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AJ Gulyas

The Michigan Swamp Gas UFO Conference

Swamp Gas conference poster

Due to lack of time, money, and interest (pretty much in that order), I don’t attend many “UFO Conferences.” Actually, the last one I attended was a small Indiana MUFON presentation in Pendleton, Indiana about a year ago that was free (yay!). Before that, it had been years.

But last weekend, Michigan MUFON had a day of speakers ostensibly focused on the “swamp gas” sightings in and around Dexter and Hillsdale, Michigan in March 1966. I won’t bore you with the details, but this as the case explained away by J. Allen Hynek as “swamp gas” leading—eventually—to the Condon Committee’s scientific investigation and ultimate dismissal of UFOs as unworthy of further study. 

What follows is a brief rundown of some of the more notable occurances and some of my thoughts, cobbled from pretty illegible notes! This isn’t a full list of speakers, but, rather, of those that really piqued my interest.

Will Matthews gave the extensive overview of the events in March 1966, and did a very good job of keeping the discussion grounded in the statements made at the time, augmented by his own interviews of witnesses, particularly members of the Mannor family, farmers near Dexter who were the first witnesses of the anomalies—and who soon found themselves besieged with press and onlookers. As I wrote in my notes, “I like this guy! Seems likely to be sane.” He did a good job, I think, of emphasizing that just because what was seen was not swamp gas, the best conclusion might not be that they were structured craft from another world. “If not artificial, then at least unusual” is now I paraphrased him in my increasingly cryptic and sloppy notes. Overall, this was a well-structured, chronological examination of the events on the ground, garnered from witness testimony and other documentation.

Bill Murphy gave a very interesting talk on UFO/flying saucer information in Gerald Ford’s papers. As you probably know, Ford (as a US Representative from Michigan at the time of the sightings) played a role in pushing for a more detailed scientific account. Murphy had gone through about 1700 pages of documents at the Ford Presidential Library and presented a précis of what letters to Ford (and Ford’s responses) may tell us about the future President’s viewpoint on the phenomenon and the manner in which the Air Force handled it). In general, there’s very little indiction that Ford bought into the extraterrestrial hypothesis, or even much interest in the topic. However, he was concerned by public alarm on the topic and also by the often perfunctory and dismissing treatment of UFO witnesses by the Air Force. He also was concerned that there was a lack of transparency on the subject about aspects that might bear on national security (as a ranking member of the House Armed Services committee, it makes sense that Ford would have some qualms about that. Murphy also discussed government scrutiny of UFO groups and one of the best documents he showed was a questionnaire from the US Information Agency to a Michigan UFO group in the 1950s which focused on their political beliefs and agenda. I need to get myself a copy of that, because it would be great to use in class!

Peter Robbins did not talk about the Bentwaters Incident, but rather on “UFO ridicule” in the pages of the New York TimesIn the limited time he had, he did (I think) a good job of demonstrating that the NYT’s UFO debunking and ridicule was earlier, more consistent, and more pervasive than other outlets. HIs broader conclusion, based on the eventual Robertson panel but also on conjecture and conversations with some involved (that couldn’t be proved, which he acknowledged), was that in 1947 intel/mil/gov’t officials exerted pressure on media (esp. NYT) to downplay and dismiss UFO sightings while they figured out what was going on. Robbins believes that this approach and attitude became institutionalized in the media (esp NYT) and, voila, the CIA, etc., had a long term disinfo/debunking partner in place. It was a good presentation.

Mark O’Connell, who blogs at High Strangeness and is working on a biography of J. Allen Hynek, gave a very good presentation about the events in Dexter and Hillsdale from Hynek’s perspective. Like Will Matthews’s talk, this was deeply grounded in the solid chronology of events and gave some interesting insight into the pressure that Hynek (and Blue Book) were under to provide a simple explanation. as well as the context of these 1966 sightings as part of the larger UFO waves (and, especially, UFO publishing wave) of the time. In particular, O’Connell argued that one of the reason the Michigan sightings caught as much public and media attention as they did was due to their proximity to excerpts from John Fuller’s Incident at Exeter being published. Along wth Will Matthews’s talk, O’Connell’s was worth the price of admission alone. He’s blogged on his perspective on the conference as well.

Finally, Grant Cameron, spoke on (largely) the same disclosure stuff he’s been talking about forever. John Podesta, Laurence Rockefeller, Hillary Clinton, the Holloman AFB film, et cetera and ad nauseum. While much of this was nothing new, and even taking into account my disdain for anything that smacks of disclosure-ism or exopolitics, what irked me most about Cameron’s appearance was that it had, really, nothing to do with the 1966 Michigan sightings. Every other talk was at least thematically related (such as Peter Robbins’s talk on the NYT “laughter curtain”) but Cameron…wow. I may have been more sympathetic, or at least amused, if he hadn’t gone on at the end of a long day on uncomfortable chairs but still.

As a final note, there were scant handful of young people there and I was able, at the conclusion of the event, snag a couple of them for interrogation as to their interest in the topic. They described themselves as “curious” rather than believers. Generally, they seemed to have more skepticism about Cameron’s rapid-fire coverup selling than anything. In a way, I wonder if, for newbies or those casually interested, Cameron’s talk undermined the credibility of the very good and balanced research we’d seen up to that point.

Overall though, it was a good day of talk about a collection of sightings that is incredibly interesting. 

Visitors from Outer Space: What Saith the Lord?

IMAG0101IMAG0102I received this LP from some friends years ago and finally got around to digitizing it and putting it up on archive.org for everyone’s listening enjoyment. Supposedly, this sermon featured what was, at the time, previously unknown information about the Pascagoula UFO landing. It’s about 40 minutes long. Excuse the vinyl crackles–I wasn’t able to filter it to perfection! Currently. the feature on archive.org to download individual audio files doesn’t seem to be working for this, but if you click on the link to download the whole bundle as a zip file, you get the m4a and mp3 formats, as well as the jpgs of the album covers.

 

The Digital Humanities and Bill Cooper

I’m spending this week in Eugene, Oregon at a NEH sponsored institute dedicated to Digital Humanities work within community colleges. What with one thing and another (writing books…) I’m a little out of the DH loop. Today (day 2) I learned about, and spent some time playing with, some potentially useful tools.

One of these is Voyant Tools, a web-based text analysis tool. Thinking to the manuscript I just sent on to McFarland on conspiracy narratives and conspiracy culture, I played around with loading different iterations of conspiracy theorist Bill Cooper’s MAJESTYTWELVE manifesto into it to analyze the differences. I entered three versions from Cooper’s website(s) and one from another site.

Cooper tended to update his manifesto as his research and interests broadened and, somewhat admirably, he never made any attempt to hide that. The additions over time help illustrate new directions into which his fears and crusades drifted throughout the late 1990s. Below is the output of the analysis:

Voyant output- majestytwelve

[“NOTE! No idea who Bill Cooper is? Get yourself a copy of my short, inexpensive collection of essays The Chaos Conundrum,” Gulyas cheekily suggested…]

My mind is urgently turning over possible uses for this type of tool (and many others) in the introductory history classroom but I’m also thinking of its usefulness in analyzing the changeable and fluid nature of “fringe” parapolitical or paranormal/conspiratorial texts on the internet. It’s a bit of a commonplace that there are numerous versions of key documents floating around websites and–showing my age a bit, here–Usenet. The “Krill Report,” John Lear’s statements, Cooper’s prolific late 1980s output (which, interestingly, he would later imply was not entirely his, claiming that disinformation was being put out in his name), and the like appear in various places, often with variations of varying significance. Tools like Voyant could be used to plunge more deeply, in a textual sense, into the fringe cultures of the 1980s and 1990s.

Yes, this is the first blog entry in six months or so. I’ll do better, promise.

Briefly Surfacing…

I need to come up with some sort of rationalized system for regular posting here, I think…

The semester is almost over and, ahead of the deadline, I got the manuscript of my conspiracy/paranoia television book into the series editor’s hands. I now await feedback and catch up on everything else!

2014-11-19 09.33.36

There are now a number of television shows I don’t want to see for a very long time, including Dark SkiesHarsh Realm, and anything else having to do with virtual reality. I will say, however, that I have a new appreciation for Wild Palms–really interesting stuff that made no sense when I saw it on broadcast back in the early 1990s.

With this one out of the way, I can get stuck into the new conspiracy/history book for McFarland as well as polishing off a chapter for another television themed collection. Then I’m going to sleep for a long time.

 

Crossing things OFF the list for a change

Well, I’ve been writing. A lot. Sometimes I change it up by using computers that are older than some of my students.

IMG 1732

SLINGSHOT has been off to its editors, and has come back with relatively few changes needed, which is always a good feeling. I should have that completely off of my hands within a few days. SLINGSHOT is a chapter in a collection of essays on time travel in television science fiction and it has been great fun to work on.

EIGHTH WRENCH is nearing completion.

BLACK SCREWDRIVER is humming along and should be to the people who need it in plenty of time to keep everyone from being worried about deadlines. It seems to have benefited from its relatively long gestation period in the form of research and extensive outlining/planning. The writing itself is going pretty smoothly. I do have to talk to my editor about some structural changes I think would make it stronger.

CROSSROAD, the vaguely conspiracy shaped thing is in full-on research and material gathering mode.

There are some other little things hanging out, but they’re tiny. The one remaining not-tiny job is the final report for my sabbatical project.

175 fc

As part of the research and background for both BLACK SCREWDRIVER and CROSSROAD, I’ve been refreshing myself on the satanic panic of the 1980s and early 1990s which I slightly remember from the time. The Geraldo prime-time special was its own kind of fun and I’m currently reading Lucifer Dethroned by Bill Schnoebelen. Like Mike Warnke, Schnoebelen claimed to have been deeply involved in a massive Satanic occult conspiracy but then found Christianity. I know that Warnke (who I remember hearing on Christian radio as a kid) was outed pretty thoroughly as a fraud but I’ve not looked deeply into Schnoebelan’s story yet.

Schnoebelen’s book, being published by the Chick Tracts folks, is steeped in anti-Catholocism as well as DevilFear.

The Satanic Ritual Abuse stuff from a few decades back dovetails very nicely with a number of other conspiracy theories and, while I wasn’t planning on addressing it, the topic has started to surface in unexpected places. I’m now stuck, it seems.

On a side note, I was able to attend a writers’ workshop at my school for a day a few weeks ago. I’d have been there for the whole week if strep throat hadn’t waylaid me. It was strange talking to people who write fiction and poetry. It seems very difficult. Although, since history sometimes fails to make sense, it’s tempting to plaster over the discontinuities and poorly-documented events with made up stuff. Of course, then I’d just be the History Channel, wouldn’t I?

 

 

Writing Tools and Technology

In my position as a faculty tech consultant for our College’s Center for Teaching and Learning, I write an occasional email for colleagues on technology and teaching issues. This is a bit from this week’s missive about writing apps and tools (edited and expanded from what went to my hapless colleagues who received it, unbidden, this morning). 

Writing, often, involves technology. Now, when I’ve written stuff, the people I send it to want it in Microsoft Word format. This, often, involves me having to use MS Word. There are, however, other apps I use for writing that allow me to organize ideas, citations, images, and snippets of quickly conceived draft text.
 
Yes, I’m going to say Evernote. Honestly, I’m not getting money from them (opposite, in fact). Every digital thing I need to store somewhere goes into Evernote.
 
Do you engage in mind mapping? I usually don’t. But there are times when mind mapping and visual diagrams are the only way to make something make sense before I put pen to paper. Scapple is a great, easy to use app for Windows and Mac that makes mind mapping easy.
 
I would be (and have been) lost without Dropbox for making sure whatever I need is there whenever I need it; including and especially the actually MS Word files I write in and will send to whoever I’m sending stuff.
 
An iPad (or other largeish tablet) with some sort of physical keyboard makes a good writing tool when a laptop is impractical. I use a Zagg/Logitech keyboard case for my unfortunately sausage-like fingers and usually simply type straight into Evernote and copy the text into the master document at a later time. There are reasons I do it this way, but they are even more boring than the rest of this email.
 
Finally, there is the tech that rarely fails–pen and paper. I use Sharpie Fine Point pens, Field Notes pocket sized notebooks and larger Moleskines. While I obviously spend stupid amounts of money on paper it’s cheaper and healthier than many habits I could have.
 
The most important thing to remember about writing and technology is, as Warren Ellis has wisely pointed out, that there is no fancy pen, pricey hipster notebook, magic application or nifty gadget that will make you write better. The best way to improve your writing is to write more.
 
As a side note, Ellis’s writing about writing process (as in the link above) is one of those things that made me think about my writing more. He writes comics and novels and screenplays so it’s a different sort of thing from what I do but until I read some of his thoughts about it, I never thought to think about it, if that makes sense.
 
More travel this weekend, but writing on SLINGSHOT is nearing completion (which is good, because the deadline is nearing as well!) and as for BLACK SCREWDRIVER, I just finished the chapter that had been giving me fits for about two months now. I feel like I’m over the hump on that one (yes, I probably just jinxed myself). EIGHTH WRENCH is just about fully formed in my brain and in detailed outline form and will just need to be gotten down on paper (“just”?).
 
The new project, CROSSROAD, is the one that will need the mind mapping software or, at least, some sort of flowcharting. It’s slightly terrifying.

On and Off the Road

Photo on 6 27 14 at 9 08 PM

Work is progressing on both BLACK SCREWDRIVER and SLINGSHOT (which needs to be done in the next couple weeks). I’m traveling a bit over the next few weeks, in between teaching work and on-campus obligations so I’m not sure when the writing’s going to get done. When I should be sleeping, is what I suspect.

As is nearly visible in the picture above, I’ve been writing in longhand again, filling up notebooks with illegible scrawl.

My interview with Greg Bishop of Radio Misterioso is available for download here—it was loads of fun; give it a listen.

Writer Warren Ellis is doing a daily morning writing thing at morning.computer and it is making me think that writing every day about stuff that isn’t for a particular project is a good idea. Then I realize that this writing thing is hard enough for me without creating more to do!

I should get back to work now.

Some Recent Reviews

Two recent reviews of Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist have recently emerged and they are, on the whole, positive.

The first, by poet and author Eric Hoffman is at openminds.tv, a good general-purpose UFO news site and (increasingly rarely, these days) newsstand magazine. Hoffman, like many reviewers has thankfully picked up on the point that the book aimed to be a scholarly examination rather than an expose (on the one hand) or Contactee apologetics text (on the other):

Refreshingly, Gulyas’ Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist makes no claims to the truth of the contactee experience, yet instead offers a readable, jargon-free, well-researched and insightful analysis of the contactee’s cultural impact and continued relevance, charting its various manifestations intelligibly and authoritatively. It is a welcome addition to a handful of books offering a penetrative and balanced exploration of the psychological and sociological importance of the UFO phenomenon.

The second is in Nova Religio, a scholarly journal which covers “new and emerging religions.” Unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall on JStor and I actually found it by accident (although my publisher, McFarland, notified me of it a day later!) and when I saw that it was written by Robert S. Ellwood, I eagerly payed the $12 to buy the review. Ellwood is one of America’s leading scholars of emerging religious movements, and has written extensively on the Contactees. When I recalled that I quoted him in my chapter on George Adamski, I frankly panicked. I mean, this guy is a big deal!

Overall, Ellwood’s review was positive, although he (correctly, as I noted to him in an email) pointed out that I really should have discussed Jung’s work on Flying Saucers and leaving out Orfeo Angelucci and Daniel Fry was probably a mistake in my discussion of the 1950s guys. Some deeper discussion of the influence of science fiction was also called for but he seemed to like it and didn’t take issue with my argument on the significance and impact of the Contactees:

Gulyas properly makes the point that, however unsophisticated these envoys of the ‘‘space brothers’’ may have been, in those days of Cold War and political paranoia, their persistent declarations that the cosmic callers were urging humanity toward a higher level of peace, tolerance, and living by what Adamski called Cosmic Law, deserved to be heard.

And:

the way this book brought back such memories of other long-ago saucerians is a tribute to its evocative historical prose, and Gulyas certainly portrays sufficient of them to establish the type and highlight the anti-nuclear, peace and egalitarian doctrines these benign aliens were concerned we earthlings must adopt before we destroy ourselves.

I am over the moon about any praise from a scholar on Ellwood’s level and I am deeply grateful that Eric Hoffman took so much time and care with his review.

A “Spectral Turn”?

From Cambridge’s Department of Geography’s page on Ghost Species: Geographies of Absence and Extinction:

This project explores the idea that there is a spectre haunting conservation policies in the twenty-first century: the spectre of absence. Drawing on the recent ‘spectral turn’ in the humanities and social sciences, this project brings something new to debates about extinction, de-extinction, and restoration. When viewed through the lens of spectral geography, absence is not a lack of something – the opposite of presence. Rather, absence is powerful – it reverberates through landscapes and memories (‘gone but not forgotten’) and disturbs the ‘when’ of spatiotemporal experience and the ‘how’ of perception. This animation of absence has implications for conservation policy in two distinct ways.

Since I’m not exactly plugged into cutting edge research I was not particularly aware there was a “spectral turn” taking place in the humanities and social sciences, but I’m not surprised. Looking around for more, I found a number of recent scholarly journal articles (most behind paywalls) about hauntological subjects—the atemporality that I discuss in The Chaos Conundrum and that others have seen at work on the fringiest of popular culture.

At the very least, this Ghost Species project looks fascinating. The next decade or so should see some exciting scholarly works.