Days of Mircle & Wonder: Clearing the decks for the new century

January 1, 2001
Stephen Bassett

These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry, baby, don’t cry
Don’t cry
Paul Simon from the Graceland Album

Washington, DC – Activism is not a profession one aspires to at a young age. “And what do you want to be when you grow up, child?”  “I want to march on Washington, nana?” No. Much later you come to it obliquely after losing control of the wheel of your life or being bumped off the road by some outrageous event. Activism is not taught in the schools – if anything, it is taught against.

The modern, mainstream version was launched by JFK in 1961. What a concept. Take two years of your life, leave the country and work on behalf of some distant people’s need in some countryside where the cockroaches are as big as hamsters. The baby boomers, the same group Paul Begala excoriates in the April 2000 Esquire (“The Worst Generation”) as “the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history” (What is his problem?), flocked to the Peace Corps, creating an international phenomenon.

Who knew the idea would spill over and add to the line of buses streaming into the segregated south? There activist youth lost their lives trying to save the south from itself, ending the American apartheid and turning Democrats into Republicans in droves.

Most societies find it difficult to appreciate activists in their lifetime, or afterlife time, for that matter. Yeah, sure, they change the world for the better, sacrifice their interests, face down huge obstacles.   But they are usually a pain in the ass.

The very nature of activism is to cram a new point of view down society’s throat when society is not hungry – much like worming a German Shepard. The dog appreciates that the pills banished the worms, but can’t quite lose the idea of ripping your arm off. By the late sixties, the majority of Americans knew in their gut the war was a disaster. They supported its end but were not comfortable with, what were to them alien life forms, marching on anything with Greek columns and screaming obscenities at their cherished institutions. “Yeah, we know it needs to be over, but would y’all mind jumping back into your VW buses and let nature take its course. We’ll win the damn thing at whatever cost and regret it later.”   Activists rarely listen to reason.

Decades afterward the leaders of the anti-war movement, and the civil rights movement as well, were regarded with ambiguity. It’s always that way – women’s rights, labor, environment – the accolades are slow in coming as if the middle class doesn’t want to be reminded of another painful transition. There’s renewed notice and some acceptance when a Jerry Rubin does a one-eighty. More common is a relegation to a state of underachievement where men and women, who, sans the activist path, would have reached another level of influence and position, but are only permitted a lesser status. Tom Hayden and Julian Bond come to mind. Sometimes it ends in the bedroom of a modest house with a Seconal cocktail, as with Abbie Hoffman.

Societies need new ideas pumped in like airliners need fresh air. Cut off new and challenging thinking, and the intellectual air grows stale, the passengers sickly. Activists are the pump, and greater appreciation for what they do will keep the air flowing.

It’s been five years since this author arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts to begin a mid-life activist’s journey into a world unlike any other. Compared to the careers of many in the field, this is not a long time. But it’s long enough to appreciate what the old timers have gone through – 10, 20, 30 years up against a world view thousands of years in the making.   Nevertheless, given what is about to happen, it’s hard not to feel like Rosie Ruiz*. Perhaps some others feel the same way. As the saying goes, lie down until the feeling passes. It’s time to rock.

Or rant. After five years of wins and losses, grief and glory, obsession and compulsion, this is a good opportunity to clear the deck before starting fresh in the new millennium. So, if you don’t mind, the author would like to get a few things off the chest. Then they will be put away, in a little lockbox, and hopefully never revisited again. Let the venting begin.

Lighten Up

Ufologists are too hard on each other. Ufology is too hard on itself.   One is reminded of the classic Bill Cosby routine with a football team in emotional high dungeon at half-time ready to hit the field and lay waste to the opposition. “Let’s go,” the coach screams. They lunge for the door – it’s locked. One assumes this hapless team finally gets the door open and finishes the game. Not so with the UFO/Disclosure movement since 1947. Here the door remains shut, nowhere to go, weeks pass, the team in frustration trashes the locker room and then beats the hell out of each other. The government locked the door 53 years ago. Don’t pound on each other. Find the key and open it.

The Boys in the Band

Of course, it has been suggested that some in the field wear brass knuckles because that is their job, paid or otherwise, to keep the pot and the minds boiling – some patriotic subversion for a good cause.   Note to such: better check with headquarters and get up to speed.   You don’t want to be perched on the ramparts waving your arms and belching about the planet Venus, swamp gas, lying Lt. Colonels and nano-mechanical ice crystals while your brethren are setting up the chairs at the press conference announcing a million year old alien presence in your world.

Painful Moments

One occurred poolside in 1995 in San Luis Obispo at a time of deciding whether to leave one life behind and drive cross country to Cambridge to begin another. The marvelous book, The Holographic Universe by gifted writer Michael Talbot, had been read just a few weeks before. At a time when you are about to make a major decision, you look for anchors. Something about this book and its author held a powerful resonance. Here was a visionary man with amazing life experiences trying to see the world in a new way. There was so much more to learn, and he was talented, published and only 40 – I thought. Being 50, there seemed ample time to discover a new universe and make a difference. Time even to meet this wonderful writer on the other side of the continent.

So that day, reading Whitley Strieber’s Breakthrough under a warm, California sky, moving through the chapter entitled “Michael’s Gift,” a numbing cold descended as it slowly became clear the chapter was about Michael Talbot, and he was dead of leukemia at 37.

What could those at the pool have thought of a middle aged man blubbering into the pages of a book?  Did they know how precious time can be when you suddenly have a passion to use it?   Did they know that a few weeks later, while driving in twilight across the vast expanse of New Mexico, approaching Roswell and staring into the darkening and beckoning mysteries of the government captive desert, there would come a sense of elation never felt before in a life of small consequence, a sense of certainty and purpose so powerful, all fear fell away?

Which was good, because there would be more painful moments.

  • Learning in April of 1998 that Representative Steven Schiff was dead of cancer at 51 and feeling like a fool, being the “UFO lobbyist” and never securing a meeting with one of the few members of the House to ever stand up to the cover-up.
  • Learning of the death of Shari Adamiak, Karla Turner and Phil Corso, the latter more so because the Army and the top media had successfully dodged dealing with his memoir and public statements while he was alive and able to respond.
  • Watching from a distance an unbelievable assault via radio and internet on Art Bell and his radio program.
  • Hearing on the phone the uncontrolled, screaming anger of a suicidal colleague as a life collapsed and another marriage fell apart under the pressures of the work and the frustration.  This pain is revisited every time another skeptic/debunker/operative rants on about con artists milking a gullible public. This against a backdrop of early deaths, heart attacks, heart arrhythmias, cancers, busted bank accounts, and years of persistence by researchers and authors earning a fraction of what their talents would command in the “acceptable” segments of the business and academic world.
  • Learning that Paul Allen had thrown $20 million down the drain of the SETI science propaganda project, while the disclosure movement confronts the military industrial complex with nickels and dimes. This pain is compounded by the fact that the few individuals in and around the field with the wealth to truly make a difference will not direct a penny toward the politics of disclosure.

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t publish anything anywhere on the internet you aren’t prepared to see forwarded, copied, printed, embossed and put on a billboard in Times Square.
  • Don’t respond to email that infuriates until the next day or not at all.
  • Whatever your reaction to some new development in the field of ufology, reduce that reaction by half, and then by half again. Then deal with it.
  • Email is very conducive to expressions of ego and no help to humility whatsoever.


The very nature of ufology assaults the underbelly of human vulnerability – fear, shame, ego, and need. The most difficult discipline has been ego management. After that comes anger. In all of five years very few times has there been real burning anger and they have been put aside. Only one item remains to be extinguished.

When the amazing story of this 50-year struggle is written, aside from any grotesque acts by the government in defense of its little secret, within the public arena one piece of mischief will stand out.   It is the circumstances by which members of a skeptic organization contrived to set up a distinguished college professor and destroy this professor’s work, career and reputation. They used a vulnerable third party to carry out the plan and then compounded the crime by inviting the professor to give a good faith presentation at their organization’s annual dinner – only to spring the fruits of the plot on their guest.

It will come to be known as one of the most despicable acts in the history of modern science, directed at someone who had done more in a lifetime of work to help humanity than any score of their kind combined.

It has been said that ufology has suffered most from its “inability to conduct proper science.” Not true. It has suffered most from the quality of the skeptics that rose to challenge its findings. Putting aside Carl Sagan, more complicit than skeptic, there hasn’t been a media active debunker worthy of carrying the tape recorder of the typical field investigator.

There, we’ll just take that over here and put it in the little lockbox with the other stuff. Ah, yes, that feels better. Much better. Happy New Millennium.

*   Infamous runner who jumped into the last thousand yards of the woman’s Boston Marathon and claimed the winner’s trophy until found out the next day.