NZ UFOs get attention

The call for UFO sightings from the Tauranga-based UFOCUS group caught the attention of the Waikato Times (July 28) which ran a two-page feature on alien visitations in this country.

Suzanne Hansen, who founded the group in 2000, recounted in detail an experience she had in 1978. She says she and her husband were driving late at night between Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga Bay, and saw the valley ahead of them bathed in bright white light. They stopped; Hansen began to notice her arms and legs were feeling numb and tingly, she heard a deep buzzing sound, felt dizzy and faint, and was unable to speak. Her next recollection was sitting in the dark. They drove on and reached their remote East Cape home. Next day she was extraordinarily tired, had nosebleeds and painfully sensitive ears. Her husband was reluctant to discuss the previous night.

UFOs seem to have followed Hansen around. She says she saw her first when she was eight; she and her family saw one over the Bombay Hills. While watching one south of Hastings she remembers feeling her car being lifted off the ground. Also in 1978 she recalls being terrified by buzzing and bright lights above their house at night. Then there was one she saw on the East Coast while riding a horse, and two together heading over the Kaimai Ranges and out to sea off Tauranga in 1995.

Hamilton senior traffic air controller Graeme Opie saw his UFO 12 days after this last pair. He describes it as having an orange tail, with edges that sparkled like a fireworks sparkler. It travelled across a 23 degree arc of the sky in one and a half seconds before disappearing behind clouds. A fairly typical fireball, in other words.

Towards the end of the article there were comments from a certain David Riddell, “editor of the New Zealand Sceptic” (sic). Among his perceptive and erudite comments he noted earlier phenomena such as the zeppelin panic of 1909 (NZ Skeptic 47), suggested sleep paralysis as an explanation for many alien abduction experiences, and expressed surprise at a new UFO group starting up when the phenomenon worldwide seems to be in decline.

Scientists simulate out-of-body experiences

Scientists in Switzerland and England have used virtual-reality goggles to induce out-of-body sensations in healthy volunteers (Chicago Tribune, August 24). Test subjects looking at video images of themselves projected through the goggles reacted as if their bodies had been touched when their virtual selves were stroked or poked. Tricked by the illusion, participants reported feeling that their consciousness had drifted from their real bodies into their virtual ones.

The research helps explain the odd sense of floating outside their bodies that people sometimes experience after traumatic events, such as car accidents. Out-of-body experiences have also been reported in cases in which a critical area of the brain is damaged, either from stroke, epilepsy or cancer.

The studies, published in Science, “call into question the axiom that everything you are is anchored in your body,” said Vilayanur Ramachandran, director of the center for the brain and cognition at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the current research.

Instead, Ramachandran said, “what you regard as you is really a transient construct created by the brain from multiple sensory sources.” When visual, tactile or other inputs don’t line up, he said, the boundaries of self-perception shift.

‘Adam’ already fallen

It’s not exactly one of the hottest news items in recent months, but anything that causes Ken Ham embarrassment is OK by me. It turns out the man who played Adam in a video at the Creation Museum in Kentucky (Newsfront, NZ Skeptic 84) had another life before entering the Garden of Eden, flaunting his sexual exploits online and modeling for a clothing line that promotes free love (Associated Press, June 7). The actor, Eric Linden, owns a website called Bedroom Acrobat, where he has been pictured, smiling alongside a drag queen, in a T-shirt brandishing the site’s sexually suggestive logo. The site allows users to post explicit stories and photos.

He also sells clothing for SFX International, whose initials appear to spell “SEX” from afar.

Linden said he has great respect for the founders of the Creation Museum and their vision. “For the Creation Museum, I did what I did as an actor. It doesn’t necessarily mean I believe in evolution or believe in creation. I’m hired to get a point across.”

The 40-second video has now been pulled. “We are currently investigating the veracity of these serious claims of his participation in projects that don’t align with the biblical standards and moral code upon which the ministry was founded,” Answers in Genesis spokesman Mark Looy said in a written statement.

Mutilated raccoon lands ‘high priestess’ in hot water

Salem, it seems, still has a few witches left unburned. Self-styled Wiccan high priestess Sharon Graham, 46, has been arraigned, with a 22-year-old male follower, on charges of malicious destruction of property and littering following events on the night of May 26 (Salem News, August 23).

On that night her flatmate, Richard Watson, said he returned to their apartment to find Graham, dressed in black, surrounded by four young men, also all in black, standing around a jar containing the eye of a raccoon. The rest of the dismembered animal was in the fridge.

Watson, who says he was intimidated by Graham, left with the others soon afterwards. Within hours, their handiwork would be discovered in the doorways of two Salem businesses-the head and entrails of a raccoon carefully arranged outside the door of Angelica of the Angels, and the body of the raccoon in front of the Goddess Treasure Chest, police said.

Graham is also charged with intimidating a witness, after allegedly demanding that Watson keep quiet, “or she would make him pay.”

“What has been done here is not witchcraft,” Watson, who describes himself as a witch, said outside Salem District Court, where he was seeking a restraining order against Graham. “In witchcraft, Rule Number One is to harm none.”

Instead, Watson told police, Graham hoped to frame Christian Day, a local Wiccan and businessman, after he fired Graham from his psychic telephone business. Graham also had a disagreement with the owners of the two shops over proposed new regulations about the licensing of psychics, Watson said.

A police search of Graham’s apartment found items including a wolf pelt, owl wings, bird claws and a stuffed coyote on a totem pole. The Environmental Police are investigating. Graham’s lawyer said his client collects Social Security for a mental disability he did not specify.

Scientology on trial

A Belgian prosecutor has recommended that the Church of Scientology stand trial for fraud and extortion, following a 10-year investigation that concluded the group should be labeled a criminal organisation (Associated Press, September 5).

Scientology said it would fight the criminal charges recommended by investigating prosecutor Jean-Claude Van Espen, who said up to 12 unidentified people should face charges. Van Espen’s probe also concluded that Scientology’s Brussels-based Europe office and its Belgian missions conducted unlawful practices in medicine, violated privacy laws and used illegal business contracts, said Lieve Pellens, a spokeswoman at the Federal Prosecutors Office.

An administrative court will decide whether to press charges against the Scientologists.

Scientology has been active in Belgium for nearly three decades. In 2003, it opened an international office near the headquarters of the European Union to lobby for its right to be recognised as an official religious group, a status it does not enjoy in Belgium.

A Belgian parliamentary committee report in 1997 labeled Scientology a sect and investigations were launched into the group’s finances and practices, such as the personality tests conducted on new members.

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