Tag Archives: don schmitt

149 – UFOs: Reframing The Debate Part 2 with Robbie Graham and Mike Clelland

Last week, we covered the concept of “high strangeness” with Robbie Graham and Mike Clelland as we talked about the book, UFOs: Reframing The Debate, a collection of essays on modern UFOlogy conceived and edited by Robbie.

UFOS Reframing The Debate
Try checking this image out with 3-D glasses!

This week is the second half of that conversation between myself, Robbie Graham, Mike Clelland, and  Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts and we talk about healthy skepticism. I think that skepticism is just as important as belief when it comes to handling therse phenomena.

If you’ve seen a UFO, it’s always going to be a “your word” vs. “someone else’s beliefs and experiences” kind of thing. If that person hasn’t had a UFO encounter, they’re going to have a more difficult time believing yours. So, what are we trying to do? Make it more believable to convince skeptics that this stuff isn’t just hoaxes and hallucinations? Or help people who have had these experiences come to terms with them and be able to handle when they believe something has happened to them that they cannot understand.

It was in April of 2015 where we interviewed UFO researcher, Don Schmitt, about the “smoking gun” that was supposed to be the Roswell Slides released on May 5th of that year at a special pay per view event in Mexico City. If you didn’t see it, the slides were supposed to be a 1950s photograph showing a dead alien body, but really is just a mummified human. A small group formed on social media to take the investigation into their own hands and debunked the slides in a matter of a few days. Cliff Collins writes about it in UFOs: Reframing The Debate.

It’s an awesome example of why skepticism is so important. This small group ended the debate on the Roswell Slides. We’re not subjected to endless TV specials or internet sites dedicated to discussing the “controversy”, people won’t be writing books about the slides in 50 years and talking about “the unsolved mystery”. It’s debunked and now we can move on to the next thing.

But even if we could make UFO experiences more “believable”, does it matter? While Internet discourse has created an atheist skeptic vs. religious believer debate where you either fall on one side or the other, the skeptics have already lost.

A 2015 poll shows that 56% of Americans believe in UFOs and 45% of them believe that extraterrestrials have visited earth. That’s a majority of Americans who think that there is something real to that UFO phenomenon and just a little less than half believe in the “Extraterrestrial Hypothesis” (that it’s aliens coming to visit).

Carl Sagan popularized the saying “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Healthy skepticism and scientific rigor is important, not just to debunk and rain on everyone’s parade, but to find out the cases where things that are happening are truly unexplainable and are truly weird. It’s been seventy years since Roswell and are we any closer to the truth? It’s been over fifty years since Betty and Barney Hill were abducted, over forty for Travis Walton, almost thirty since Communion

Nothing has changed. We’re not any closer to the truth. Maybe we’ll never be – in this discussion, we talk long and hard about the futility of disclosure and at length about Tom Delonge’s Sekret Machines project that’s supposed to blow the cover of the whole UFO thing.  

We have a good laugh about disclosure as well, talking about how Donald Trump would never pass up the opportunity to be the one to let the world know about extraterrestrial and giggle about an alien wearing a Make America Great Again hat.

But how we deal with the aftermath of experiencers can improve. That is something we can change. I don’t think everyone is lying or hoaxing and if we can help people come to terms with the experiences, to process it in a healthy way, then we’re doing something tremendously important.

That’s where modern skeptics can really improve. Sympathy, understanding, a psychological perspective. That’s something that the Church has a superior handle on as compared to psychiatrists. The Catholics have been trying to figure out whether miracles have actually happened for two millennia and even have a system for it, it’s certainly not completely applicable here, but it’s much more sympathetic than the Phillip Klass or James Randi approach, that just suggests experiences are deceiving or delusional.

UFOs: Reframing The Debate challenges the core notions that I had about UFOs, ETs, and even faeries and owls that I’ve had all my life. It’s the kind of book that this field needs to break out of The X-Files mindset we’ve been living in (at least until Tom Delonge proves us all wrong!) It doesn’t take sides or come in with an agenda. And if your ideas about UFO phenomena are the same when you’re done reading the book as when you started, then you’re just as closed minded as any skeptic.

One of the themes of this week’s conversation is disappointment. Whether it’s the blowup with the Roswell Slides or the fact that so many have waited with baited breath for full government disclosure to no avail, disappointment is as much a part of UFOlogy as little green men. This week’s Sunspot song is called “The Breach”, when something important to you, and breaks and it hurts, but you keep going back.

[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=4286494586 size=large bgcol=333333 linkcol=0f91ff tracklist=false artwork=small track=506196355]

I can still taste you on the tip of my tongue,
I’m trying to hold your breath inside my lungs,
Draw me away.
Draw me amazed.
We stand outside ourselves,
so please don’t move
When I scream fire inside a crowded room.Mediocrity surrounds me,
To the point of tragedy.
And we can walk along the breach,
walk along the breach.Consumed by a devouring,
Convinced by an overwhelming.
Draw me afraid,
I watched you draw me flayed.We stood outside ourselves,
and then you moved.
When I screamed fire inside a crowded room, a crowded room.

Mediocrity escapes me,
when I hear your voice.
Barely avoiding tragedy,
We made that choice.
I closed my eyes so hard,
I didn’t know the water from the sea,
As we walked along the breach.

The crack was deeper than it seemed,
I could not cross the yawning,
that opened in my chest cavity,
The frailty that tore,
Still led us once more unto the breach.

Mediocrity escaped me,
When I heard your voice,
To the point of tragedy,
When you made your choice.
I closed my eyes so hard,
I didn’t know the water from the sea,
As we walked along the breach.

Mediocrity escaped me,
When I heard your voice,
To the point of tragedy,
When you made your choice.
I closed my eyes so hard,
To shut out the uncertainty,
Against the husk of a dream,
As we stand astride, stand astride the breach.

96 – An Atheist In Heaven: Paul Davids and the Ghost of Forrest J. Ackerman

Forrest J. Ackerman was the editor of the Famous Monsters of Filmlanda magazine that he founded in 1958 to discuss his favorite thing – fantasy, science fiction, and horror movies. The magazine would go behind the scenes with special effects and stories on the people involved with the production.

famous monsters #1
The first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland

The modern definition of a geek is someone in a circus sideshow who would run after chickens and bite their heads off. They would eat anything and this is where the modern idea comes from. We geeks love to learn anything and everything about their favorite pop culture. I used to devour books about Doctor Who when I was a kid, reading production diaries and stories about the set in addition to the actual shows and novels. The Internet makes it easy today to keep up on your favorites, but back in the 50s when Famous Monsters of Filmland came out to cash in on the first wave of classic Hollywood monster films finally hitting the TV airwaves, it was the only place to hear more about your favorite films.

x-files humbug geek
Jim Rose and The Enigma from the classic X-Files’ “Humbug” episode, featuring the original circus sideshow definition of a geek

As a young Paul Davids grew up in the Washington D.C. area in the 50s, he fell in love with the fantasy and science fiction films of that era. He made home movies and sent stills in to Famous Monsters magazine which would publish them and encourage building a community of aspiring imaginative filmmakers. After he grew up, he joined the Hollywood Circus during the American New Wave of auteurs (a movement that spawned legends like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg.)

Paul Davids Forrest J Ackerman
Paul Davids and Forrest J. Ackerman at a Comic Con signing

Davids became a personal friend of Ackerman (who everyone called ‘Uncle Forry’) and spent a lot of time at the “Ackermansion”, the editor’s Hollywood home with massive amounts of movie memorabilia that he would open to visitors on weekends.

forrest j ackerman ackermansion
Forrest J. Ackerman surrounded by a little of his movie memorabilia

Paul Davids would go on to become production coordinator on the original Transformers cartoon (one of my personal favorites!) A few years later, a personal UFO encounter in Los Angeles (which he describes in the episode) would lead him to produce the Showtime movie, Roswell (which we talked about in-depth with Don Schmitt about in an earlier podcast.) His close friendship with Ackerman would lead to the production of a documentary called The Sci-Fi Boys as well in 2006, detailing the influence that Famous Monsters had on a generation of filmmakers from John Landis to Peter Jackson who would end up taking over the blockbuster film industry.

Roswell Movie
The 1994 Roswell movie that introduced the most famous UFO crash to the modern generation

While both Paul Davids and Forrest Ackerman loved their fantasy and science fiction films, neither of them were religious and Forry himself was an atheist who didn’t have any belief in the afterlife. Which is why when he jokingly told his close friends that if there was some kind of life after death, he would try to communicate with them, they all had a good laugh.

Forrest J. Ackerman passed away in December of 2008 at the ripe old age of 92, but he had the last laugh. Within two weeks of a special tribute to Ackerman at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre (a place we also talk about in our Ghosts of Hollywood Boulevard episode), strange things started occurring to his friends. Davids himself started getting weird messages and synchronicities and after too many of them occurred, he started taking his evidence to any scientist that would listen. By 2010, he’d already written an article for FATE magazine detailing his experiences.

an atheist in heaven
Cover of An Atheist In Heaven

The result of his research and all the strange occurrences are his documentaries,  The Life After Death Project Volumes 1 and 2 where he gives all of his proof of what he’s experiences since his friend’s death.  Davids also recently completed a book with Dr. Gary Schwartz (a scientist who doesn’t shy away from researching the afterlife) called An Atheist In Heaven: The Ulimate Evidence of Life After Death

For this week, we thought it would be fun to try a Nerdcore song as part of our tribute to one of the world’s greatest geeks, who continues to influence, even from beyond the grave! This Sunspot track is called “Behind The Curtain”.

For a whole generation
he was the inspiration
stoked the imagination
of the Monster nation

Didn’t buy predestination
or a soul relocation,
No belief in Heaven,
or any reincarnation

But at his end of aspiration
his human cancellation
they think he’s playing tricks
afterdeath communication

So they put this complication
under examination
and now they give the Afterlife
reconsideration

Please pay attention to the man behind the curtain,
Because he’s somewhere in between,
Please pay attention to the man behind the curtain who,
you’ll hear from the dark side of the screen.

So this famous monster
is now an Atheist in Heaven.
And he’s still having fun
and he’s still making puns

He said he would come back someday
that he would communicate
but no one could anticipate
his paranormal wordplay

And if you think they’re cracking,
they lost their comprehension,
That there ain’t no action,
no final destination.

These guys have a conviction,
that his spirit is still living,
It’s really their Uncle Forry,
Scientists believe the story.

Please pay attention to the man behind the curtain,
Because he’s somewhere in between,
Please pay attention to the man behind the curtain who,
you’ll hear from the dark side of the screen.