Thursday, August 19, 2010

Childhood's End

Most days I think of the UFO enigma as a captivating mystery to be solved.  Yet, in more vulnerable moments, the possibility of a hostile extraterrestrial presence fills me with dread.  It’s the sort of dread that grips you like a boa constrictor, what I felt in the opening moments of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds when the working class, New Jersey neighborhood is blasted by unearthly lightning.  And later, when the strange, stilted insects marched through the New York countryside, excreting rivers of blood. 

Once or twice I have known such fear.  One time I was lying on a beach by Lake Michigan when a violent storm wrested me from deep sleep.  I grabbed what I could of my possessions and beat a path for my fire-engine red Pontiac Catalina, where I spent one of the most unsettling nights in memory.  Another time I thought I had been kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist.  I had just left the Giza plateau and was trying to get to nearby metro, when suddenly I found myself hurling at breakneck speed down the freeway toward Cairo, unable to communicate with the taxi driver who spoke harshly to me and seemed to glare through the rear-view mirror.  It turned out to be a misunderstanding, a product of the language barrier and an unfortunate projection of the current American nightmare.
As a writer I am interested not only in understanding the UFO mystery, but also plumbing human reactions to events that amaze and frighten us.  The magnificently eerie cloud over Moscow and the calving mother ship over Mexico in the videos below evoke not only a sense of profound amazement, but - in the right mood - make us fall to our knees in prayer.  The prospect of alien invasion, with its Hollywood spectacle of high tech horror, is a Darwinian nightmare of unparalleled proportions.  But what about the sense of loss that would come when the vanity of human superiority is suddenly put to an end?  Arthur C. Clark captured this feeling with the title of his classic novel, Childhood’s End.  In the present scenario, childhood does not end by anointment and wonder.  It ends with rupture and loss.

Perhaps the discovery of a superior alien intelligence would be the next step in a dethronement process that began when Copernicus threw the Earth into orbit around the Sun.  This should not alarm us, for a species that murders its own kind over ideas and resources and destroys its natural habit could use a dose of humility.  Maybe, when our collective childhood ends, we will see each other, not as rivals, but as living souls who share a unique and wondrous planet.

Yet, who does one pray to when God appears in spinning disks manned by black-eyed, spindly-limbed creatures with bulbous heads?  And who will hold our hands as the magnificent ladders we have been erecting for forty thousand years collapse without a sound?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Journey to the Dark Side

The closing event at the recent MUFON conference in Denver was a speakers’ panel.  I was standing in line when the young man ahead of me stepped up to the microphone.  After expressing appreciation for the speakers’ contributions, he proceeded to ask a most provocative question.  “I take issue with the term visitors”, he said.  “Visitors knock on the front door and you let them in.”  The so-called visitors and humankind, he went on to say, are in direct competition.  The implication was clear — when two species compete for the same resources, only one wins. 
A silence fell over the meeting hall.  It was as if the ghost of J. Allen Hynek had walked across the stage.

The young man’s question slithered through a dark recess of my mind as I flew back across the Rockies and the vast emptiness of the Great Basin.  Why are the visitors here?  What do they want?  Does their presence offer us an opportunity?   Or do we stand in their way?   

The narratives of alien abduction paint a discomforting picture.  Unwilling ‘victims’ taken from misty fields, stalled cars or dark bedrooms in the dead of night . . . awakening on surgical tables surrounded by gray, unfeeling doctors.  This is not the behavior of enlightened, benevolent space brothers.  And there are darker intimations too.  Stories of cows or horses being drawn up in beams of light then dropped in secluded areas with their eyes, udders and reproductive organs surgically removed.  Their bodies drained of blood.  Scavenging animals, it is said, won’t go near the carcasses, as if they are contaminated or cursed.   

(Photo by Mugley, Alien Inferno)


Fortunately, serious human injuries and deaths in relation to contact with UFOs are rare.  Two well-known exceptions are the Cash-Landrum incident and the chupas of Parnarama, Brazil.  Betty Cash and Vickie and Colby Landrum were driving through the wooded Texas countryside at night when they came upon a diamond-shaped UFO hovering at treetop level.  The object was expelling flame below it like rocket exhaust.  Later, all three experienced nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.  Betty Cash, who had spent the most time outside the car, was hospitalized with burns and other symptoms of what appeared to be ionizing radiation.  She never fully recovered her health.  


Jacques Vallee recounts the story of Parnarama, in his book, Confrontations. In this remote region of Brazil, flying boxlike UFOs shot local hunters with painful beams of light.  Reportedly, at least five people died from their injuries.  A similar case on Colares Island near Belem in 1977 was extensively documented by the Brazilian Air Force.  


The Cash-Landrum incident may well have been due to experimental military aircraft, since the UFO was later seen in the company of Chinook helicopters.  However, in the Parnarama and Colares Island cases there are no similar indications.  Close contact with UFOs in other cases have led to radiation burns.  Therefore, if a UFO lands in your backyard, I suggest that you grab your camera — but use the telephoto setting.  Close interaction with alien craft can be hazardous to your health.


When asked about the prospect of an interplanetary war, some ufologists offer the staid reassurance that after at least sixty plus years of contact Independence Day has not come to pass.  Ufonauts haven’t turned off the planet’s electrical grid or blasted the White House into confetti.  If the visitors intend to do us harm, their methods and aims are more subtle than a full frontal attack.  


Unlike the Texas case, in which Betty Cash and her friends found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, the chupas of Parnarama and the island of Colares stand out in the UFO literature as rare examples of unprovoked, intentional harm to humans.  In abduction accounts, the visitors conduct their business with clinical detachment.  Indeed, they seem puzzled by if not a bit envious of human emotion.  If we can find the semblance of morality in their wan reassurances spoken telepathically, we must also note that calming their terrified subjects is certainly self-serving.  Yet, such palliatives suggest an at least rudimentary grasp of human psychology, which is not surprising given that fear is the most universal of emotions, wired to the instinct of self-preservation.


The young man is right — the visitors do not knock on the front door.  They magically appear at the foot of the bed.  They approach as we are walking or driving down a lonely road.  Or even in a well-populated suburb.   Close encounters of the Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs kind tell us that the visitors want something, and they are willing to take it without asking.  If we are to find a ray of hope in this parasitic gloom, it is that visitors need us.  They need our sperm and our ova.  They need our DNA, presumably because theirs is defective.  Perhaps they even need our souls. 


The lingering question then becomes — what happens when they don't need us anymore?