Saturday, October 12, 2019

Remembering William R. Corliss (1926-2011)


Recommended reading: John Ruch's 9-24-19 Washington Post article entitled "He Saw the Scientific Promise in the Paranormal, But Now His Legacy Could Be Lost," in which the work of the late William R. Corliss is covered extensively (and with a surprising paucity of snide remarks):

Lightning curls into balls that pass ghostlike through windows and explode. Auroras dip from the sky to buzz and crackle around astonished viewers. Unexplained booms shake the skies over bays and rivers worldwide.

For more than three decades, a Baltimore physicist named William Corliss collected scientific journal reports of these and thousands of other strange phenomena into dozens of books, culminating in his multivolume “Catalog of Anomalies,” a shadow encyclopedia of things science doesn’t understand. Like any curiosity seeker, he aimed to delight and dazzle; but he also hoped to spur new discoveries and understandings. “Anomalies reveal nature as it really is: complex, chaotic, possibly even unplumbable,” Corliss wrote in one catalogue. “However iconoclastic the pages of this book, the history of science tells us that future students of nature will laugh at our conservatism and lack of vision.”

Corliss was praised by some fellow scientists in his day, but now, eight years after his death at 84, his family is shuttering his self-publishing house in Glen Arm, Md. Tomes with such stiffly offbeat titles as “Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena” (which Corliss said sold 100,000 copies) or “Rare Halos, Mirages, Anomalous Rainbows and Related Electromagnetic Phenomena” will go out of print for the first time. And Corliss’s legacy as a proponent of anomalistics, an interdisciplinary field that seeks scientific discoveries in the lore of the curious and the unexplained, may be destined for obscurity, lost in library book-weedings and buried in footnotes in the even lesser-known works of his handful of fans.

Corliss was not your typical compiler of UFO tales and ghost stories. In the 1960s, he served as director of advanced programs in the nuclear division of what is now Lockheed Martin and penned numerous scientific books as a technical writer for such partners as Nobel Prize-winning chemist Glenn Seaborg and NASA. But even those dry histories and manuals included references to unexplained mysteries and digs at the way the scientific establishment is sometimes faster to laugh at an idea than to investigate it.

Two revolutionary books set Corliss on his maverick course. One was a 1920s creationist assault on mainstream geology. Corliss himself never bought into the creation myth, according to Patrick Huyghe, publisher of a journal called the Anomalist and one of the few writers to interview the publicity-shy author. But he was intrigued by the widespread evidence for “catastrophism” — the concept that biblical-scale disasters like mega-floods and super-quakes shape the planet’s surface — and championed it well before it became cool again in an asteroid-killed-the-dinosaurs tale you may have heard.

The other book that influenced Corliss was “The Book of the Damned,” by Charles Fort. Fort was an eccentric New York journalist who spent the early 1900s scouring newspapers and scientific publications for bizarre reports — rains of blood and frogs, UFOs, ancient Roman coins plowed up in American fields — and compiled them into wild, absurdist books that mocked academic certitude. The stories were “damned” from textbooks because they didn’t fit prevailing theory.

Fort launched an entire genre of paranormal writing. Hundreds of imitators followed — Corliss foremost among them. On research trips for NASA to Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, Corliss detoured into old journals to follow up on some of Fort’s reports. He was astonished to find that Fort had touched only the tip of the anomaly iceberg.

In 1965, Corliss started compiling his own collection. Unlike the cranky Fort, he maintained a respect for science and its skeptical approach. He selected material primarily from the pages of respectable scientific journals and eschewed Fort’s dramatic taste in titles, instead referring to his research blandly as the Sourcebook Project. From 1974 through 2007, he published his collections first as ring-bound pages, then as meticulously indexed hardback catalogues, almost always printed in the relentlessly unsexy font of an old electric typewriter. For illustrations, he signed up a fellow outsider: John C. “Jack” Holden, a cartoonist trained in geology, who told me he delighted in Corliss’s professional dedication to “things that shouldn’t be.”

Corliss hoped that his compilations of the weird just might spark a scientific revolution. After all, the history of science is replete with cases of ridiculed reports and obscure observations that, when fitted together, revealed something new: the extraterrestrial origin of meteorites, for example, or the grim reality of battered-child syndrome.

Of course, many bizarre reports are untrue or insignificant, and Corliss admitted that his books were undoubtedly full of chaff. But several formerly fringe claims for which he connected the dots on 150 years’ worth of reports have joined scientific orthodoxy, including gigantic “rogue waves” that appear from nowhere to swamp ships, and the eerie glows known as “sprites” that sometimes manifest above thunderstorms. There is no sign, however, that Corliss’s research directly inspired any discoveries. (Rogue waves and sprites were “discovered” by accident, detected by recording devices set up for other purposes.)

As a motto, Corliss adopted a quote from “The Hidden Self,” an obscure 1890 essay by psychologist and philosopher William James, which reads in part: “Round about the accredited and orderly facts of every science there ever floats a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations, of occurrences minute and irregular, and seldom met with, which it always proves less easy to attend to than to ignore. ... Anyone will renovate his science who will steadily look after the irregular phenomena.” James referred to this “dust-cloud” of anomalies as the “Unclassified Residuum,” and Corliss set forth to classify it.

Along the way, Corliss won some high-profile fans who shared his open-minded eclecticism. Among them was Arthur C. Clarke, the sci-fi visionary of “2001” fame, who praised the physicist in his memoir, “Astounding Days.” Nobel-winning geneticist Barbara McClintock was another; her biographer, Nathaniel Comfort, told me her discovery of the mobility of genes was such a shocking anomaly that it stirred her curiosity about other strange observations.

At his death in 2011, Corliss left no successor, and the fate of his archives is unclear beyond some newsletters still posted on his website, Science Frontiers (science-frontiers.com). His family declined my interview requests, but his son Jim Corliss confirmed via email that “book sales have finally slowed down to a trickle,” and “I think we will be sadly saying goodbye to the Sourcebook Project this year.”

That means saying goodbye to thousands of reports that, at the least, can inspire readers to a renewed sense of natural wonder. Holden recalls the favorite anomaly he learned about from Corliss: mima mounds, unexplained patterns of humps that dot the U.S. landscape. “No one knows what they are. ... I like that,” Holden says. “The more we learn, the more we don’t know.”

Friday, October 11, 2019

Whitley Strieber on RADIO MISTERIOSO

On the 9th of October, Greg Bishop posted the latest episode of his excellent podcast, RADIO MISTERIOSO. This installment features an hour-long conversation with Whitley Strieber, author of THE HUNGER, BLACK MAGIC, COMMUNION, CONFIRMATION, THE SECRET SCHOOL, EVENINGS WITH DEMONS, and dozens of other compelling books. I highly recommend listening to the entire interview, which you can find right HERE.

After you've listened to RADIO MISTERIOSO, check out this clip of Strieber reading excerpts from his classic short story "Pain" (originally published in Dennis Etchison's CUTTING EDGE anthology) with accompaniment by none other than Marilyn Manson.


"There's a link between these visitors and the dead."
--Whitley Strieber
Radio Misterioso
10-9-19

Monday, October 7, 2019

Enki King's "Klown-Kurrent 33"

On October 1, 2019, cryptozoologist Loren Coleman posted Enki King's article "Klown-Kurrent 33" on his Twilight Language blog. A brief excerpt follows....

(Note: The correct origin of the epigraph attributed here to Stephen King is actor Lon Chaney's oft-quoted observation: "There's nothing funny about a clown at midnight.")

“Nobody likes a clown at midnight.”  Stephen King

On August 10, 2019, after learning of a bizarre police incident involving a clown on the seven-year anniversary of the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, I found my syncy-sense tingling. I subsequently predicted that Joker’s Venice Film Festival premiere on August 31 and wide release date on October 4 would be days of violence. I was correct about the first date, which saw police using excessive force against protesters at Boston’s Straight Pride Parade (attended by at least a couple of men dressed as clowns, it should be noted), a knife attack in France that left one person dead and eight injured, and most synchromystically significant, a mass shooting in Texas that ended with eight dead and twenty-one injured. The Aurora incident of 2012 resonated in this case – the gunman’s rampage was put to a stop in the parking lot of a movie theater, and this was a day of intense, aurora-producing geomagnetic storms.

Joker’s advertised wide release is October 4, but Warner Brothers is allowing preshows in the U.S. on October 3 starting at 4:00 PM. This is now only a few days away, and I continue to stand by my prediction that violence will occur, though I am now leaning toward the 3rd rather than the 4th. Interestingly, the number of days between August 31 and October 3 is 33, a number of power to Freemasons, mystics, and occultists. (And possibly evil clowns – killer clown John Wayne Gacy was convicted and executed for the rape and murder of 33 victims.) Regions close to the 33rd parallel have had more than their fair share of high-profile violent events, which include the first shots of the Civil War fired at Fort Sumter, the first atomic blast at the Trinity site, and the assassinations of JFK and RFK. This latitude is one to watch closely for a Red Dawn event next weekend.

Something interesting I did not predict was that clowns and clown-related events would make the news repeatedly during this 33-day period. Here is a timeline of what I have encountered so far....

To read King's entire article, click HERE

Only a few days after King's article appeared on Coleman's blog, The Orange County Register printed Alma Fausto's 10-4-19 report entitled "Threat Related to 'Joker' Movie Closes Bella Terra Theater in Huntington Beach":

A Huntington Beach movie theater closed Thursday night after police say a credible threat was reported relating to the “Joker” movie.
Officers were sent to the Century Huntington Beach and XD theater house in the Bella Terra shopping center on Edinger Avenue at around 5 p.m., said Officer Angela Bennett, a Huntington Beach police spokeswoman.
Though police would not go into details about the nature of the threat, or how it was received, Bennett did say: “The threat was specific to the (“Joker”) movie and the theater.”
As a result of the threat, theater management stopped showing movies starting at about 4:45 p.m. The decision to close was made out of an abundance of caution, police said.
To read Fausto's entire report, click HERE.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The War Against the Imagination Heats Up! (Part Two): Morals Clauses in Book Contracts

From the Authors Guild's 1-24-19 article entitled "Why We Oppose Morals Clauses in Book Contracts":

The Authors Guild objects to publishers’ new and increasing use of so-called “morals clauses.” These contract provisions allow publishers to terminate a book contract, and in many cases even require the author to repay portions of the advance already received, if the author is accused of immoral, illegal, or publicly condemned behavior. Publishers insist they need the clauses to protect themselves in the event an author’s reputation becomes so tarnished after the book contract is signed that it will hurt sales. But most of these clauses are too broad and allow a publisher to terminate based on individual accusations or the vague notion of “public condemnation”—which can occur all too easily in these days of viral social media.
The ambiguity and subjectivity of these clauses make them ripe for abuse. Publishers should not have the sole discretion to decide whether accusations are true. And, if the accusations are not true, they should not subject the author to termination. Publishing houses should perform due diligence and determine whether the book and its author fit their objectives before entering into agreements. Broad morals clauses give publishers yet another unfair way out of a contract when they decide they don’t want to publish a book for whatever reason.
The moral conduct of an author is not germane to the author’s fulfillment of obligations under the contract; nor should it be a basis for termination, much less returning the advance. The author’s side of the bargain is to deliver the book promised in a timely manner, not to uphold any unspecified standards of behavior.
What constitutes behavior “subject to widespread public condemnation,” “moral turpitude,” or similar terms used in these clauses varies widely and often has as much to do with a nation’s current sociopolitical climate as it does with ethics. As playwright Lillian Hellman notably wrote in response to a subpoena to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating Communist infiltratration of Hollywood and other American institutions, “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”
To read the entire article, click HERE.

The War Against the Imagination Heats Up!


"UT! HERE IT COMES AGAIN!"
--THE FLAMING CARROT

As the systematic War Against the Imagination--an increasingly destructive cold war I've written about in such previous posts as "THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION" and "THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION CONTINUES"--heats up further, expect to see more editorials popping up in mainstream publications that enthusiastically advocate the gradual rollback of the First Amendment. Case in point: This 10-4-19 New York Times Op-Ed piece (unironically titled "Free Speech Is Killing Us"), which argues against "unchecked" speech, a barely disguised euphemism for the New York Times' actual agenda. In this piece, New Yorker staff writer Andrew Marantz advocates the strategic use of "carrots" to combat what he refers to as First-Amendment-induced "paralysis."

You can't make this stuff up, folks! 
Here's a brief excerpt....
"I am not calling for repealing the First Amendment, or even for banning speech I find offensive on private platforms. What I’m arguing against is paralysis. We can protect unpopular speech from government interference while also admitting that unchecked speech can expose us to real risks. And we can take steps to mitigate those risks.
"The Constitution prevents the government from using sticks, but it says nothing about carrots."

If you want to read the entire piece, click HERE.

And if you don't want to read it, why not take this opportunity to instead check out Bob Burden's FLAMING CARROT comic book, which was recently re-released in a handsome omnibus edition courtesy of Dark Horse Comics? A tenuous link? Perhaps. But let's keep in mind that real carrots don't support censorship in any form (even when it's politely referred to as "checking" free speech)!







Wednesday, October 2, 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACK PARSONS!

John Whiteside "Jack" Parsons (1914-1952) was born 105 years ago today. To better understand the unique worldview of this pioneering rocket scientist, occultist, and poet, I recommend reading his revolutionary manifesto "Freedom is a Two-edged Sword," which can be found right HERE.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GROUCHO MARX! (Part 3)

If you're in the mood to read about the night Paul Krassner (1932-2019) dropped LSD with Groucho Marx (1890-1977), then please click HERE. (This psychedelic tale is also related in Krassner's excellent autobiography, CONFESSIONS OF A RAVING, UNCONFINED NUT.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GROUCHO MARX! (Part 2)

From Edward Buzzell's AT THE CIRCUS (1939):


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GROUCHO MARX!

An always relevant scene from Norman Z. McLeod's HORSE FEATHERS (1932):

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

"The Eye Doctor" in TEST PATTERNS: CREATURE FEATURES

Since October 31st is rapidly approaching, I thought this might be an appropriate time to recommend some spooky Halloween reading material. Consider picking up a copy of TEST PATTERNS: CREATURE FEATURES edited by Duane Pesice (released by Planet X Publications), which includes my story "The Eye Doctor" (7,200 words). The book also includes monster-centric tall tales by such fabulists as Buzz Dixon, Cody Goodfellow, Orrin Grey, Jeffrey Thomas, and Robert S. Wilson. 

You’ve awakened from a night of strange dreams emanating from the TV's test pattern, but now things are taking a more monstrous turn. Here are 29 original tales from established weavers of weird tales, and several new voices of horror, introducing strange new beings and otherworldly scenarios. So turn on, tune in, and hold on tight!

Grab your copy in time for All Hallows' Eve! You can buy the book right HERE!!!