Tuesday, November 27, 2012

James W. Moseley (1931-2012)

James W. Moseley in 1980 (photo by author)

As most of you have probably heard, the well-known UFO satirist, hoaxer, and occasionally serious investigator James W. Moseley died of cancer in Key West, Florida on November 16, at the age of 81. A noted “trickster” figure, his career in UFOlogy spanned sixty years (!!). He attended Princeton University, but did not graduate. Having inherited sufficient money to be able to pursue his own interests, Moseley never worked a conventional career. He spent much of his time traveling to UFO conferences, interviewing UFO witnesses and personalities, and traveling to Peru to engage in what he called “grave robbing” of pre-Columbian artifacts. Later he opened a shop in Key West to sell the antiquities he had imported before he had to beat a hasty retreat out of Peru. The shop did not do well, and so Moseley donated the artifacts to the Graves Museum of Archaeology and Natural History in Dania, Florida, where they are on permanent display.
            In late 1953, Moseley began a great odyssey “tracking the elusive flying saucer.” He drove from his home in New Jersey to Washington, DC, to ask at the Pentagon to see the saucer cases that the Air Force had investigated. To his astonishment, he was allowed to do so, with no clearance required. He interviewed the famous saucer author Major Donald E. Keyhoe, and “I wasn’t impressed. I felt – correctly, I still believe – that Keyhoe routinely made too much out of too little, at least in part just to sell books.” From there it was on to interviews in South Carolina, Georgia, then west to Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, and finally Mt. Palomar, California, where “Professor Adamski was holding court” in his hamburger stand. George Adamski was famous as the man who first made contact with the Venusians, and he had a sizeable, uncritical following. (Amazingly, he still does. Adamski’s current followers held an anniversary gathering on that same spot, ironically on the very day after Moseley’s death.) Moseley was not impressed by Adamski, and riled some saucer believers by debunking Adamski’s claims.
            He drove on to Hollywood where he interviewed best-selling author Frank Scully, who vigorously defended the Aztec, NM “crashed saucer” story given him by Silas Newton and Leo Gebauer. On the way back Moseley interviewed Newton in Denver. Moseley wasn’t impressed by Scully or Newton, either. He contacted the office of former president Truman in Independence, Missouri, asking for an interview about flying saucers. Amazingly, even though this was just over a year after the famous and controversial 1952  “flying saucer invasion” of Washington, DC, while Truman was still president, Moseley’s request was granted. Truman took Moseley into his private office, where the former president joked around with him a bit, then told him that he’d never seen a saucer, and didn’t know anything about them.
            In the decades that followed, Moseley traveled many other places tracking the elusive saucers. He was the longtime chairman of the National UFO Conference and attended most of them. He gave many lectures about flying saucers, and even made several trips to Giant Rock in the California desert, a sort of Woodstock for UFO contactees and their followers.
            Moseley became close friends with another UFOlogical “trickster” figure, the late Gray Barker, who was instrumental in launching the now-classic legends of the Men in Black, and Mothman. As might be imagined, when they got together they were frequently up to mischief. Moseley admitted to at least one hoax (there were obviously more) - the famous Straith Letter to Adamski. Barker and Moseley forged an authentic-looking letter from the U.S. Department of State, purporting to be from a nonexistent person named R. E. Straith. In it, Straith tells Adamski that the U.S. government  knew that his claims of meeting Venusians were true, and planned to release that information soon. The crafty Adamski loved to show off the letter to visitors.

Having begun publishing Saucer News in 1954, Moseley sold it to Gray Barker in 1968. Moseley then began publishing Saucer Cruise, Saucer Booze, and Saucer Jews (dedicated to his longtime friend Gene Steinberg). Finally, he settled on Saucer Smear, “Dedicated to the highest principles of UFOlogical journalism.” Many of these issues are now being sold at http://www.martiansgohome.com/smear/  (they used to be free!). It became the longest continuously published UFO journal in the world. When UFOlogists were feuding (as they almost always were), Moseley loved to run the vitriolic letters one would send in denouncing  the other. In 2002, Moseley co-authored, with the late Karl Pflock, Shockingly Close to the Truth – Confessions of a Grave-Robbing UFOlogist (PrometheusBooks). If you are interested in the subject of UFOs, you simply must read this fascinating book.
One of the most interesting UFO books ever written!

 Many “serious” UFOlogists were irritated by Moseley, who never hesitated to state his opinion about a major UFO case. The irascible John Keel once castigated him, “You are a boil on the ass of UFOlogy.” Moseley proudly placed this tribute at the top of numerous issues of Saucer SmearDon Berliner was even more graphic: Saucer Smear is "like a turd on the living room floor.” Moseley wrote that, at one UFO conference, upon seeing Moseley the UFO abduction guru Budd Hopkins flipped him “the bird.” I suggested to Moseley that this might possibly make him a member of UFOlogy's famous Aviary
           The pompous "serious UFOlogist" Jerome Clark, whose ego is larger than many galaxies, wrote "Moseley, whom I knew well and with whom I corresponded up till the end, was not a skeptic by any definition. He thought UFOs to be some kind of extradimensional phenomenon, and he did not like skeptics, whom he regarded as bores and worse, all that much.... I am still trying to process the news, however sadly expected, of Jim's death. I will have more to say on his life and career at some point. For now, I mourn the loss of a friend." Excuse me while I barf!  The notion of Clark sitting at his desk too emotional to write, sadly mourning his dear friend Moseley, positively oozes bullshit out of every orifice. Just a few years earlier, Clark had belittled Moseley in his UFO Encyclopedia as having "entertained just about every view it is possible to hold about UFOs, without ever managing to say anything especially interesting or memorable about any of them."  Every regular reader of Saucer Smear knew that Moseley intensely disliked Jerome Clark. The reasons are not difficult to see. However, as Curt Collins, Saucer Smear "contributing editor" notes in a comment, Moseley and Clark did reconcile in the last few years.
Moseley about to be "levitated" at a UFO Conference
           It's quite true that Moseley was not a "skeptic." However he was a "skeptical believer," and was not afraid to "call Bullshit" wherever he thought necessary, no matter how sacred the cow (including the Roswell crash and the famous British case he always wrote as “Rendle-SHAM.”). As for Clark's claim that Moseley "did not like skeptics," that's news to me. I first met Moseley at a Fortean convention in Washington, DC in the1970s. He visited me several times during his travels to California, and we met numerous times at various conferences. I have dozens of postcards from him (his favorite means of communication, many of them marked "top secret" on the front side). We remained in frequent contact until his death. Moseley was also on friendly terms with Philip J. Klass, James Oberg, Gary Posner, Lance Moody, Tim Printy, and Michael Dennett, to name a few skeptics. It is true that in later years Moseley had come to dislike James "the Amusing" Randi (as Moseley typically called him), with whom he was originally friendly. Moseley appeared as a frequent guest on Randi's late night radio show in New York City during the 1960s. (Randi a forerunner of Art Bell's late-night paranormal weirdness radio talk show? Unbelievable, but true!) "At the time, Randi was relatively open-minded about saucers and other weirdness. We became friends" (Shockingly, p. 189). But Moseley became irritated by what he considered Randi's inflexible skepticism about paranormal claims, in part because Moseley had experienced several incidents himself that he felt might be paranormal.
            Moseley was among the last survivors of the very beginning of the saucer era, to whom Arnold’s sighting and the Mantell crash were not historical events, but personal memories. He also belonged to the age of the typewriter, never using a computer. Until his death each issue of Saucer Smear consisted of eight pages of typed text, interspersed with some humorous cartoons, news headlines, or offbeat photos. Moseley's "contributing editors," as well as others,  sent him late-breaking material printed out from what Moseley always called the "cursed internet."
The front page of a typical issue of Saucer Smear

The last postcard I received from Moseley. I had written him that while perusing UFO books on Amazon.com, "I somehow came across Jim Moseley’s Book of Saucer News, where an autographed paperback copy was selling for $675.00!!!! (Plus $3.99 shipping).... A copy of that same book without the (precious) autograph sells for a mere $381.15. Therefore, your autograph is worth exactly $293.85." It may be worth more soon.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Apocalypse Made Easy

Now that the 2012 Apocalypse is fast approaching, here is a simple, easy-to-use guide to the impending End of the World.

Why is the world ending?

Because the Mayan Calendar is running out. Or so some people say. Other people, however, contended back in 1987 that the Mayan Calendar was ending then. As I wrote in my Psychic Vibrations column (Skeptical Inquirer, Winter, 1987-88, on p. 213 of the paperback book), "According to some astrologers, the ancient Mayan calendar, after allegedly counting more than 6,000 years (meaning the Mayans must have started it a few years before Creation Week, if Bishop Ussher's chronology is correct), came to an end on August 16, 1987."

But even if it is "running out," so what? The calendar on my wall showing scantily-clad women runs out on December 31. That doesn't mean anything is ending, it just means there will be different scantily-clad women on the wall come January.

What about the Planet Nibiru? I hear it's visible in the Southern Hemisphere? I've seen a picture of it!

Nibiru (sometimes called "Planet X") is a made-up object. People can talk about it all they want, but it's no more real than the Land of Oz. I've seen pictures of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and Space Aliens, too; the supposed photos of Nibiru are as authentic as those. Hundreds of millions of people live in the southern hemisphere. There are world-class astronomical observatories there, and major cities with professional news organizations. That's an awful lot of cameras and videos and telescopes. If Nibiru were real, we'd know all about it by now.
Oh no! The Apocalypse is almost here!!

What About the Galactic Alignment?

There is no galactic alignment: see my earlier Blog entry about this claim. But even if there were, it would not matter. Modern astronomy takes little note of "alignments," because they are meaningless. For example, last night I saw Jupiter "aligned" with Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster. What is the significance of that? It was pretty.

But What About the Sun's Alignment with the Maya Birth Canal?

What about it? At any given time, the sun is always aligning with something. In this case, at the time of the solstice it's the dark rift in the Milky Way that is supposedly the "Maya Birth Canal." But remember that "alignments" don't matter. See my earlier posting on The "Cosmic Alignment" and the Maya Birth Canal.

The demise of Twinkie is the first step to fullfilling Mayan prophecy. (C) (from The Beer Party on Facebook)
What about this guy who is going to leap off a rock at the time of the Solstice? 

That would be Peter Gersten, of Sedona, Arizona, a retired lawyer and longtime UFOlogist. I posted earlier about Peter Gersten's Leap of Faith. He writes, "On December 21, 2012 an 11:11 portal will open at Bell Rock in Sedona Arizona. The portal will lead to the galactic center." At that precise moment, he plans to leap off Bell Rock.

Peter Gersten
Is he still planning to leap? Gersten hasn't posted much in the time since that Blog entry was written. On January 26, 2012 he posted, "An Uncontrolled Growth of Abnormal Cells -   Today I was diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer. An ironic start to 2012 for me don’t you think? I assume my programming is ensuring that I complete my leap of faith. Bring it on! Stay tuned! My story is getting very interesting." His only related posting after that was on April 6: "My 70th Birthday Present: The Mark of the Dolphin." He explains how he went swimming with the dolphins at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, and one of them bit him on the right hand. "It was bleeding and there were three 1/2-inch deep scratches with a smaller one next to them." He later realized that the dolphin was trying to write "1111" (the time of the solstice) on his hand. He suggests, "Could it be that I will need the “dolphin stamp of approval” to get through the portal?"

On November 17 I contacted Gersten by email, asking him if he had perhaps changed his plans. He said that he would go up Bell Rock at the appointed time, but would not leap unless he saw an "extraordinary event" occur - something "supernatural." I was relieved to hear that. I think he will live to see the following day!

Earth, left; Nibiru, right. Good night all!
Gersten told me that he would be atop Bell Rock by 11:00 (AM, I presume), and stay at least until midnight. I reminded him that the solstice will be at 11:11 UT, which is 4:11 AM in Arizona. He replied that the important part was not the solstice, but the "symbolism." He wondered why people would rather say "I told you so" than see a "supernatural event" manifest, and he invited me to come out to Sedona and make the trek up to the top of Bell Rock with him. I replied that there is nothing I would rather see than a "supernatural event" manifest itself, and perhaps I would! Sedona is about a six hour drive from San Diego, but I'll see what I can arrange.

[I did not drive to Sedona. Gersten did not jump, and is still alive in 2013.]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

UFOs Infest Denver, According to Fox News Affiliate

Some people have long been accusing Fox News and its affiliates of practicing Tabloid Journalism. The Fox affiliate in Denver, KDVR, seems determined to prove them correct. On November 8, they broadcast a video of an ill-defined, very fast moving object, that they described as a "mile high mystery," and proclaimed "nobody can explain what it is." Only one problem - this "UFO" is obviously an insect - probably a fly. This is very similar to the Chilean Fly video that Leslie Kean has been promoting as being perhaps "the case UFO skeptics have been dreading."

KDVR received some supposed "UFO" videos from a man who does not want to be identified, which to any seasoned reporter should immediately raise a red flag. The videos were taken on a hilltop in Federal Heights, at 84th and Federal, looking south toward downtown Denver. The "UFOs" appear at least several times a week, we are told, usually around noon to 1 PM. Most flying insects become more active during the warmest part of the day. The anonymous photographer, who has been filming these objects for months, believes that the UFOs are being "launched" from someplace around 56th and Clay in Denver, which is a residential area.

The "UFO" is said to be flying too fast to be seen by the naked eye; it's necessary to slow down the video. The object is seen to dive down toward the ground, between the ground and the camera (for example, at 1:29 into the video; also at 1:40 and 2:40). As in the case of the Chilean Fly videos, we are not shown the entire, unedited video. If we were, it would very likely be obvious how small the object is when it is seen clearly against the nearby ground.

The supposed "investigative" reporter Heidi Hemmat contacted an aviation "expert." Steve Cowell is described as "a former commercial pilot, instructor and FAA accident prevention counselor." As far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with optics, video photography, still photography, insects, or, for that matter, UFOs. Cowell proclaimed that the object was no kind of aircraft,  helicopter, or bird, which any fool could tell. He also proclaimed that it isn't an insect, although how he could rule that out was not stated. The FAA and NORAD were consulted, and both reported that there was no air traffic in that area.  "And it's not a bug," said Hemmat, "people keep saying it's a bug." Perhaps you should investigate that possibility? But no,  an "expert" has spoken, and Hemmat would never question that. If I had a nickel for every time some "expert" said something idiotic about UFOs, I'd be rich.

KDVR sent its own cameraman to the spot, and he, too, photographed at least one fly. This was taken as confirmation that mysterious UFOs are buzzing around Denver on a regular basis. This story is a serious contender for the stupidest news report of 2012, although there is a lot of stiff competition for that honor.

Speaking of Leslie Kean, even she is admitting on her Facebook page that "The object in these (KDVR) videos looks like the one from Chile at the El Bosque AF Base." She has traveled to Chile twice in recent months to meet with the Chilean UFOlogists of the CEFAA, the promoters of the infamous Fly video. She has promised to bring back important new information, but she hasn't shared any of it yet. She still has not stated whether or not the "experts" in Chile have determined whether or not this video shows just an insect. However, she did admit as of October 17 concerning the now-confessed Belgian hoax photo from Petit-Rechain , touted as solid UFO evidence in her book, "Yes, this photo seems to be a fake, unfortunately. Belgian researchers have looked into it. I have to update this in my book." Well, I guess that's a step in the right direction. There are still a few dozen other UFO cases in her book that need to be acknowledged as mistakes or as hoaxes, but then she wouldn't have much of a book left.

Mysterious flying object filmed in Denver! This is Lucilia Sericata, the common Green Bottle fly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Are UFO Enthusiasts 'Giving Up' on UFOlogy? Get Real!

Very likely you have seen the article in The Telegraph of London November 4 titled "UFO enthusiasts admit the truth may not be out there after all." The main point of the article is a statement by one Dave Wood, chairman of something called "the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (Assap)," who said that a "meeting had been called to address the crisis in the subject and see if UFOs were a thing of the past."

The Telegraph's illustration accompanying this article
I read the article's sub-headline "Declining numbers of “flying saucer” sightings and failure to establish proof of alien existence has led UFO enthusiasts to admit they might not exist after all," and I asked myself: where did this reporter get a crazy idea like that? Anyone who knows the field of UFOlogy knows that dedicated UFO believers are impervious to reason and fact. Indeed, they would not have reached the conclusions they have, and stubbornly maintained them, unless that were so. Who is this guy who is telling us that  UFO sightings are fading away (when I know that they are not), and that widespread outbreaks of reason are causing longtime UFOlogists to question the Faith?

To be truthful, while I stay pretty current on the UFO literature, I had never heard of this guy before, or his organization ASSAP. And yet here he is being cited in a major publication as a spokesman telling us the future of UFOlogy. What's with that? I tried to find something on the web about Dave Wood and UFOs predating the Telegraph article, and couldn't find anything. I did find something about ASSAP investigating a haunted house. So why are we supposed to care about what he says concerning UFOs?

Well, it turns out that this "meeting" he is talking about is not some emergency get-together to address a UFOlogical Crisis of Faith. Instead it is called "Seriously Unidentified? ASSAP's First UFO Conference," and it looks like most other UFO conferences. Nothing in it suggests a 'crisis of faith' for UFOlogists, and the fact it's described as ASSAP's "first UFO conference" suggests that they expect to be holding more. Indeed, this looks like "business as usual," with speakers ranging from skeptic Ian Ridpath to Cal Cooper, author of a book titled Telephone Calls from the Dead. (The late parapsychologist D. Scott Rogo and  Raymond Bayless co-authored a similarly-titled book Phone Calls from the Dead; see my book Psychic Vibrations, p. 136.) The only thing on the conference schedule even hinting at the supposed 'crisis of faith' is a fifty-minute "Round table discussion on the likely future of British Ufology and possible future trends." Panels like this are common at UFO conferences, and that wording could mean anything.

As you might imagine, some people on the pro-UFO side are quite miffed by this claim. "Reached at his Cincinnati headquarters office today, MUFON Executive Director David MacDonald said ufology was alive and well. 'The fact is that MUFON is receiving on average more than 700 cases a month,' "  In 2006, MUFON was receiving an average of less than 150 cases a month. This doesn't sound to me like UFOs are a 'dying  belief.' Skeptic Dr. David Clark, quoted in the Telegraph article,  asks in his Blog whether the UFO subject is dead again. He concludes that it's at a dead end, which is obvious. But that has always been the case, and that never seemed to matter before. 

Interest in UFOs will be with us for a very long time. It is true that the emphasis of UFOlogy is shifting from groups and publications to electronic media. Most UFO believers today get their UFO thrills from cable TV programs like UFO Chasers and Ancient Aliens, from podcasts, websites, and Facebook pages. Indeed, there have been times in recent months when the National Geographic Channel was serving up back-to-back UFO programming as if there were nothing else to present. They would not be serving it if the audience wasn't eating it up.

The way this article was picked up and taken at face value by a number of skeptics is, to me, rather troubling. To be a skeptic means to evaluate claims skeptically, not just to adhere to a certain "party line." When confronted by an article that seems "too good to be true," the skeptic should not just take it as confirmation of what he or she has long believed. Instead, the skeptic should ask a question like, "Who in the hell is this guy Dave Wood, and why should we accept his claim about UFOlogists having second thoughts?"