Journal of

The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York

Volume 1, Issue 7

Ask The Skeptic.

Question: In a previous column, you mentioned something called the ``Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.'' What is it?

Answer: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is a classic in both conspiracy theories and anti-semitic hate literature.

Although it was written in the late nineteenth century, it still circulates today and can be purchased from various neo-Nazi and White Supremacist publishers. Although I confess that I haven't read it, yet, I have requested that a second hand book dealer who I occasionally do business with get me a copy. I could order it from the racists, but I prefer not to give them my money.

According to the scholarly work, The Occult Establishment by James Webb (1976, Open Court Press, still in print, tough reading, but highly recommended) the work was first written in Paris in 1897 or 1898, and then smuggled to Russia. Theosophists may have been involved in its creation, although, of course, nobody knows for sure who wrote it. It claims to be the records of a secret meeting of a group known as ``the Learned Elders of Zion.'' The Learned Elders of Zion are a secret Jewish group that manipulates word events from behind the scenes. Among the tools that they use are the Freemasons.

Although this was not the first work of this kind, it was one of the most successful. Apparently during the Russian civil war, the White Russians used it as an extensive part of their war time propaganda against the Reds. (who they portrayed, of course, as dupes of the Learned Elders of Zion. When the Whites lost, they were forced to flee for their lives from Russia. Some, naturally, went to Europe and this idea may have thus spread to a variety of strange conspiracy-prone fringe groups including the fledgling Nazi party.

The work has been proven to be a hoax since it was first published in the West in 1920. Nevertheless, it does have a following among various fringe groups.

-Peter Huston

Ask The Psychic.

Question: I read with interest your previous column regarding why it rains after watering the lawn. You ascribe the problem to changes in Orgone energy caused by the hose. It so happens that I am an amateur astronomer, and have noticed that it gets cloudy and frequently rains when I take out my telescope. Friends who are also amateur astronomers have noticed the same thing. Could our telescopes be causing this? It does seem that the more telescopes together in one place, the more clouds appear. And, that clouds appear wherever we point the telescopes.

Answer: Yes. In fact, telescopes do cause rain for precisely the reason you state. A ``cloud buster'' as developed by the great psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, is constructed from a hollow tube. The tube is used to influence the concentration and flow of Orgone energy, the \'elan vital that permeates the Universe. My ongoing class-action suit against the Orgone Institute limits how much I can say, but I can tell you that the situation for amateur astronomers is more grave then for those who are simply watering their lawn, or washing their car. The primary mirror of the popular Newtonian telescope acts as an Orgone energy resonator which concentrates extremely high levels of Orgone energy over observation sites. The larger the mirror, the greater the concentration. Likewise, the more mirrors the greater the concentration.

My studies of Orgone energy and the techniques of cloud busting has lead me to believe that Newtonian telescopes trigger a Orgonic interferometry effect. This allows two 6 inch mirrors on either side of a field to act as a single cloud buster of gargantuan proportions. This is the basis of my suit against the Orgone institute, whose own studies hint at this effect, and which I believe is responsible for the great mid-western floods of 1993 (my lawyer has vetted this remark). I am greatly concerned that hurricane Andrew was a direct result of the Orgone energy concentration created by the Winter Star Party, and that our current dry spell in the northeast is due to the Hubble Space Telescope.

I have been in consultation with telescope manufacturers, however, and can assure you that they are taking this problem seriously. Several innovative designs have been proposed and I think your problem would go away if you were to purchase a catadioptric telescope such as a Schmidt-Cassigrain, or maybe a long focal length refractor. These telescopes greatly reduce the concentration of Orgone energy overhead by collecting it in the objective of the telescope. Heavy dewing may result, but that is a minor problem. Finally, be sure to paint the telescope bright white to help dissipate the Orgone energy safely, and wrap the eye-piece in aluminum foil for your own safety.

Q: Ok, so then who is the Mighty Quinne?

A: I'm sorry, but my lawyers will not allow me to answer that question.

-David Quinne

The UFO Skeptic.

As you know, I am very skeptical of claims that UFOs are real. I feel that evidence showing that UFOs are real is sorely lacking, and it surprises me how fervently people will believe in cases that have little substance. When I heard Stanton Friedman speak, I was quite surprised that he considered the Barney and Betty Hill case part of the proof that UFOs are real and we are being visited by alien spacecraft on a regular basis. To me, believing that Barney and Betty's abduction was a real event seems to rely more on wishful thinking than on anything of substance.

Does it matter if people believe in UFOs even though they are not real? Yes, it does. Devoting one's life to a fictitious belief is a terrible and unproductive waste of time and energy. There are so many interesting and exciting things in the real world and our time here is limited.

Being overly credulous may hide some real and unrecognized phenomena from view, or at least delay its recognition. Scientists tend to be reluctant to devote time and energy pursuing claims or ideas that seem farfetched or unlikely to be true. Much of this attitude is probably due to the large number and wide range of unusual claims and the overly credulous attitude of many people making such claims. It is likely that some real and interested phenomena may be buried in the noise.

A good example is a recent discovery about lightning. Lightning has been studied for about two centuries, and scientists felt that it was fairly well understood. Recently and unexpectedly a whole new class of lightning was discovered. Flashing upward from thunderheads are two new types of lightning---red sprites and blue jets. The red sprites, which may be pink or red, are many miles wide and rise to heights of 60 miles. Blue jets are cone shaped with their apex atop the clouds. They extend to heights of about 20 miles. While red sprites appear all at once, the blue jets move upward from the cloud tops.

The new class of lightning was first photographed by accident in 1989 when a retired physicist, Dr. John R. Winckler, was helping a friend try out a new low light video camera. A check of videos of thunderstorms taken by the space shuttles revealed more examples of this new and strange lightning. Soon searches for the phenomena were easily succeeding and it is now being widely investigated.

These forms of lightning eluded science because they are not as obvious as common lightning. They are rarer, fainter, and faster than normal lightning. They were, however, reported before they were recognized as something real. Airline pilots had sometimes seen them, and the May, 1995, issue of Sky & Telescope contains a letter from Stuart L. Becher. He writes that he is personally gratified that the sprite phenomena has at last been recognized as real, and then relates witnessing them twenty-five years ago when he was serving in Vietnam. Although he reported his observations to physicists and atmospheric scientists, most were indifferent.

People who are interested in anomalous phenomena claim scientists should take such phenomena more seriously, and should not be indifferent to reports such as that of Mr. Becher. Such reports might be taken more seriously if people interested in unusual phenomena would take science more seriously and become more critical. The perception that they will believe almost anything hurts their credibility, makes it unlikely they will be taken seriously, and may well slow the recognition of new and unrecognized phenomena.

Your comments, thoughts, or questions about this or other UFO topics are most welcome. Please address e-mail to or phone me at 374-8460.

-Alan French

1st Symposium on Anomalous Phenomena: Part 3, Kevin Randle.

This past April the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student union hosted its third UFO symposium entitled: The 1st Symposium on Anomalous Phenomena. Last month I wrote about John Burke's talk on ``Crop Circle Phenomena.'' This month I'm writing about Kevin Randle's talk: ``UFO crash at Roswell.''

Kevin Randle is co-author with Donald Schmitt of two books about Roswell: UFO Crash at Roswell and The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell. The former book was the basis for the Showtime movie Roswell. For those unfamiliar with the Roswell story, it is alleged by Randle and Schmitt that an extra-terrestrial space craft crashed outside of Roswell New Mexico on July 4, 1947. According to Randle, there was one space ship with bodies of 4 or 5 aliens recovered. The number of space ships and bodies (or live) aliens recovered is important, since there are at least 3 competing versions of the crash written by three different sets of authors.

Randle started his talk by outlining the Roswell theory he and Schmitt endorse. As stated above, this is a single crash with four recovered aliens. The reason to emphasis single is that there are some discrepancies regarding the location of the crash site. Randle and Schmitt believe that the UFO was damaged over the Brazil ranch, and crashed at another site. Mac Brazil is the rancher who first reported finding bits and pieces of what the Army Air Force at first called a flying saucer, and later called a weather balloon. This is all very well documented. That is, Mac did find pieces of something, and the Army did call it a flying saucer---there are even newspaper headlines. These subsequently turned out to be pieces of a weather balloon, or did they?

The story as given lay dormant for 40 years. There were spurious reports of recovered flying saucers, but UFOlogist did not take them seriously until the late 1980's when the Roswell case was re-opened. Since then at least 4 books appeared, as well as the Showtime movie, and a novel by Whitney Strieber called Majestic. The title Majestic is a reference to a set of documents called ``MJ12'' recovered by UFOlogists and declared authentic by Stanton Friedman. They are claimed to be a directive by then President Truman forming a committee of scientists to study the craft. The problem is, the ``MJ12'' documents are almost certainly forged (see Philip Klass's many articles in Skeptical Inquirer), and no other paper trail has been uncovered. Randle and Schmitt do not believe MJ12, and their second book details the reasons why.

Randle, in fact, was skeptical of may claims regarding UFOs and crashed saucers---an attitude that is almost heretical. (It is also an attitude that was refreshing after a weekend of anomalous phenomena talks.) He wants to limit himself to the facts, which in his case are largely the interviews he and Schmitt conducted of witnesses to the event. Randle read from and played selected recordings of these interviews. I found them to be the most interesting portion of the talk, and I think they represent an impressive oral history of the Roswell event---regardless of that event might have been. But, what I found most interesting about them is that even in these hand selected excerpts I heard what sounded like leading questions.

A ``leading question'' is a question that supplies information to the person being questioned. For example, a question that asks: ``where was the crash'''' is different from ``how far from town was the crash?''. The second question implies---leads the witness to conclude---that the crash was far from town. Even the second question is preferable to: ``30-40 miles outside of town?'' which is what Schmitt asked in response to a comment by Jim Ragsdale, one of the witnesses.

The extent of this type of questioning is important to know, because part of the claim for Roswell is the number of people whose testimony is consistent. But, this consistency is impressive only if they are independent witnesses. Living in the same town for 40 years is not (in my opinion) independent, and if the interviews really did consist of leading questions the case for Roswell is even weaker. Note, I'm not saying that this happened, I'm saying it sounded like it happened in the clips I listened to. Mr Ragsdale could have volunteered the distance estimate on his own earlier in the interview.

Similar leading questions were asked of Mac Brazil's son. He had collected his own wreckage of the UFO/Balloon, which an Army officer took from him. Schmitt repeatedly asked him about the properties of the material, how hard it was, and so on, even suggesting the term ``fiber optics.'' Brazil, however, stuck to his claims it was like ``balsa wood wrapped in aluminum'' and ``mono-filament fishing line.'' The only anomalous item mentioned was that light shined on one end of the ``fishing line'' came out the other. Given the overall tone of the interview, and that this is a 40 year old memory from a childhood event, I was not too impressed by what Mr. Brazil had to say.

Randle also spent time dismissing Mac Brazil's own claim that he found the wreckage on his ranch in mid-June. This is important for Randle and Schmitt's claim, since they believe the UFO crashed in early July. Brazil gave this mid-June date from the very beginning. Randle claims this was at the Army Air-Force's insistence as part of the weather balloon cover up. Maybe, but then maybe not. True, a rancher might not have left balloon material were cattle could eat it. But, Mac said he was checking the area to see if it was suitable for cattle. Maybe he decided it wasn't. Who can say, it happened 40 years ago.

Most surprising was Randle's investigations of the Air Forces report on Roswell. If you're not familiar with this, the General Accounting Office was asked to look into the Roswell by New Mexico representative Steven Schiff. The Air Force beat them to the finish line with a report endorsing Project Mongol as the source of the balloon. This was an experiment to use high altitude balloons to detect a Soviet atomic bomb blast, which was top secret at the time. Randle found evidence eliminating one of the two possible Mongol balloons, has found that the ``winds aloft'' data from the time should have sent the balloon in the opposite direction, and so on.

If you ever have a chance to see Randle talk I suggest going. He is a good speaker, he does know his material, and he is to date the most skeptical pro-UFO speaker I've seen. I asked him afterwards what would convince him that the Roswell event was not a crashed UFO. He said something that would account for the memories, and especially the memories of being threatened by the Army Air Force officers. He believes it was something big---not Mongol, and that the Air Force is still covering up. It might not be a crashed UFO, but that's what he believes it to have been.

Me, I'm not too sure. For one thing, the complete lack of a paper trail after (now) 50 years is too much to believe. And, that's a lot of time for townspeople to confuse a miss-identified crashed saucer and other events. Were they threatened? Or were they asked not to speak of it, and this grew into memories of threats? Instead, I'll wait for the General Accounting Office report, read Randle's books, and watch how the story shapes up over the next 50 years.

-Michael Sofka

Crop Circle Update.

Last month I wrote about the talk given by John Burke at RPI's 1st Symposium on Anomalous Phenomena. John Burke is the author with Dr. W.C. Levengood of the H-Glaze report which claims that meteoric iron was deposited on two crop circle formations by a plasma vortex. In that article I mentioned that one Robert Irving claims that the glaze was rust from iron filings, and that Burke and Levengood have not responded to his request for third party analysis of samples.

Well, the debate continues with virtual accusations on the Internet. (These accusations are taking place via proxy since neither Burke, Levengood or Irving seem to have Internet access.) Paul Vigay of the United Kingdom claims that the Burke and Levengood samples have been sent for independent comparison. John Stepkowski asks where and when, and why were Irving's samples not included in the comparison.

This has finally resulted in an open letter from Irving to Levengood and Burke requesting that their samples be sent for analysis by an independent third party, along with is own samples received from the same crop circles, and which he claims are, well, rust. If and how this debate will be settled is unknown, but this reporter will keep you informed to the best of his (admittedly limited) abilities. Meanwhile, the complete text of the open letter, as it appeared in the SKEPTIC mailing list, is given below.

-Michael Sofka

An Open Letter To Dr WC Levengood from Robert Irving.

10 June, 1995

Re: H-Glaze/Iron filings debate

Dear Dr Levengood,

You might be disturbed to learn that one of your British acolytes, namely Paul Vigay, is distributing a story that you have submitted samples of `glaze' for independent comparison with samples of iron filings supplied by me. As you have yet to respond to my offer to supply you with such samples, we both know that this cannot be true. If, however, you have made a comparison with other filings (as any fine-grade iron filings should suffice---there was nothing particularly special about mine) it would better serve your cause to state exactly that. Untrue or dubious variations, such as those consistently promulgated by Vigay and his ilk, cannot but hinder any credibility you might achieve in your quest for discovery.

You will be interested to learn that samples of my filings, along with samples of the original `glaze' (as supplied to me by Peter Sorenson, and of the same batch initially sent to you) are available for analysis by any interested, independent, and sufficiently accredited party. I'm confident, even in the context of present crop circle research, these criteria are not as limiting as they might first appear. Offers from any University-level metallurgy department, or from a certain Jet Propulsion Laboratory representative, would be especially welcome. Although I fear this proposal may eventually prove redundant, it is my hope that any findings could be freely, and quickly, distributed---thereby negating further silly claims made on your behalf. As a scientist with an apparently impeccable background you would be the first to recognise that such action would release the debate from its current, seemingly disingenuous, impasse.

Sincerely, Robert Irving

N.B1---Although you will have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the original `H-Glaze` sample offered for inspection, others might. The sample was supplied to me by Peter Sorenson last summer. It was signed by him, and the transaction recorded by us both on camera and audio tape, along with his confirmation that the sample was collected from the Yatesbury/Cherhill crop formation and of the same batch upon which your findings are based. Sorenson, being one of the most pleasant, cheerful, and unprejudiced fellows anyone is likely to meet, will no doubt confirm this.

N.B2---My apologies for presenting this letter in open format. I have it on completely unreliable authority (Vigay's `net-whining') that John Burke ``refuses to respond'' to offers made one year ago to supply you with samples; an attitude which hardly leads to a natural progression of understanding for others who may be interested in an honest appraisal of comparative tests. It would be sad, but not untypical, if an eventual outcome were to be shared only by those keen to prolong (or promote?) staled arguments.


Our next meeting is July 5th, 7:00 pm, at the Guilderland Public Library. The speaker we will be Dr. Carla Sofka. She will discuss the phenomena of ``Cultural Reincarnation.'' That is, the tendency of our culture to keep celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy alive.

In September our speaker will be Bob Mulford, whose topic will be ``Did the Big Bang Really Happen.'' Please note that there is no August meeting. A complete list of speakers can be found on the ISUNY Web page.

Thank You.

Thank you to Alan French, Peter Huston, Daniel Forrest and David ``the Mighty'' Quinne for their help in preparing this newsletter. Thank you to Bob and Dee Mulford for publicizing the meetings.

Thank you also to all of our members for their kind support of ISUNY. We would especially like to thank our Supporting members: Sylvia Chessin Arthur R. Petrick Duncan Tuininga, and our Patron members: Jordon Coleman, Charles Davies, Daniel Forrest, Alan & Susan French, Christopher Masto, Bob & Dee Mulford, Matthew Schnee, Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells.

About the Newsletter.

The Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York is the newsletter of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York. The manuscript was typeset using the document preparation system written by Donald Knuth of Stanford University, and made freely available over the Internet. Public domain copies of and the macros used for this newsletter are available to authors from the editor. The Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York is available on the World Wide Web at:

Articles, reports, reviews, and letters published in the Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York represent the views and work of individual authors. Their publication does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York or its members unless so stated.