OK. There’s no better time than the end of a year like 2017 to talk about ... UFOs. We might as well, right?
So, here’s a story:
At the end of 1999 a UFO was sighted at Hubbard Park, mysteriously appearing over Mirror Lake during a Christmas celebration. The spacecraft was as bright as fireworks and was reflected on the lake. Everyone looked up, and people began to panic and scream.
The person reporting the phenomena, the “mayor,” said he could not afford to go public with the account, and claimed the newspaper, as in this newspaper, was there but wouldn’t report the story, even though “excellent” pictures had been taken.
True story? Heck, no.
Years ago I wrote a story about that story, and even talked to the mayor at the time, who said it was bunk. But the newspaper’s electronic archives have just the first couple of paragraphs of my report — the rest of the story has vanished. Mysterious, no? (Cue “X-Files” theme music.)
The story about a UFO over Hubbard Park was among thousands upon thousands of entries listed by the National UFO Reporting Center, which had started keeping track of UFO sightings in 1974. That helps illustrate a problem, which is how do you separate complete nonsense from what might be a reasonable account?
It’s worth pointing out that sighting a UFO is just that, an unidentified flying object that does not necessarily have to be aliens visiting. Just the other day there was a remarkable video of a UFO over California — it looked about as alien as alien can be (though what I mean by that I can’t tell for sure). But even though it looked as alien as alien can be (as in a glowing plume of light), it turned out to be a Falcon 9 rocket launched by SpaceX from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles. As commercial space flight continues to grow, there’s going to be a lot more of those types of sightings.
Then there’s the New York Times story of just a week ago, with a headline that could have come right out of an “X-Files” episode: “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program.”
The story, about $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, would likely have garnered much more attention in another year, but 2017 has been such an attention-diverting tweet-driven experience it’s just another moment in an endless shuffle.
As it is, it’s hard to resist. The “shadowy” program, which investigated reports of UFOs, started in 2007 and was shut down in 2012, but, according to the Times report, “its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence.”
And there’s this: “Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft — including one released in August of a whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004.”
It’s safe to say that were Hillary Clinton president, things would be different when it comes to UFOs.
Asked after the Times story came out whether President Trump believed in UFOs or would consider funding the Pentagon program, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, basically, I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Clinton, on the other hand, seemed rather keen on the subject, telling The Conway Daily Sun “yes, I’m going to get to the bottom of it.” During her husband’s presidency, she said, the top freedom of information requests to his library were UFO-related.
Hillary Clinton was so erudite on the subject she could offer a correction, on the Jimmy Kimmel show. “You know there’s a new name,” she said. “It’s unexplained aerial phenomenon.”
A UFO by any other name would seem just as strange, to mangle a phrase from the Bard, and that they came up in so dramatic a way recently seemed a perfect way to end an already strange year.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.