The Hack and the Quack

The "Phoenix Lights" made Frances Emma Barwood the darling of the global space-alien lobby. And it'stransformed computer geek Jim Dilettoso into a star in the UFO firmament.

Today, Jim Marrs is giving a sermon.
He's a featured speaker at the Seventh Annual International UFO Congress. His message: There's no question aliens are among us. The real question, he asserts, is what their "agenda" is.

"I feel like I'm preaching to the choir. I don't think I need to explain anything to you," he says in his Texas twang.

Marrs preaches about our moon, for example, asserting that it is "the original UFO," and a great mystery. Marrs asserts that, unlike other celestial objects, the moon travels not in an ellipse but "in a nearly perfectly circular orbit."

No one objects to this falsehood. In fact, the moon moves in a very respectable ellipse which can change its distance from Earth up to 50,000 kilometers.

To Marrs, the sum of this and other effects--which include several basic errors of astronomical knowledge from a best-selling author who claims to be an expert--lead to only one, unavoidable conclusion: It is obvious that an ancient, extraterrestrial race parked the moon in a perfect orbit around Earth.

No one in the audience laughs.
"I don't have to explain this. You all believe this, right?" Marrs asks, and he gets a resounding "yes" from the choir.

Meanwhile, two women ignore Marrs as they talk about why aliens are abducting so many people. One says aliens want to create a hybrid human-alien race which will be able to operate the advanced technology aliens plan on bestowing us.

The second woman says that the hybrid race would be pandimensional, capable of disappearing into the fourth dimension.

Lights in the sky. Bizarre dreams. Objects whizzing by in video shots which look just like bugs out of focus. Memories of alien abductions "recovered" by suggestive hypnotherapists.

The movement barely resembles the field of inquiry taken seriously by the late Hynek.

With a heavy dose of New Age influence, the UFO movement increasingly grows less like a science and more like a religion. Some investigators point to an early case that marked this shift: the elaborate claims of a one-armed Swiss farmer named Eduard "Billy" Meier.

Since 1975, Meier has claimed to have had more than 700 contacts with aliens from the Pleiades star cluster. In most of those contacts, a female alien named Semjase has appeared to Meier, allowed him to photograph her spacecraft, taken him on rides in the craft, and even whisked him into the past to meet Jesus Christ, who was duly impressed with the advice Meier gave him. He has taken more than 1,000 photographs of Semjase's craft (which Semjase only reveals to Meier when he is alone), as well as photos of alien women, closeups of famous celestial objects, and even the eye of God. Meier claims that he is the reincarnation of Christ and that his teachings, based on what Semjase tells him, will save mankind.

Arizonans were instrumental in promoting Meier-mania. Beginning in the late 1970s, Wendelle C. Stevens, a Tucson UFO enthusiast, and others began touting and publishing Meier's photos (while playing down the messianic stuff).

Looking at Meier's photos, it's hard to believe he was ever taken seriously. Yet several Arizonans assured the UFO-hungry public that they had tested Meier's photographs and had found them to be genuine.

One of these investigators included a young man who claimed that he had used computers to verify the authenticity of Meier's photographs.

His name was Jim Dilettoso.

Kal Korff is one UFO researcher who believes Jim Dilettoso is a poseur.
Korff became interested in UFOs and began corresponding with Wendelle C. Stevens in the late 1970s. The two swapped UFO photos, and Korff studied the Billy Meier phenomenon. When the normally open Stevens refused to discuss certain aspects of the Meier case, Korff grew suspicious.

His doubts led him to write two books, one in 1980, the second in 1995, debunking the Meier case. In 1991, Korff traveled under an assumed name to Switzerland and inspected many unpublished Meier photographs. Korff's investigation, revealed in his book Spaceships of the Pleiades, showed that Meier's outer-space photographs were actually crude snapshots of TV science programs.

One photo is of two out-of-focus women who Meier insisted were aliens. In a tape-recorded interview with Korff, Jim Dilettoso claimed that the photo was authentic because the woman in the foreground had elongated ear lobes. But Korff showed that a clearer, unpublished photo taken by Meier revealed that the elongated ear lobes were actually lengths of the woman's hair.

In one of Wendelle C. Stevens' books of Meier photographs, futuristic-looking (for 1979) computer enhancements of the spaceship photos are accompanied by captions which purport to describe tests that authenticated Meier's photos.

De Anza Systems, a San Jose company, was credited with providing the computers to do the analyses.

In 1981, Korff interviewed De Anza employee Ken Dinwiddie, who confirmed that Dilettoso had brought the Meier photos to his shop. But Dilettoso and another man had simply asked that De Anza make some sample enhancements of the photos as a demonstration.

"They came to De Anza under the pretext of wanting to buy our equipment. We demonstrated it, and they snapped many pictures and left. We made no data interpretations whatsoever," Dinwiddie told Korff in the presence of two other investigators.

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