Sunday, May 12, 2013

The great Fortean "game" - Games of cat & mouse at Camelback mountain way back in 1880

The Magonia exchange has being doing a great job of focusing on historical UFO reports particularly utilising the growing number on digitised on line newspapers archives.  They are a rich source of UFO and other Fortean matters. 

Some of my work is included in my post on Australian historical UFO research.  Kay Massingill has been doing a wonderful job with her posts, many of which are on Australian pre-1947 cases.  I've been looking at these sorts of historical Australian and New Zealand cases since the 1970s, initially of course in the time honoured way of physically reading the originals or microfilm, etc.  Now we have a veritable goldfield of digitised newspapers increasingly coming on line - a researchers delight.  

Some cases really catch the eye.  For me the "Roaring moon" at Camelback Mountain in 1880 was one of them.  Thank you Kay for picking up this one.  I missed it in my own long searching.  It was especially interesting for me as it was located about 45 km NE of my old home town of Grafton.  I canoed down the river at the very location back in the late 1960s and 1970s and alway passed the area on my way up to university at Armidale between1971 and 1974.  

The 1880 event is fascinating at many different levels so I thought I would try to did deeper.  Here is the fascinating letter to the editor of the Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW), in its Saturday 19 June 1880 issue:

1880 Tuesday 22 June “Under the Arcade” column by the anonymous “Atlantes”:

1880 Saturday 26 June:
In the same issue in the "Under the Arcade" Atlantes comments, surely aware of "J.C. Laycock"'s letter:

Now things get curiouser & curiouser. 1880 Tuesday 29 June “Atlantes” reaction?:

1880, Tuesday 27 July 18 “Under the Arcade” column by “Atlantes”:

Mr. Laycock, a real historical family who had a place at Camelback, becomes an enigma.  Is there more than one? 

There was a junior & senior. , but it seems there was another? A literary "jokester"?

John Connell Laycock senior was apparently the original 12 June 1880 letter writer, born 1 December 1818, died 30 December 1897.

"J.C. Laycock" was a prolific letter writer but it seems at times mischief was afoot and a fine Fortean dance was to had?  

See the December 1863 letter:

and a February 1865 naming game:

So are we any closer to knowing if the original 19 June 1880 newspaper account is a legitimate story (the letter to the editor dated 12 June 1880)? Maybe? 

I have taken this up with some friends at the Clarence River Historical Society.  I will report further if I have any illuminations.

And thanks again for Kay for putting up this "Cheshire cat" and sending me down the "rabbit hole."

The game is afoot.


Bill Chalker

Monday, May 06, 2013

The passing of a great Russian researcher - Vladimir Rubtsov

It is with immense sadness I learnt today of the passing of Russian scientist Vladimir Rubtsov at the age of 64 after an illness.  We corresponded on quite a number of occasions over many years.  To his family and friends my sincere condolences.  We have lost a great researcher and a real gentleman.

I had the pleasure to read his excellent Tunguska book and when he asked me if I would review it I did so without hesitation. A great book by a great researcher.

He will be missed.  I have reproduced below my review:

“The Tunguska Mystery”

Something extraordinary happened over the Tunguska forest in central Siberia on June 30 1908.  Much has been published about what may have happened.  In terms of accessible books outside of Russia there is limited material.  1977 saw the publication of 3 books – “The Fire Came By” by John Baxter and Thomas Atkins, “The Tungus Event” by Rupert Furneax, and “Tunguska – Cauldron of Hell” by Jack Stonely.  More recently (2005) Surendra Verma’s “The Tunguska Fireball” explored the mystery of the massive explosion, providing a good overview of the mystery but concludes that the jury is still out.

With 2009 we have the publication of Vladimir Rubtsov excellent book “The Tunguska Mystery” aided by the editing efforts of Edward Ashpole (author of the admirable “The UFO Phenomena” (1995)). Dr. Rubtsov a Russian scientist received his Ph.D degree from the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (Moscow, Russia) with his 1980 doctoral thesis “Philosophical and Methodological Aspects of the Problem of Extraterrestrial Civilizations” the first of its kind in the former USSR.  Dr. Rubtsov also had published in 1991 “UFOs and Modern Science” (with Y. V. Platov, through "Nauka" ("Science", the publishing house of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow) as an introduction to the UFO problem for the Soviet scientific community.  He advised me, “We hoped (UFOs and Modern Science) would be just the first work in a series and therefore did not try to cover in the book all aspects of the UFO problem. Alas, immediately after it was published, the Soviet Union disintegrated and all hopes for serious work in this direction have dissolved too. Now science in Russia and Ukraine is trying to survive, rather than to develop. Nevertheless, I think that one day in the future the situation may change. Individual interest to the UFO phenomenon among our scientists still remains considerable.”

Dr. Rubtsov researched the Tunguska mystery for 35 years and his Tunguska book’s strength lies in this dedication and persistence.  Unlike the western books that preceded it “The Tunguska Mystery” uniquely presents the vast amount of research done in Russia on the subject over the last 100 years.  It is extensively anchored in Russian research much of it unseen by western researchers.  Richly documented and illustrated it represents an exceptional presentation of the facts and controversy uncovered by Russian researchers.  Dr. Rubtsov also addresses significant western efforts on the subject, such as the blast magnitude computation modelling from Sandia National Lab scientists Drs. Boslough and Crawford.  These argued for a lower magnitude event than previously accepted, but Rubtsov highlights that such arguments are of limited value until they properly consider the topography of the Tunguska site.  The Sandia scientists plan to try to undertake this work. 

Dr. Rubtsov makes a critical point arguing, “the members of the Tunguska research community in Russia, Ukraine, and other CIS countries, although far from uniform in their viewpoints on the phenomenon … do have a grasp of the real contents of this problem, whereas their Western colleagues are as a rule dealing with its simplified and perhaps distorted pictures.  Too many well-established facts have been forgotten, too much information is ignored, lots of important publications remain unknown in the West – partly because of the language barrier.  Besides, scientific overspecialization, so typical in this day and age, hampers the interdisciplinary perception of the Tunguska phenomenon. At best, the researcher knows that there is in Siberia an area of levelled forest, having at the same time no idea of other Tunguska traces – both larger (the light burn and the geomagnetic storm) and smaller (from genetic mutations to the paleomagnetic anomaly) or of other “details” of this event.” (Rubtsov, page 302)

Despite the consensus of mainstream western science that the Tunguska event has been explained as due to a meteorite, asteroid or similar natural space object, Dr. Rubtsov has richly argued with compelling data that such certainty is not justified.  Instead he asks, “Why has such a rich set of empirical information not yet been transformed into an accurate and rational theoretical scheme explaining this phenomenon? … Logic, discipline of reasoning, ability to match theoretical considerations with factual material – all these are important in the next stage of scientific investigation, the stage of testing the proposed ideas.” (Rubtsov, page 303) I found it fascinating and very informative to follow Dr. Rubtsov’s consideration of even exotic explanations such as “artificial” objects, even extraterrestrial ones. Even though like the mainstream “explanations” he argues they cannot yet be considered as “final solutions.”    The critical process elaborated in this book is the development of “the multidisciplinary model of the Tunguska phenomenon.”  The necessity of correctly determining the true answer that fits that model is critical.  Indeed it is a matter of survival. Another Tunguska style event would be potentially devastating if it occurred over a populated area. 

Vladimir Rubtsov has provided a potent distillation of the facts, particularly the vast body of Russian data gathered over the last century, much of which is poorly understood by the West.  This alone makes the book a very worthwhile contribution to our comprehension of the extraordinary Tunguska event of 1908.  I enjoyed this book very much, but I’m sure given the passion and extent of the Tunguska debate so far, the debate and controversy will continue.  The type of focus called for by  Dr. Rubtsov and proper consideration of the issues and detail described in his book will help steer us closer to that much sort after but so far elusive “final solution” of the Tunguska enigma.