With the recent passing of Budd Hopkins, I thought it might be worth posting something that gives an insight into 'alien abduction' research. So here is the entire, award-winning 2003 documentary Touched, directed and produced by Laurel Chiten. Touched sits apart from other mass-market cable documentaries on this topic that trade in hype and gullibility, and instead does a great job of looking at the human story behind the phenomenon:
A few years ago, Harvard psychiatrist John Mack, a leading researcher in the alien encounter phenomenon, approached me after seeing my recent film The Jew in the Lotus. He wanted me to consider making a movie about encounters with these alien life forms. I told him no. I knew next to nothing about alien abduction, had no interest and thought it was all rather foolish. Then, he invited me to meet some of the people who claim to have had these experiences. They seemed rather normal and spoke about their feelings of connection and longing for these uninvited intruders to return. I had stumbled into a world filled by people who had been touched by something ... and had their lives blown apart because of it. I was mesmerized. I feel that I was abducted by John Mack.
This started my journey into the lives and minds of alleged abductees around the world, and into my own personal journey through skepticism, fear, insomnia, fascination, confusion and led to many many questions.
...As there is no conclusive physical proof, the debate as to whether these stories are true or not could go on forever. Instead, I became more interested in the people — those who have had their lives both torn apart and transformed by this experience.
What happens when the unexplained intrudes into our lives, and how do lives and relationships respond when credulity is strained to a breaking point? This is the leading question I set out to explore. This is a film about the human experience — about longing for connection and fear of separation.
If you would like your own personal copy, and/or want to reward the film-makers for their presentation of the topic, you can purchase the documentary on DVD from Amazon.com.
We've come a long way: one hundred years ago, on August 27 1911, the New York Times reported the confirmation of intelligent life on Mars:
According to a telegram dated Aug. 17, from Flagstaff Observatory, Arizona, Dr. Percival Lowell announces the rediscovery of two new canals of Mars, which were seen for the first time at the last opposition in 1909. The canals are now very conspicuous, and attracting world-wide attention because of their startling significance.
...That the new canals were not a mere illusion or vagary of the imagination is proven by the fact that they are again visible, but they are as great a problem now as they were when first seen in 1909. Canals a thousand miles long and twenty miles wide are simply beyond our comprehension... We can scarcely imagine the inhabitants of Mars capable of accomplishing this Herculean task within the short interval of two years.
I should note though that by 1911 the 'Life on Mars' story was getting quite old. Percival Lowell had been pushing this barrow for quite some time - he first publicized his theory back in 1895 with a series of papers and a book titled, simply, Mars. But he also was building on earlier observations by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli and other speculation about the Red Planet during the 19th century.
It has to be remembered that, on the back of the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th and 17th century, the 'plurality of worlds' (ie. extraterrestrial life) was an exciting and quite mainstream assumption right up into the early 20th century - especially in the immediate wake of Camille Flammarion's book on the subject and the likes of H.G. Wells popularising the idea and implications of a hostile civilization on Mars (Wells himself no doubt influenced by Lowell in part in the first place, creating a self-feeding meme of sorts). So, while such stories might seem a little silly to us today, we should be able to grasp that - in an era well before humans drove remote-controlled robots on Martian soil, and orbiting probes photographed the planet's surface in minute detail - this sort of story would be perfect fodder for the newspapers of the day.
Then again, perhaps we haven't come so far at all...
Double-dose of sad news today - the passing of not one, but two well-known identities in the 'alien' research field. Firstly, well-known 'alien abduction' researcher Budd Hopkins has passed away, aged 80:
I’m very sad to announce that Budd Hopkins died today, August 21, at 1:35 pm. Budd had been under hospice care for about three weeks, at his home in New York. The combination of liver cancer and pneumonia led to his death. His daughter Grace Hopkins-Lisle and I were with him almost continuously during these past weeks. He was not in any pain throughout any of the process, and he received the best possible care and loving support from those closest to him. Today he gradually slipped away, and simply quietly stopped breathing. He died peacefully and without any struggle, with Grace, Grace’s husband Andrew, and me by his side.
Thanks to all of you for being such strong supporters of this extraordinary man, who has contributed so much to our lives, in so many different ways.
Along with the late John Mack, Budd Hopkins was among the best-known researchers in the 'abduction' field, having been one of the pioneers in the research of these strange experiences, beginning back in the 1970s. In the past year his methods and theories had come under heavy attack from his ex-wife Carol Rainey, though friends were quick to come to his defence: Fortean author and researcher Jerry Clark described Hopkins as "a kind and compassionate man", who was one of the first to be "moved by the suffering of abductees, shunned and ridiculed by others to whom they recounted their experiences... Just by listening to them and respecting their testimony, Budd did them a service." For a sense of who the man was, and where his research was leading him, have a listen to this Binnall of America podcast interview with him from 2009.
The other bad news filtering out over the weekend was that British UFO researcher, writer and publisher Stuart Miller had died in a motorcycle accident. Stuart did a great job covering all angles of ufology in his online magazine UFO Review, and later in his (sadly short-lived) print publication Alien Worlds. Nick Redfern has posted his thoughts on Stuart's passing, and Paul Kimball has a nice write-up of his personal experience with Stuart over at his blog, describing him as "one of the truly good guys in ufology...a genuinely good man, full of joie de vivre, wit, humour, and a true spirit of adventure and humanity. He will be missed by all who were lucky enough to know him."
Stuart's passing is a real tragedy, and our thoughts go out to his family at this difficult time.
Speaking on a CNN panel discussion, American economist Paul Krugman suggests a novel way of boosting the economy: fake an alien invasion.
If we discovered that space aliens were planning to attack, and we needed a massive build-up to counter the space alien threat, and inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that - this slump would be over in 18 months. And then if we discovered, 'whoops we made a mistake, there aren't actually any space aliens'... there was a Twilight Zone episode like this, in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace. Well, this time...we need it to get some fiscal stimulus.
Most Grailers would probably see an echo here of Reagan's statement in the 1980s that an outside threat from aliens might bring the world together. Readers of our Darklore series would also be aware that there was an earlier fictional telling of this 'hoaxed alien threat' plotline: in his article in Darklore Volume 1 (Amazon US and UK), Blair MacKenzie Blake discusses Bernard Newman's 1948 book The Flying Saucer:
[I]t was possibly the first book to deal with the subject of flying saucers, and...its enigmatic author was almost certainly an intelligence agent whose career remains to this very day shrouded in secrecy and deceit.
...the plot involves a "League of Scientists" who stage a series of flying saucer crashes, in the hope that the world's leaders will unite against a common foe (i.e. the deliberately created extraterrestrial threat), thus bringing about world disarmament. Newman's novel contains many elements that will be familiar to Roswell aficionados, and the story often mirrors the labyrinthine intrigue of today's UFO psy-ops and military disinformation tactics.
Included in the narrative is the contrived crash of a flying saucer in the wastes of New Mexico, complete with a considerably quantity of strange lightweight, though extraordinarily hard metallic debris...
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The British Ministry of Defence has released the eighth instalment of the public dump of their 'UFO files', which can be freely downloaded from the UFO page at the National Archives. Along with the files you'll find a handy guide to the newly released files written by Dr David Clarke (or you can watch/listen to this podcast narrated by Clarke on Youtube). On his personal blog, Clarke points out what he thinks is the most important 'reveal' from the new batch of files:
[T]he MoD’s Defence Intelligence Staff admit that “lack of funds and higher priorities” had prevented any detailed study of the thousands of reports they had received since the end of the Second World War.
The frank admission is contained in a formerly secret memo dated July 1995 and written by the UFO desk officer at DI55, the branch of the DIS responsible for the assessment of UFO reports for defence threat. The officer – a RAF Wing Commander - concludes the lid had already been blown on secrecy surrounding defence intelligence interest in UFOs by a series of media revelations. But he said the public perception of DI55 as “defenders of the Earth from the alien menace” was “light years from the truth”. And he told his opposite number on the MoD’s public UFO desk that few people would believe the “embarrassing truth…that lack of funds and higher priorities had prevented a proper study of UFO sightings.”
Another formerly secret document produced by the head of Sec(AS), the MoD’s UFO desk, in the same year underlines the MoD’s lack of interest in UFOs. The official admits that no research had ever been done on UFOs either by DI55 “or anyone else”...
Here's prominent British UFO researcher Nick Pope on the latest release:
In the clip above, Nick Pope has a laugh about one of the files discussing him not being allowed to dress up as Fox Mulder for a book release at the Ministry of Defence building. He doesn't mention other references to himself though, including the MoD's opinion that he has...
...a long history of sailing close to the wind in using his official position to further his public interest in UFOs... far from accurately representing the Department’s position [on UFOs], he [Nick Pope] has sought to embellish the truth at almost every turn.
I haven't had time to look over the latest file release myself, but you can find more highlights in the various news stories doing the rounds on the back of this latest release of documents (do a search for 'MoD UFO' on Google News). According to David Clarke, there may only be one more release of documents left. For information on previous releases, browse the Daily Grail articles below:
- UK UFO Files to be Released
- The British X-Files (Release #1)
- More MoD UFO Files (Release #2)
- UK UFO Files Part Three (Release #3)
- David Clarke on Third UK-UFO Release
- UK UFO Files Part Four (Release #4)
- UK UFO Files Part Five (Release #5)
- UK UFO Files Part Six (Release #6)
- UFOs and Radar Spoofing
- British MoD Dump UFOs
- UK UFO Files Part Seven (Release #7)
A couple of months ago it seemed that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) was dead, suffocated by a lack of funding. So they took a leap of faith, and set up SETIStars - an attempt at raising $200,000 via public contributions (generally referred to as crowd-funding), in order to bring the Allen Telescope Array back online. And guess what: they reached their goal!
Thank you to everyone who helped us reach our goal of getting the ATA back online! Stay tuned for updates. We are discovering more Earth-like planets every day, so now is more critical than ever to look for extraterrestrial life. A contribution from you, today, will fund telescope scans for signs of intelligence beyond our solar system. Please donate and help us find intelligent life out there
I looked just a week or two ago and it seemed they were going to be well short of the $200,000 - so I guess they either got a big influx of contributors, or a few very big donations in the final days. Whatever the source, good to see SETI back online. Next up, my crowdfunding venture seeking $200,000 to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant...
Pretty big news from NASA today getting lost amid the financial panic: observations made by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on the Red Planet.
Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere.
"The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.
Some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers, but flows of liquid brine fit the features' characteristics better than alternate hypotheses. Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. Sites with active flows get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth's oceans, while pure water would freeze at the observed temperatures.
Why is this important? We already knew that Mars has water: ice has already been detected near the surface in many regions. But with liquid water comes a much higher possibility of life - and the knock-on effect from that is perhaps more chance of future missions to the Red Planet. According to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the MRO observations bring us "closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form...and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration."
For anyone caught up in political debates, patriotic fervour or any other human distraction: a little perspective. We're all humans, sitting on a rock spinning in space:
The Mercury-bound MESSENGER spacecraft captured several stunning images of Earth during a gravity assist swingby of its home planet on Aug. 2, 2005. Several hundred images, taken with the wide-angle camera in MESSENGER's Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), were sequenced into a movie documenting the view from MESSENGER as it departed Earth.
Comprising 358 frames taken over 24 hours, the movie follows Earth through one complete rotation. The spacecraft was 40,761 miles (65,598 kilometers) above South America when the camera started rolling on Aug. 2. It was 270,847 miles (435,885 kilometers) away from Earth - farther than the Moon's orbit - when it snapped the last image on Aug. 3.
(h/t Boing Boing)
A great shot from the International Space Station of the final shuttle mission re-entering Earth's atmosphere (click on the image for larger sizes):
Shuttle tragics will also enjoy this video montage of every shuttle mission from go to whoah.
In this conversation at the World Science Forum, alien-hunter Jill Tarter answers critics who wonder why SETI hasn't found anything in 50 years of operation:
Obviously, SETI has hit hard times since this was recorded, and so Tarter's call for funding is even more pertinent. The alien-hunting project is currently running a crowd-funding venture called SETIstars, which has so far raised one half of its $200,000 goal - so if you want more SETI, head on over and pitch in.
You can watch the entire 90 minute discussion on "The Search for Life in the Universe" that this video is excerpted from - featuring Tarter, planetary scientist Steven Squyres, astronomer David Charbonneau and astrobiologist Michael Russell - at the WSF website.