Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Phenomenon


I happen to love reading biographies and watching documentaries.  I get that partly from my mother who would always have a celebrity biography at the ready everywhere around the house growing up.  I remember reading the life stories of Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, Natalie Wood to Albert Einstein. In between the biographies, my grandfather would find just about anything and everything on TV that was related to World War II and record it. This was way before the History channel and others like it even existed.  

I could swear that my grandfather’s VHS collection could rival that of the National Archives; it was so rich with historical documentaries.  I knew more about Generals Rommel and George S. Patton than most adults let alone preteens.  While my friends were fancying themselves as characters in the Breakfast Club, I was learning how General MacArthur and Field Marshall Montgomery were bringing the Axis to its knees. I know, I know. If I wasn’t the cool kid then who was, right?

Well I was raised in a conservative Catholic household.  Did the whole Catholic school bit right up to but not including high school.  I broke free at that point.  I had all my sacraments, minus the obvious exceptions. I was an alternate alter-boy which as I look back I realize I was like a utility player on a baseball team; only go to him when you have nobody else left on the bench. But that was fine. It got me out of class even if I didn’t have a clue with what I was doing. 

I say this to preface that years ago, and by years I’m 46 now, when I was at least 15 years old, I saw an interview on TV of a mysterious man whose identity was kept secret but later was revealed to be physicist Bob Lazar. He claimed to work at this super secret government base known as S4 which was part of this larger secret military base he called Area 51, out in Nevada, reverse engineering - wait for it- EXTRATERRESTRIAL spacecraft.  

Ok so to a 15-year-old who was raised on films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and Star Wars, this was absolutely mind-blowing. A legitimate news report of us, the U.S. Government, in possession of an alien spacecraft, holy shit! Of course nobody in their right mind thought it was true other than the interviewing journalist George Knapp of KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. Most thought that Lazar was probably some crackpot who was just looking for his 15 minutes of fame.  But I believed him. Maybe it was my naïveté but I did and little did that 15-year-old starry eyed boy know that some 30 plus years later, Bob Lazar’s story was far more truthful than most of what our nation’s government has ever voluntarily revealed to the public regarding unidentified flying objects.

Over the years I would read the works of Drs. Jaques Vallee and J. Allen Hynek.  Vallee, a French born astronomer and computer scientist credited with creating a network information center known as ARPANET, essentially a precursor to the modern day internet, later became one of the most prevailing researchers on unidentified flying objects. Hynek, a professor of Astronomy who assisted the U.S. Air Force research bodies such as Project Sign, Project Grudge and the most infamous, Project Blue Book, which cataloged thousands of unexplained phenomena dubbed UFOs at the time. 

Hynek was originally tasked by his military superiors/handlers to be the scientific advisor to Project Blue Book, but he became more like the resident de-bunker of the UFO myth, using his stellar credentials as a vehicle to downplay the validity of most of the Bluebook cases and of the UFO subject as a whole. To a point it actually worked but even Dr. Hynek would later realize that there were far too many credible accounts that couldn’t be easily written off as swamp gas or a drunk country bumpkin on a Saturday night staring up and seeing Venus, mistaking it for a UFO. Thus, in 1969, the U.S. Air Force closed Project Bluebook and deemed that we were quite alone in the universe and those few unexplained cases were just that, unexplained, but not UFOs and certainly nothing extraterrestrial.  Move along. Move along. 

So as I devoured everything on this topic I realized that when I decided to jump down the rabbit hole of ufology, there was a good chance I’d find a ton of whack jobs and bullshit artists. Needless to say I did and there are. I was always focused on the works of Vallee with his seminal book written in 1969, Passport to Magonia, being the holy grail of the subject of ufology. But still, the stigma attached to the study always outweighed ever broaching the subject with anyone, at least for me. 

My family knew I always had my head in the clouds and practically into the stars. Hell one day on a summer night my grandfather and I saw what we thought was a UFO.  So what did we do and by we I mean what did I do? I grabbed dad’s car keys and gramps and I drove after it, literally.  As we got closer, our “UFO” turned out to be just a blimp using new LED tech on its outer skin.  Yeah, so here was this 16-year-old and a 60-something year-old pulling a Roy Neary and driving off to catch a UFO. Good times. Damn you Spielberg!

I never told many people that story but when I have you can imagine the looks I get. Hey, I don’t blame them. Let’s face it, the government, the media, Hollywood, and academia have had a hand in marginalizing this subject so much so that anyone with a legitimate story, not an overeager kid chasing a Goodyear blimp with his grandpa, but legitimate unexplained sightings and encounters, have been lumped in with the crackpots and kooks and charlatans. Even today, 31 years after Bob Lazar made his controversial, revolutionary admission cloaked in the Nevada desert, those who “believe” no longer refer to unidentified flying objects as UFOs, now they’re referred to as UAPs, unidentified aerial phenomenons. But that wasn’t done at the hands of the UFO community, no, that was the United States government that made that new distinction.  

Around 2010 to 2011, the nomenclature of UFOs suddenly took on a new moniker, the UAP, the unidentified aerial phenomenon.  Veteran journalist Leslie Kean wrote a book in 2010 UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. Suddenly the ufology movement had what some might call a legitimate mainstream journalist advocating that what people were seeing were in fact, real. Kean asks her readers to consider that such sightings represent “a solid, physical phenomenon that appears to be under intelligent control and is capable of speeds, maneuverability, and luminosity beyond current known technology,” that the “government routinely ignores UFOs and, when pressed, issues false explanations,” and that the “hypothesis that UFOs are of extraterrestrial or interdimensional origin is a rational one and must be taken into account.”  HOLY SHIT INDEED. Leslie Kean, investigative journalist who writes for the New York Times.  Now I couldn't care less what you may think of the New York Times.  It’s not without its faults to say the least but for a writer whose byline is found at the Times, this validation is historic.  

Fast-forward to April 27th 2020, the year of COVID-19, has also turned out to be the year that the United States Defense Department openly admitted and released videos showing American military pilots encountering UAPs. Granted one took place in 2004 and the other two took place in 2015.  Some videos were circulating around the internet as far back as 2007 and 2017. Yet the U.S. government finally admitted that what people saw, what our soldiers saw, was and is still unexplained. 

If this doesn’t peak your curiosity then I don’t think anything will, well perhaps except for a documentary that was released October 6th of this year, The Phenomenon by filmmaker James Fox.  First I have to say to those of you who have been knee-deep in this world of the Phenomenon, this film, as glorious as it is, was not meant for you, for us.  This is a masterfully crafted film designed to bring what is clearly the most important story in the history of mankind to those who are clueless or who have been conditioned to have no clue regarding the Phenomenon.  James Fox takes you on a detailed chronological history of it and does so without trying to browbeat the audience into submission. 

When I reflect on the absolute craziness of 2020, I’m being gentle by calling it merely crazy. To say that our government practically admitted to a possible alien presence on this Earth and for it to NOT have made front page news, shows you what a year 2020 has been and to think we still have two more months to go. This topic has finally come out of the shadows and into the light. It can be spoken about far more freely and without abject ridicule. It poses many questions, some that are deeply personal.  It questions our view of the world, science, our government, our place in the hierarchy of this world. It makes you question religion and for someone like myself raised and still a practicing Catholic, it can be profound when you begin to look down that rabbit hole.  

My advice, go watch The Phenomenon by James Fox.  If you've ever thought about this subject but were afraid to ask questions or find yourself suddenly seen as ready for the Cuckoo's Nest, let this film be your jumping off point.  There are many branches to the Phenomenon tree out there.  Some are thought inspiring and some are unsettling and some are downright ridiculous.  Always judge the material by the source, it's vital. You have to leave your personal dogma (religious and political) at the door if you want to be open to what the possibilities are.  I won’t delve into all of them here, I’ll leave that for another time.  Be unafraid, but trust me, you will never see the world around you quite the same ever again.  James Fox has given you the option of taking the blue pill.  It’s up to you to take it, or not. 

The Spector Sector gives The Phenomenon by James Fox 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Season's Change

 I’ve always been somewhat of a pessimist. I was channel surfing the other day and “Everybody Loves Raymond” was on. It was the Recovering Pessimist episode.  In it Ray is awarded the sportswriter of the year. He was reluctant to go to the dinner because he didn’t want to be disappointed if he lost. When he gets home, even though he won, Ray is totally depressed thinking that for something so good to happen to him something equally terrible must be around the corner ready to strike. Well yeah, that can be me and like Ray, I’m a product of my parents who were just the same.  Don’t get me wrong I love my parents and I'm thankful of the man they've made me today but my dad’s favorite quote was, “If it wasn’t for bad luck I’d have none at all.” Well if that doesn’t brighten your day what will? 

Anyway, the reason for my rant is that for the first time in almost 20 years, on Monday I will be working for someone other than Optimum.  Between utterly changing philosophies (not for the better) when the French company Altice bought Optimum from James Dolan in 2015, to the absolute shit sandwich that this year has been, it’s going to be quite the welcome change for me.  I’m going from a corporate billion dollar behemoth whose wheels are sadly coming off to a family run business where we have a shared focus on what I do best which is to help people and I couldn’t be happier.  It’s been a while since I’ve been this happy so forgive me if I look over my shoulder and wonder if there’s a catch to this. Like Ray said, “Alright, I’m a little pessimistic, but I got it under control ok? I can be optimistic any time I want to.”

On a side note, I feel so optimistic, I think you'll be seeing more of the Spector Sector from here on out.                                                                               

                           I'M BACK BABY!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tony Gwynn - The Passing of a Legend

Photo courtesy of Joe Petruccio
One of my most cherished memories I have of my dad was how his influence helped form my love for the game of Baseball.  There was one day in particular when we went to purchase my very own, “professional” baseball glove.  This wasn’t going to be a cheap, garden variety type you would get at Kmart, this was the big leagues son, and this was going to be a Rawlings. 

For fathers and sons, buying your first glove, is as important as any rite of passage.  Dad didn’t care for other gloves out there other than Rawlings.  Like he always told me, “They hand out the Gold Gloves, why would you want something else?” I was using his rare, left-handed, Rawlings “Clete Boyer” model and it was starting to show its age.  The leather was dried out and cracking and since being left handed, I was preordained for either a first baseman’s mitt or an outfielder’s glove. It was pretty clear what I’d be getting that day. 

Dad took me to the Rawlings store – yes they had a sporting goods store – and the minute we walked in we could smell the aroma of the leather.  They were expensive as all hell even back then. We were far from rich so to get this gift was something I knew neither of us would ever forget and I would be forever grateful for.  Even though I was a kid, I knew this had much more meaning than simply replacing my (his) old beat up glove. 

Of course I went straight for the catcher’s mitt – I took a shot, what can I say? Dad smiled but had to remind me that being left handed meant you either played first, the outfield or pitched.  The “fun” positions were a no-go for the both of us.  We kept looking until he saw a special section of gloves called signature series.  Of course the majority of them were all right handed except for one in particular. 

The glove was signed along the thumb and read “Tony Gwynn”.  Mind you this was the beginning of the1984 season, so I had no clue who Tony Gwynn was at the time.  Even my dad couldn’t imagine what an incredible player and career Gwynn would have but he knew he was a stud in the making.  It’s amazing when you look back to moments in your life that leave indelible memories.  Tony Gwynn did that for me.

When I heard that Tony Gwynn passed away from a long battle with Cancer yesterday, I felt a part of my childhood had died as well.  He was only 54 years old, only 4 years older then when my dad passed away.  Both were far too young to go.  Gwynn was as close to being a pure hitter that there ever was.  Mentioning him, you could easily bring up the names of Cobb, Speaker, or Williams and not feel as if you’re out of touch.  Gwynn was that good.

He hit over .300 for 19 seasons – in a row, winning 8 batting titles with a career average of .338.  He won seven Silver Slugger awards, 5 gold gloves, and was named an All-Star 15 out of 16 years.  He almost hit .400 when in the strike shortened season of 1994, he batted .394.    He was a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, having garnered over 97% of the vote.  It’s hard to wrap your brain around it all, isn’t it?  He aspired to be the very best and he was of his generation. 

His downfall, and it would wrong not to mention, was his self-admitted demon, chewing tobacco.  In 2010, he was diagnosed with Cancer of the salivary gland.  He was never the same after that original diagnosis.  I want to remember Tony Gwynn for the person and player he was and the role – no matter how minute – he played in my lifelong love affair with the game.  I’ll never forget the memories he was indirectly a part of.  My one hope and if I were a betting man, I bet it would have also been Tony’s hope, is that for Major League Baseball and the Players Union to do the right thing and finally ban chewing tobacco in any Major League stadium. 

Now that would be a legacy Major League Baseball should aspire to

Friday, April 11, 2014

Getting Hammered

I’ve always made it a point not to take political advice from celebrities, be it of the Hollywood kind or those on the field of sports.  There’s just something wrong about making personal political choices based on what Tom Cruise or LeBron James has to say.  I guess I’ve always been a marketer’s nightmare in that regard.  But when a sports icon and hero, no less, says that those who disagree with President Obama are comparable to the KKK, I take offense and I’m not even a Republican.

Aaron was interviewed for the 40th anniversary of his record setting 715th homerun when he decided to compare the political climate 40 years ago and what he dealt with to today’s political climate and how it’s impacted the President.  Somehow he’s decided that the reason the President is failing – with 51% disapproving of his job performance according to Gallup – is because of rampant racism especially from Republicans.

"Sure, this country has a black president but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he's treated. - Hank Aaron

Aaron continued: “The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

So it's not the President's fault it's everyone who doesn't agree with the President who's at fault for his falling numbers?  That's like saying a hitter batting a buck fifty isn't at fault for stinking it up, it's the fans who are complaining about it.  Last time I checked we lived in a Democracy where we didn't have to agree with everything our leaders say.  Nor should anyone be branded a racist for not agreeing with him.  But that seems to be the way it is today.  Attack those who disagree with the president as being racist bumpkin boobs - because their arguments are as thin as their bloodline.

I revere what Hank Aaron accomplished and earned in the game.  Hell I applaud him when he''s referred to as the true home run king and not Barry Bonds.  If Bonds were white would my decision be based on the assumption that I hated white people?  I'm not trying to beat up on Aaron but I'm sick of hearing this type of stupidity and the media not calling people out on it.  If you're in the spotlight and you make a statement like that, be prepared to defend it.

We're now six years into the Obama Presidency and  people are still accused of racism when they disagree with him.  Even Hillary Clinton during her primary run against him was accused of such.  Crying racism every time someone disagrees with the president does nothing but give cover to those who are truly racist.  For example, former KKK member and former Democratic Senator from the state of West Virginia, Robert Byrd.  Oh but I suppose he found religion and poof, away went those racist beliefs.

I would never deny or denigrate anything Hank Aaron experienced during his life.  I'm well aware that people can be immeasurably good and evil to one another with the latter making their shallow choice based on skin color or the sexual orientation or the religion of their target.  But to paint people with a broad brush as being racist simply because they disagree with the person, delegitimizes not just the true racists but makes the accuser nothing more than a pawn. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Summer Movie Review - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

It looks like Marvel Studios is growing up right in front of our very eyes; finally coming into it’s own with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  It seems like the summer movie season starts earlier every year with this film premiering April 4th.  But if this is a prelude to crop of films coming this summer, The Winter Soldier set quite a high bar to match. 

With the original Captain America film being a World War II period piece, sprinkled with sci-fi fantasy with its introduction of the Tesseract, The Winter Soldier takes Cap right into the modern world as he’s an agent of the C.I.A. type spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D.  It’s a far more reality based film, far more then even last summer’s blockbuster, The Avengers. 

What really sets this Marvel film apart from any other is the fact that this is a complex political thriller, in the vein of some of the most classic political thrillers of the 1970’s.  Films such as Three Days of the Condor and The Jackal came to mind while I was watching The Winter Soldier.  Brothers and co-director’s Anthony and Joe Russo channeled their inner William Friedkin, pitting the Captain against everything he thought he knew was right.

A great deal of the film is an allegory of our own post 9-11 world as Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is hell bent on preventing another disaster similar to what took place during The Avengers.  The film clearly takes a blow at President Obama’s kill list and the overreaching of the N.S.A. In fact I could see Edward Snowden putting his seal of approval on this film for sure. 

The idea of targeted killing is a major theme in this film and it forces you to think about how that’s used in today’s war on terrorism.  Fury’s Project Insight, does exactly that as they’re able to target tens of thousands if not millions of perceived threats and eliminating them in one fell swoop.  At some point it makes you wonder does killing a hundred people make us safer?  What about a thousand or a million?  When is enough enough?  What is legal and what is acceptable according to our Constitution, are both asked in this film.  Art imitating life at its best I believe. 

The acting in this film in truly top notch (major tip of the hat to Robert Redford) as the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely weaves some of the best dialogue of any “comic book” film made to date.  Without giving too much away let’s just say that Captain America: The Winter Soldier, sets the Marvel Universe in a whole new direction.  Clearly Marvel Studios has its collective act together and is running like a well oiled machine. 

The Sector gives Captain America: The Winter Soldier 3.5 out of 4

Friday, April 4, 2014

To Leave Or Not To Leave...That Is The Question

A furor is raging over the New York sports wire regarding of all things, paternity leave and its effect on Major League Baseball and its players.  I’m not making this stuff up I swear.  The fire began when New York Mets second baseman, Daniel Murphy, was excused from the first two games of the season so he could be at his wife’s side for the birth of their son.  Not everyone apparently thinks a father, especially one that’s a professional athlete, should be taking time off for such inconsequential things.

Longtime radio personality and notorious thorn in Mets fans side, Mike Francesa, went on an anti-paternity leave rant the other day on his WFAN radio show.  Calling the situation a “scam” and a “gimmick” it leaves one to wonder what life in the Francesa home was like in his or his kid’s formative years?  Since he’s gone on record calling what Murphy did as being a “scam” and a “gimmick”, I would be remised not to point out that Francesa’s own father abandoned his family when Mike was just 8 years old.  So I guess being a cold hearted prick must be one of those passed down family traditions, kind of like Sunday gravy.

Even Boomer Esiason on his radio show, “Boomer and Carton” weighed in on the situation with this sage nugget of wisdom while acknowledging that Murphy has a legal right to miss work:

"Bottom line, that's not me. I wouldn't do that."

"Quite frankly I woulda said C-section before the season starts, I need to be at Opening Day.
I'm sorry."

Eat your heart out Marcus Welby.  Well there you have it ladies, and from the mouth of the guy who’s put more thought into this than anything he did in all the years he was quarterbacking the Jets.  But wait, Dr. Esaison continued:

"This is what makes our money, this is how we're gonna live our life. This is gonna give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I'll be able to afford any college I wanna send my kid to because I'm a baseball player."

Yes so true Boomer because you know that taking 2 precious days to see an event that should be more important than anything you’ve ever accomplished on the gridiron is simply pushing the envelope of rationale.  What’s next? Are we going to give NFL players who are convicted felons the right to keep earning millions?  Stop the madness! 

You know you would think that Esaison would have a bit more empathy considering the great work he’s done with his Foundation that funds research for cystic fibrosis, a disease of the respiratory and digestive systems that affects his own son, Gunnar. 

I could see if Murphy was asking for 6 weeks leave, as is normally the case with maternity leave.  But the team policy is 3 days max for paternity leave.  All of this outrage coming from a sport where players miss weeks and months on end when they pull a muscle – 2 days for the birth of your child – heracy!

This phony machismo attitude by these radio personalities and ex-athletes doesn’t play well in this day and age.   I could almost hear Francesa say that Mickey Mantle wouldn’t ever do something like this.  Of course not but then again I wouldn’t put Mantle up as a father of the year candidate either.  Look I get the locker room, testosterone driven mentality where you rub dirt on an injury and you keep your mouth shut even if you probably shouldn’t be on the field playing.

Some people get drunk with success - wink wink – Franseca.  Why don’t you do us a favor and take a few days off yourself.  We could all use a break from this stupidity

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What Being A Mets Fan Means To Me

It’s like clockwork you know, hell I could even set my watch to it. Every year and almost exactly around this time, nostalgia rushes over me in a wave of mixed emotions.  I feel the cold rattle my aching bones yet I know somewhere warm and far away, my team is getting ready for a new beginning.  Unless you’re a fan of this team, it’s hard to describe the passion we share for it, at least not without sounding as if we’re completely insane.

As much as it is a time of rebirth it’s a time where my memories pull me in equally powerful yet opposite directions.  It’s hard to let go of those I’ve lost, my father and grandfather especially.  I long for the days when we would travel to Kissimmee to see the Mets play the Astros during Spring Training.  It was the closest we could get to opening day at Shea, listening to Ralph Kiner – now also a part of our collective memories – and soaking it all in.  Full of hope; high on expectations and yet cognizant of reality, that’s the life of a Mets fan. 

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the combative and sometimes negative banter, especially when you’re a part of such a diverse and passionate fan base.  Most of the time it’s exhilarating, as defending your opinion should be.  On rare occasions it brings out the worst in us, but like I said, that’s rare.  But there should be no doubt that hope, really does spring eternal every year around this time.
It’s going to be exciting to see how the future is going to play out with regards to the Mets pitching.  It’s difficult to not compare the arms of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard to the icons of the past whether they be, Seaver, Koosman and Ryan or Gooden, Darling and Cone.  We’ve been teased before with Generation K, so we’re battle tested and always prepared to be disappointed.  But perhaps that pendulum has finally begun to swing our way.

Questions remain, as they always do.  Who’s playing first?  What about shortstop?  Does Alderson have money to spend?  If he does, do you believe him?  Do you believe the Wilpons?  Does that matter?  We always seem to be skeptical no matter who’s running the show, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.  We have to admit that progress has been made. Granted in a perfect world, it would have happened sooner then again in a perfect world Carlos Beltran would have swung at that curveball and Bernie Madoff would have never existed. 

“[Baseball] breaks your heart.  It’s designed to break your heart.  The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.  You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it the most, it stops.”
~ A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time For Paradise: Americans And Their Games

Even though a part of me would give anything to relive the past, I’m beginning to realize the true gift of what the past has given me.  What good is it to wish for days long gone with those we cared for sharing our love of this game and this team if it simply ends there?  Every thread of this game becomes a tapestry when passed down to those we love. The whole point is to continue our tradition. 

Adrienne Djaha
Just recently the mother of a good friend and co-worker of mine passed away.  As true a fan of this team I have ever known.  Adrienne would call to speak to her daughter and I knew when they were done speaking – it was time for us to talk shop.  She was 80 years old and sharp as a tack and she knew everything that was going on with this team from who was playing to who was hurt, down to her “boyfriend” Keith Hernandez’ personal life.  She made it a point to mention that he was “available” now and that he lived not too far from her.  I think the Mex would’ve met his match though. 

This is what matters most about our love for this team.  I may not write with the aplomb of a Greg Prince or with the uncanny wit of Metstradamus or with the statistical dexterity of Eric Simon.  But like Forrest Gump, I too know what love is and my greatest hope for anyone who reads this is to find that someone in your life and pass this love down.  I know, you might think it’s a curse but deep down, beyond the issues, beyond the controversies, we’re all one big family and I’ve been lucky to know and learn from a few of them.