mistaken identity and didn’t warrant further research. This article suggests not only recent but current concern, at least as regarding national security/aviation safety.

If you were expecting the president to come on tv with dead alien bodies and crashed flying saucers this must seem very insignificant. On the other hand, if you never expected any government admission that UFOs are worthy of scientific inquiry, this is huge. I’m not sure these articles represent a permanent about-face of mainstream attitudes towards this particular flavor of weird but I’m happy to wait and see.

*The conspiracy corner has Opinions. Slate provides a rundown of the paranoia-flinging if you’re really interested/masochistic. If I read “false flag” one more time I’m gonna tear my eyes out.

References/further reading:

Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program: the New York Times article that kicked this off.

On the Trail of a Secret Pentagon U.F.O. Program: NYT explains their careful process for evaluating the validity of the story before publication.

Head of Pentagon’s secret ‘UFO’ office sought to make evidence public: the Washington Post gets in on the act.

The Pentagon UFO Study Audio-Video Media Archive: ongoing archiving of mainstream news sources linking to/commenting on the original NYT articles.

The Truth About Those ‘Alien Alloys’ in The New York Times’ UFO Story: those alloys need not be unidentified for long.

UFO-Pentagon Story Reflects Fundamental Problems: some background including Bigelow Aerospace’s connections to MUFON, Elizondo’s connections to Tom DeLonge’s Academy To The Stars, and the problem of taxpayer money paying for materials the public aren’t allowed to see.

A “Secret UFO Office” in the Pentagon? – What Just Happened In the Media: more analysis on the cascading mainstream media response to the NYT articles.

Whitley Strieber’s year-end show on the UFO articles [YouTube]: helpfully broken up into interviewee sections by time stamp in the comments. Interviews include writers of the articles plus various commentators from academia and the UFO research community.

blogs of note

A few of my recurring online reads:

We Are The Mutants: cold war pop culture with an occult bent. Articles of note: 1970s EVP equipment (warms the cockles of my In Search Of-loving heart), French New Wave cinema’s influence on Hollywood sci-fi, Dungeons and Dragons as occult gateway drug – in a good way. Quality writing on subjects that only seem unrelated.

David Halperin: religious studies prof and former UFO investigator, Halperin balances critical thinking and compassion. His series on the 1966 UFO incident in Westhall, Australia illustrates the unreliability of eyewitness accounts without ridiculing the witnesses, and his two-parter on “The Supernatural” presents a spin on Whitley Strieber’s famous “abduction” experiences that’s neither credulous nor dismissive.

Startling photo-realistic painting of grey alien with huge, slanted, ink black eyes and a Mona Lisa smile
The famous “Communion” cover, from the book’s Goodreads page. Included because 30 years on it still startles the crap out of me and I wanted to share the joy.

Halperin’s post on “The Supernatural” led me to Strieber’s co-author Jeffrey J. Kripal, another scholar of philosophy and religion. He emphasizes “robust and even conversation between the sciences and the humanities”, which I am ALL about. His book Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna seems to have enraged and enlightened in equal measure, so surely he’s doing something right. $DEITY knows when I’ll have time to read his books, but this two-part interview on the Where Did The Road Go?  podcast serves as a useful primer on Kripal’s work and perspective.

quality weird

Much as I love me some weird, I’m cautious about what I consume. I seldom have time to read up on the latest historic mysteries and odd sightings, and even less to winnow out the wheat from the chaff.

Internet to the rescue, and I don’t mean leaning on Wikipedia or [insert true believer or paranoid ranter here]:

Do you have anything I should check out? Please share in the comments!

 

 

biweekly links 5-18-2016

  • I lived in Georgia half my life so of course I’d never heard of Lake Lanier’s legends until I read about them on an Australian paranormal news site. Evidently its got a giant catfish and ghosts, the latter the paranormal result of leaving entire towns (and cemeteries?) intact beneath its muddy waters.
  • The Ghost Rockets Investigational Portal is a searchable database of Swedish military UFO reports. It’s also the starting point for a crowdsourcing effort to tag and translate the documents into English.
  • The original Globe Theater is long gone, but The Curtain has been found. It seems the archaeologists are rushing to outpace impending new construction over this Shakespearean theater, but there will be a visitors’ center for the dig once excavation is complete.
  • More London: “A series of talks on alchemy and magic” are planned for June 4th and 5th to support the restoration of Brompton Cemetery. Featuring all the hits: Dee, Faust, Paracelsus, and even a theremin concert. Ah, to be in Merrie Olde…
A theremin - a box on a pedestal with an antenna on one side, a metal loop on the other
A theremin – the instrument used to create creepy music associated with 1950s sci-fi films. Courtesy Wikipedia