Are UFO Sightings A Glimpse Of Alien Technology?
Or Just New Age Science Fiction?
B y J i m N i n t z e l
AS TED LOMAN helps wrap the set after his Friday night show, he reflects for a moment on the nation's space program.
"It's all a hoax," he says. "You don't waste your time with an Edsel when you have a Cadillac." Meaning, of course, that our government already has crafts far superior to the space shuttle or the rockets that took astronauts to the moon.
Loman is given to such conjecture regularly as producer and co-host of UFO AZ, an hour-long weekly talk show produced on the Tucson Community Cable Corporation's public access network. A former mineralogist, Loman became interested in flying saucers after a chemical accident temporarily blinded him. (He still wears an eye patch and occasionally needs a new cornea transplant.) While he was recovering from the accident, his father sent him some tapes of a UFO radio show, which started him on the ET trail.
Along the way, he met one of his co-hosts on UFO AZ, Jim Nichols, a local librarian who's also a well-known ET artist. His work has graced the cover of several books and magazines and can be found on the Internet, where a lot of the UFO chatter goes on these days. Nichols grew up on science fiction and remembers hearing tales about flying saucers as a small boy. He always thought that one day we'd find out they were real.
"Here it is, 1995, and it's still unresolved, so I guess I look at the genre with more of a jaundiced eye because of that," Nichols says. "I haven't had an experience of my own. I don't see UFOs."
He first got involved in the UFO network in the early '80s when he met Tucsonan Wendell Stevens, a former military man who has written several ET books. Although Nichols "expected a real fruitcake," he was impressed with Stevens and began illustrating some of his stories. As he was drawn deeper into the community, he became more convinced something was going on.
"I'm as much a believer as I can be without having a personal experience," says Nichols. "I still think there's something to the phenomenon. I've talked to too many people to just blow it off, whatever it is--creatures from other dimensions and other planets or just a government con game."
Both Nichols and Loman were disappointed by the manner in which the local media covered Stevens' 1991 International UFO Congress here in Tucson. They decided they could do better and started producing UFO AZ. Each week, along with co-host Peggy Kane, they update their viewers on the latest ET news and discuss the phenomenon with guests.
They've picked up an audience from coast to coast. Over the last four years, Loman has managed to syndicate his program on public access systems in Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and nearly a dozen other locations. Just a few months ago, the trio started a radio version of the show that can be heard on station KTUC (1400 AM) from 10 to 11 p.m. on Sunday nights (following Dreamland, a UFO radio show by conservative host Art Bell).
Loman tends to set the agenda. A recent show mixed a guest discussing the possibilities of terra-forming the planets in our solar system with clips from Star Trek films and 2010. It's an odd blend of fact and fiction that leaves the viewer a little confused about where Loman draws the line.
He admits many UFO stories are off the wall, but he doesn't dismiss anything he hears. If someone tells him that a three-legged blob with one eye on the end of a tentacle has landed in Patagonia, he skeptically files it away in the back of his mind. If someone else tells him the same alien was on Mount Lemmon, he'll give it a little more credibility. If a third person tells him the creature was seen twisting on the Club Congress dance floor on '80s retro night, he may start to believe it really happened. After all, he likes to say, who are we to define reality for others?
THAT "ANYTHING is plausible" theory infuriates people like James McGaha, who debunks UFO cases in his spare time.
McGaha is an accomplished stargazer who frequently can be found spending his evenings peering into the night sky from his backyard telescope, a 12-inch computer-equipped unit. He has a master's degree in astronomy and teaches the subject at Pima Community College. His interest in UFOs dates back more than two decades. He recalls that whenever he told people he was an amateur astronomer, they had two questions for him: What's your sign? and Have you ever seen a UFO?
"I got tired of saying it was all nonsense, so I started researching it," McGaha says. Since then, he's investigated case after case, never finding any evidence that UFOs are here. He has come across, however, lots of people who believe in them--the result, he believes, of the decline of traditional religion and the rise of what he calls "pseudo-science."
In his own way, McGaha seems as fixated on UFOs as Loman or Nichols. He can spend hours at his comfortable foothills homes debunking the UFO stories with visitors, perfectly happy to pull out a map of Nevada and dismiss the stories of that fabled top-secret government site so popular among the UFO crowd, Area 51.
"There is no Area 51!" he thunders, his finger moving up the map from Las Vegas to Groom Lake, where the UFO crowd likes to pinpoint the alleged installation where alien remains and captured saucers are reputed to be hidden away deep beneath the ground.
Wrong, says McGaha. On his military map, it's actually Restricted Area 4808 North, where various training exercises take place--electronic warfare, nuke tests and other "classified stuff." McGaha, whose military career includes a stint as an Air Force pilot, says he knows the region because he's been there. He can't talk much about it because he doesn't want to violate his national security oath, but he insists that the U.S. government doesn't have captured saucers: "There is a lot of highly classified activity going on in here, but it has nothing to do with UFOs."
McGaha is full of reasons UFOs can't possibly exist. The g-force from their impossible maneuvers would crush fragile alien bodies. The gamma radiation generated by particle intersection at light-speed space travel--assuming that was even a possibility--would fry them. And the necessary energy to move at that speed--well, if you used every last volt of energy generated in the history of mankind, you might be able to propel a Volkswagen at one-tenth the speed of light.
LOMAN AND NICHOLS dismiss such skepticism as unimaginative thinking. They know that our 20th century science doesn't allow for faster-than-light-speed travel, but they say that doesn't mean that it won't be possible by the 25th century, or the 30th. Perhaps the aliens are using technology that's beyond our understanding. Perhaps they are an interdimensional intelligence, existing beyond the reach of our five senses and our scientific instruments. Perhaps they can even generate a magnetic field sufficient to crack the time-space continuum and travel outside linear time.
"A race with more advanced technology might be able to manipulate time and space and move in and out of our reality in a way that we're not accustomed to," says Nichols, who's heard plenty of stories about aliens who actually move people through walls. "It makes you wonder if there isn't more to what we perceive as reality. The abduction cases are so bizarre, they just don't fit our paradigm of reality as we know it."
To McGaha, that kind of argument echoes the current thinking in the UFO community. Back in the '50s and '60s, what he calls the "nuts-and-bolts" UFO researchers spent their time seeking physical evidence--photographs, crash wreckage, anything at all to prove they were out there--but no smoking gun emerged.
"There wasn't any evidence, so they got frustrated and dropped out," McGaha says.
In the 1970s, New Age ideas--eastern religion, psychic powers, channeling--blossomed and began to incorporate the UFO phenomenon. Because there was no physical evidence, belief in UFOs became a matter of faith.
"(The New Agers) control the UFO community today," McGaha believes. "There are a few of the nuts-and-bolts people still around, but by and large what I call the "believe anything" part of the UFO cult have taken it over.
"Belief is the issue here," he adds. "Magical thinking in a belief system is what's involved. People want to believe in something bigger than themselves. They want there to be this magical interconnectedness that makes them feel better. We will create things so we understand the world around us."
The recent spate of abduction cases he chalks up to a mix of false memory syndrome, bad dreams, sleep disorders and deluded thinking. He says these small greys appear because they are a Spielberg-reinforced cultural icon for the space age. Aliens in Russia, he adds, are seven-foot giants with heads the size of cantaloupe--just like they appear in Russian science fiction.
It's all just a mix of fanciful folklore and science fiction to McGaha. He rests his case on the fact that not one solid bit of evidence has ever been found to prove the existence of these flying saucers--a convincing argument that wins the day for most rational people.
But absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. To Nichols, skeptics like McGaha are just unenlightened luddites, still relying on the left-brained reasoning that has left mankind in the mess we're in today.
"It's always good to have a healthy skeptical attitude toward this stuff," Nichols says. "I think you can bend over backwards telling people objects flying around in the daylight between the observer and a cloud is the planet Venus. I think that's a stretch. Even if a craft lands on the White House lawn and aliens go in and shake hands with President Clinton, the skeptics and debunkers are still going to have their say. There are people who still believe the world's flat, for crying out loud."
UFO AZ airs Friday nights at 9 p.m. on Tucson Cablevision Channel 64. The radio show broadcasts at 10 p.m. Sunday evenings on KTUC-1400 AM.
Photo 1: The sky's the limit: Producer Ted Loman's UFO AZ is on public access stations around the country. Photo by Sean Justice
Photo 2 and 3: Star sketch: Nichols' work has been featured on book and magazine covers around the world. Illustration by Jim Nichols
Photo 4: Stargazer James McGaha: "Belief is the issue here." Photo by Lente S. Hancho
Photo 5: "I'm as much a believer as I can be without having a personal experience," says UFO artist Jim Nichols. "I don't see UFOs." Photo by Sean Justice
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