In complaining recently that newspapers often publish reports of haunted houses but rarely trouble to investigate those reports and debunk them as easily explainable phenomena or outright hoaxes, I naturally offended people who like to believe in ghosts or anything occult.
I have received a four-page, single-spaced typewritten letter from Scott W. MacKenzie of Northridge complaining that newspapers rarely even report the many sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects, which he believes worthy of investigation.
Instead of ignoring such reports, he says, newspapers have an obligation to assign investigative reporters to them. Such inquiries, he believes, would lead to the conclusion that "something is going on."
Technically, UFO should mean just that--Unidentified Flying Object--but in the lingo of believers and nonbelievers alike, it means a spacecraft from some other planet.
UFOs are a lot of fun. The idea that we are being visited by creatures from space stretches the imagination and gives us a thrill. And who can deny that some unearthly civilization is not advanced enough to seek us out?
I don't believe any aliens have ever landed on Earth. I do believe all UFOs are either figments of the imagination or some explainable phenomenon.
But UFOlogists regard me as closed-minded. MacKenzie suggests that we nonbelievers think it is we who will explore space, not godless creatures from elsewhere.
He asks: "Does anyone really believe that in 100,000 years or even a million years, we will not be able to develop the technology to travel to distant worlds? Of course not; and those who doubt will always give their pessimistic view that we will destroy ourselves before that time comes (a very convenient avoidance)."
(Actually, I think the chances are very good that we will destroy ourselves in the next 100,000 years. If Saddam Hussein gets the atom bomb, maybe sooner. And despite our scientific ingenuity, I can't see human beings traveling millions of light years through space to get somewhere else. I can't see aliens doing it either. Of course, in 1940 I would have doubted that we'd ever land on the moon.)
I don't believe any of the stories of alleged abductees, who tell of being taken aboard spaceships and examined. The aliens they describe are most improbable. Creatures from other planets would not be human beings with pointed ears. They would not be remotely like us. Biologists say that if human evolution were to start all over, the odds against its producing homo sapiens again would be trillions to one.
MacKenzie is especially annoyed with a "stupid question" repeatedly asked by debunkers, scientists, politicians and members of the media: "If UFOs are visiting us, why haven't they landed on the White House lawn?"
I think that's a good question. UFOs usually seem to land out in the boondocks where their only observers are yokels. I've always wondered why they didn't land on the White House lawn, where they can see the Man.
MacKenzie says: "I can only ask: Why the White House? Is Washington the center of power in the universe, the solar system, our world? What advantage would an alien gain by landing in D.C.? Doesn't this question suggest that we see ourselves as something special? Of course, landing and meeting with the President only serves our own purposes. I can't imagine what purpose it would serve an alien civilization that would certainly have to be much older than mankind."
Well, for one thing, our visitors could get the attention of the whole nation, and consequently of the world. They would almost certainly get the attention of President Bush, who is indeed the most powerful man in the world, and, as far as we know, in the universe. And if they're flying around space without credit cards, which they probably would be, they could probably get a government grant.
The fact that UFOs always land in the woods or on farms makes me suspicious. If they have traveled all that way to get to our world they must be adventuresome, curious and brave. If they're adventuresome, curious and brave why are they content merely to touch down briefly in the backwoods to commune with hillbillies? Why don't they go directly to our leader? They must know who he is. Or why don't they land at Caltech? Or Disneyland? Or Rockefeller Center?
There have been numerous alleged landings since UFOs were invented in the 1940s. Why haven't any of our visitors showed themselves to the general populace? Why haven't they stayed around a while? Are they that shy? They must have been ripe for a little recreation after their long trip. Why don't they kidnap Carl Sagan, instead of some bumpkin from "Tobacco Road"?
MacKenzie thinks we ought to investigate. If some UFO will land in Los Angeles and stay put long enough for me to get aboard, I'll be glad to investigate.
But it's going to be a tough interview if they don't speak English.