Monday, August 18, 2014

Gas!

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri — protesters taking to the streets over the police shooting of an African-American man — and crowd control with tear gas, brought to mind something I wrote in 2008. My own experience with tear gas seems relevant to the situation. With some minor editing I am presenting it again.

The years 1967 and 1968 in America were years of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations. Watching old film on TV of protesters being gassed by police reminds me of an old line I used to use: I went through more tear gas than most demonstrators.

Despite the Vietnam war being current, when I took U.S. Army basic training in January, 1967 it had a definite World War I flavor. We went through an infiltration course where we came out of trenches, then crossed a simulated battlefield while live machine gun bullets were shot over our heads. I guess the Army brass figured if World War I ever came around again we’d be trained for it. We also had gas canisters thrown at us. That wasn’t the first time we'd experienced gas. Our introduction to that took most of a day. We were taken to a place on the Fort Lewis, Washington Army base with several run-down looking shacks. I also noticed a sand pit with wire stretched over the top. “That just doesn't look very good,” I thought. I was right.

I’ve pushed a lot of this unpleasant experience out of my mind over the years, but here’s what I remember. We were marched, 10 or so at a time, wearing our gas masks, into a small shack. In the air was a thick mist of CS gas, also known as tear gas. We were told, “when it's your turn, take off your mask, say your name, rank and service number, then right face, put your hand on the shoulder of the soldier next to you. When everyone has said their piece, we will march around in a circle and out the door. At any time if anyone breaks rank and runs we will all be brought back to do it again.” After taking off the mask and gasping out name, rank, and service number, then marching around the shack praying for the ordeal to end, had any one of the group run the rest of us would have killed him. We stood outside with our faces to what breeze there was, our eyes watering and stinging.

A while later we went into a chamber filled with chlorine gas. We went in without masks, and told we had nine seconds to don our masks or die. Seemed drastic to me, and I’m still not convinced that stuff was really lethal. The capper was the aforementioned sandpit. We were lined up four men abreast. We had our masks in our carriers at our sides. We low-crawled through the sand, and then a canister of vomit gas was thrown amongst us. We had a few seconds to get our masks on. Some guys tried to jump up, and that’s what the wire stretched over the pit was for. A jumper would bounce right back into the sand. Several guys — but not me — crawled to the end of the sandpit, threw off their masks and ran for the nearby woods where they heaved. Some guys vomited in their masks. Not me. I had my mask on in no time, because I was watching the sergeant’s movements as he got the canister ready to throw. I had my mask on before the first fumes hit me.

After the training we were lined up in formation to march to our barracks. I looked back and at the edge of the wood line I saw a soldier skulking through the trees. I grabbed the snaps of my mask carrier. I told the guy next to me, Porter, “Get ready, we're gonna get gassed again!” Porter looked at me stupidly, and then the canister landed right by his foot. We had been told if we saw anyone throwing gas we were to yell at the top of our lungs, “GAS!” The hell with that, I was too busy getting my mask out. Porter made no move for his mask, but I had mine on before the gas got to me. He just stood there looking dumb, and when the gas hit him he headed for the woods. It took fifteen minutes of the sergeant hollering, “Porter! Come out! Private Porter, report for formation, NOW!” before they could convince him to come out of the woods, and even then he was suspicious he’d be gassed again.

In my service time, two years in the regular Army and two weeks serving with an Enlisted Reserve unit in California 18 months after leaving Germany, I went through tear gas five times. None of the experiences were even remotely pleasant, but by the fifth time into the chamber I felt I had it down. The instructions were, “Take a deep breath, crack your mask, remove your mask, say your name, rank and service number and then walk in an orderly fashion for the door. No running.” I thought, I know this drill. But when it got to be my turn I turned things around. I cracked my mask, then took a deep breath, pulling a big load of tear gas into my lungs. What came out of my mouth was a strangled peep. The sergeant grabbed me by the arm and threw me out of the chamber.

What I learned about tear gas is that you really want to avoid it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The daydream believer

There are believers who appear to have no real rational reason for their beliefs. It’s some sort of internal thing with them with no apparent physical foundation on which to build a belief. They believe it, therefore it is true. I have a problem understanding that.

For instance, I don’t understand why author Philip Imbrogno, a UFO researcher, has the belief system he has. I'm left baffled after reading his 2010 book, Ultraterrestrial Contact, and his acceptance of alien contactee stories and experiences by people who, to me, are either mentally ill, on drugs, or just imaginative and skilled liars.

Imbrogno goes beyond the folklore of little bug-eyed gray men levitating unwilling subjects into flying saucers for the purpose of medical exams. He gets into stories of mystical "channeling" of alien entities (not unlike those claims some make of channeling spirits of the dead), or stories of little people and genies from mythology. He somehow connects it all with those contactee stories that have become modern folk tales.

The author goes into several stories of contactees, but I’ll only tell you about one, the story of Dean Fagerstrom. The author tells us how delightful Fagerstrom was in person, and how forthcoming he was with his stories of channeling an alien named Donestra from planet Solarian. I would think it fantasy if someone told me of a planet called “Solarian,” creating a proper noun by adding a three-letter suffix to the word “solar,” but Imbrogno doesn’t. He begins Fagerstrom’s story by saying, “Although Dean’s contacts seem to date back to his childhood . . . his adult experiences began in 1966, while he was in the army, stationed in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.”

Fagerstrom described to Imbrogno what sounds to me like a hallucination: Dean was at his desk (figuring out a system for lottery numbers (!)) when he felt a presence. He got up, didn’t find anything, sat back down at his desk. He looked at a whiteboard in front of him.

Quoting directly from the book:
Suddenly a human-like face appeared before his eyes! The face filled up just about the entire three-foot-square board. As the image got clearer, he saw that it was not one face, but two. There was a bluish shimmer around the edges of the image, and he could now make out the face of a man, and the other of a woman. The man had shoulder-length blonde (sic) hair while the woman had slightly darker and shorter hair. Both had what Dean described as ‘piercing blue eyes.’ . . . The male gave his name as ‘Donestra’ and the female gave her name as ‘Kilestra,’ Donestra’s wife.
Apparently Donestra and Kilestra are beings who have ascended to a higher plane of existence. Donestra has been receiving Dean’s thoughts “for years.” The story goes on to tell how Donestra gave Dean a sign a few days later, when Dean saw a UFO performing maneuvers in the sky. Dean was discharged from the army and went to live in Brewster, New York. There he had yet another encounter:
[Fagerstrom] woke up that morning and saw a bluish shimmer in the upper corner of the room. He also heard a high-frequency buzzing sound that vibrated his head and made him feel uneasy. Gradually, an object about three inches in diameter materialized in the location of the blue light. The object was round and metallic-looking, and resembled an old-fashioned microphone.
The object moved toward him, and hovered about ten inches from Fagerstrom’s forehead. It emitted a sound that “oscillated at a very high frequency,” and then “the probe came to within three inches of his forehead and emitted a very intense vibration that shook his head and neck . . . The object then went quiet and vanished right before his eyes.

The next day Dean went to an art store and bought some supplies, went home and drew these “designs” for unknown devices, apparently inspired by his channeled source.


 A couple of the drawings by Fagerstrom. They have a certain phallic look to them, but that would be coincidental, wouldn’t it?

So far, the people who’ve seen them haven’t been able to figure out what they are, although they praise the drawings.
As the years passed, Dean continued his contact with Donestra, resulting in him writing three unpublished five-hundred-page manuscripts: The Book of Solarian, The Celestial Citizen, and an untitled one.
Those manuscripts, including Imbrogno’s copies, mysteriously disappeared. Robbing us of Donestra/Fagerstrom’s cosmic wisdom, no doubt.

Fagerstrom even met another ascended entity, “Aphax,” who was “once a priest who taught philosophy and math in ancient Thebes in 2334 B.C.E.”

There is a lot more claimed by the author, including Fagerstrom’s ability to play piano and compose melodies like Franz Liszt. Dean is extremely lucky with lotteries (remember that lottery system he was working on in Germany, when he was contacted by Donestra?), but to bring this chapter to an end, Imbrogno says:
I stayed in touch with Dean until 2007, when he fell ill and had to be hospitalized. He’s now in a specialized facility that provides the care he needs. Dean’s legacy is still with us, and if I had to pick one case that convinced me about the possibility of extraterrestrial contacts, it would be the incredible experiences of Mr. J. Dean Fagerstrom.
The word “incredible” I translate as “beyond credibility.” I don’t know either Fagerstrom or Imbrogno, but Fagerstrom seems either delusional or a liar, and Imbrogno…well, I see him as being conned, perhaps due to a need to believe such fabulist tales. After years of working toward solving the “mystery” of alien contact and abduction, I think Mr. Imbrogno seems at a point where even the most fantastic tale from someone’s head is reasonable to him.

LSD was available in 1966 when Fagerstrom was in the army in Germany. I was familiar with it and a lot of other drugs being used by GIs in 1966-68 during my own time in the U.S. Army. (I spent 18 months serving in Germany during that period. In the interest of disclosure, I’ve never taken any of those drugs. I figured I had enough problems without altering my consciousness.) There’s no indication by Imbrogno that Dean took drugs, but his experience with the faces on the whiteboard sounds a lot like it.

Fagerstrom’s vision of Donestra having long blond hair echoes the stories of 1950’s flying saucer hoaxer George Adamski,* of an alien named Orthon. Adamski described him as “medium height . . . with long blond hair and tanned skin,” a 1950’s look at a surfer dude of a few years hence. I have a feeling that rather than there being a race of Nordic-like alien blonds, that Fagerstrom was more likely channeling fellow conman Adamski, who had published a couple of best selling books before his death in 1965.

I believe people in the mental health profession would have some questions to ask Dean Fagerstrom. What were those “contacts [that] date back to his childhood”? Did Dean “see” invisible people, did they come out of his closet at night, or from under his bed, or have the ability to float through walls and take him to the mothership?

What is the “specialized facility” where Dean is (presumably still) living? My mother had dementia, and saw people who weren’t there. I got several excited calls from her, including a couple where she told me of children she didn’t know playing in her living room. She left the room and came back, and the children had vanished. If my mother had read flying saucer/contactee/alien abduction literature would the children she saw have been little gray men? My mother also spent her last years in a “specialized facility” (an Alzheimer’s nursing home). There are a lot of things that can go on in the brain that cause people to see and experience incredible things. To me it explains the story of Dean Fagerstrom. Philip J. Imbrogno has more of these tales of contactees and he tells them straight-faced, without delving into any other possible mental conditions the contactee may have, or even a motive for telling such tall tales.

Imbrogno’s book, Ultraterrestrial Contact, is available from Amazon.com and other booksellers. I don’t believe a word of it, but in its own oddball way it’s an entertaining read.

*There’s more about Adamski here.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Time travel that goes nowhere

I’m a skeptic by nature and don’t believe anything but what I can see or can be demonstrated. Even so I sometimes enjoy those programs that proliferate on cable TV promoting searches for Bigfoot, or the “truth” about UFOs. I think of them as fantasy. But with the earnestness and drama of the presentation, in their own way they can be entertaining.

Take Unsealed Conspiracy Files, ten episodes of which are currently on Netflix. The shows, which are only 18 minutes long, cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. They have elements typical to all of these programs of the paranormal, a deep-voiced narrator, and talking heads from various areas of “expertise” in the subject matter. And, of course, some outrageous claims.

The program on time travel caught my attention. I love a good time machine story, which has been a staple of science fiction since H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895. The Unsealed Conspiracy Files episode begins with a photograph of the South Fork Bridge opening in Gold Bridge, B.C. in 1941. The Canadian government released the photo as part of an archival web site and according to the Unsealed narration it went viral. Apparently people thought one fellow looked too modern to be from 1941.(1)

The comments are about his hair, his clothes, sunglasses, and what looks like a digital camera in his hand.

 My apologies. I took photos with my own digital camera from the TV screen.


I’ve heard outrageous claims about other “time travelers” who show up in old photos, and in order to accept them you would have to accept that time travel exists. I think it is easier to accept that the above photo is what it purports to be: a group of people from 1941, not from 2014 or 3000 A.D. or some other year along the time continuum. Applying what I learned from Occam’s Razor, If I have a choice of believing that time travel exists and this guy was visiting the past, or that this guy, modern as he may look, was just a bystander in 1941 at a bridge opening and not a time traveler, then I choose the latter.(2)

John Greenewald Jr, whose bona fides are apparently that he has a web site,(3) talks about things like the butterfly effect, (a small change somewhere back in time that could have big consequences for the present and future), and also warns that someone going back before humans appeared on earth could make changes that would mean human beings might never exist. Horrors!

Frankly, if someone erased our DNA by killing our non-human ancestors,  humans never existed and we were never here. All our works and technology would never happen, and our planet would be in a completely natural state. But the kicker  is we wouldn’t know because there were never any human beings. So John needs to stop worrying. If someone does just what he prophesies then he won’t feel a thing when we all blink out, because we were never here. (Time paradoxes can drive you crazy when you think of them.)

But, back to the program. A real howler is this picture of a youngster, taken at Gettysburg, supposedly during Lincoln’s address. Seattle attorney Andrew Basiago claims this is a picture of him. He says he has been a time traveler since he was a child. As unlikely as that sounds — why would a black operation like a time travel program send a child? — the credibility really goes out the window when we see that the photo has no face. In those days, with long exposure times for photographs, a turning face blurred, and that is what happened here. Sorry, Andrew. I don’t buy your claim.

So who made time travel possible? Why, the Nazis of course. We can give the Nazis and Hitler credit because they were developing secret weapons to win the war. (P.S., they lost.) Amongst those weapons was one called The Bell (Die Glocke), which could travel in time. This is one of those stories that when started caught the attention of UFO and black ops-conspiracy true believers and has taken on a life of its own. Wikipedia has a concise article on Die Glocke which explains more.

This is a fanciful image of The Bell done with special effects for the program. Some people might believe the show’s producers got film of the actual machine.

 The show did not miss an opportunity to show a photo of Hitler to remind their viewers who might be weak on history that it was Hitler who ordered all of this special weaponry to be developed.

I wasn’t surprised to see William J. Birnes show up to give an opinion on the whole matter. Birnes, who has a Ph.D in medieval literature, would seem a natural to speak of time travel to the past. But it has more to do with his visibility as some sort of expert on UFOs. Birnes is not camera shy. He has a way of finding his way onto television programs that even touch on the subject.

Birnes ties in the story of the Nazi Bell with an event that happened in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, in 1965. A fireball crash landed near that town. Some witnesses reported it was bell shaped. Birnes merges the two stories. Die Glocke left Nazi Germany in 1945 and showed up 20 years later in Pennsylvania! Wow. The U.S. military showed up, put it on the back of a truck, threw a tarp over it, and hauled it away, never to be seen by the eyes of citizens again.(4)

On its own the Kecksburg incident is a good story, and has an essential element, witnesses who are still alive to talk about it. But is the bell the U.S. forces retrieved the Nazi Bell? Adding that bit of conjecture makes it an even better story, much more exciting.

Conspiracy theories can be interesting, and at times even make some sense. But they can also pile delusion upon delusion. It is an illusory correlation, when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations. If you begin with a shaky premise you believe, an unproven theory  based on wild rumors that time travel exists and that knowledge is kept from us by a super-secretive government, and you extrapolate from that, you have a hell of a story. It doesn’t make it true, it just embellishes the fable on which it is based.

(1) Website with pros and cons on the photo.

(2) From the Wikipedia article on Occam's (aka Ockham’s) Razor: “If we have multiple hypotheses that can explain a thing, we ought to reject the hypothesis that involves agents or processes for which we have no evidence.”

(3) TheBlackVault

(4) Article on the Kecksburg Incident.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“I dreamed I read a blog in my Maidenform Bra”

I don’t know who came up with the Maidenform Bra ads of the mid-twentieth century, but they were a genius. It was one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever. We have all had dreams where we’re in public semi-dressed, and these ads tapped into that. They also tapped into the forbidden thrill of exhibitionism. There were undoubtedly women who looked at these ads and thought, “I dreamed I drove men wild in my Maidenform Bra.”

These examples are a good representation of those that were familiar fifty years ago.





























Maidenform had such success with the ads that there was a contest: the best dream suggestion could win $10,000, a fortune in 1955.


The ads were so popular they became a natural inspiration for the folks at Mad. This spoof looks so close to the original you could almost be fooled into thinking it was part of the campaign. It was the kind of thing that advertisers loved; when they were lampooned by Mad they knew their ads were successful.


Artist Wallace Wood even used Jayne Mansfield in his two-page “Far Out Fables” for Cavalcade, a men’s magazine.



Of course, women weren’t the only people who noticed the Maidenform ads. They also got the attention of some wide-eyed males, including me.