Have you ever wondered why the number of UFO sightings seems to be way down in recent years? It’s really pretty straightforward… once upon a time, people weren’t walking around with cameras (actually, entire TV studios) in their pockets. All UFO stories were relayed by word of mouth. Nobody would’ve expected a person to have a camera on them, and when pictures did show up, it was one-offs… look, a bright blob in the sky… the only reasonable explanation is aliens who’ve somehow managed to bend the laws of physics and time and space… and after their journey that must have taken millions of earth years, decided to just park 50,000 feet above the ground for a few minutes before speeding home for another few million years. Yes, that is indeed the likeliest explanation.

Truth is, if a flying saucer of any sort showed up today, it would be seen and captured by thousands of people. It would be on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter… from a thousand different angles. The fact that’s never happened should tell you something. And to be clear, there are unidentified flying objects all the time — unidentified by you and me. But rest assured, someone probably could identify it. And they wouldn’t tell you it’s little green men.

Funny story about UFOs though… I’ve never seen one, but I did cause a bunch of people to see one… and since this was in 1987, in the middle of the desert of northern Chile, there was nobody around with a camera… and here’s the story. My cousin and I had driven past a guy on the street selling fireworks. Side-note, in many places around the world, Chile among them, every time you stop at a red light, you will be accosted by a salesman of some sort. And they’re not all selling dingy crap… sometimes it’s ice-cold sealed bottles of water, charging cables, hats, cigarettes. But sometimes it is total crap. And sometimes it’s animals, like a skinned rabbit turned inside out. You usually keep your windows rolled up for those ones.

Every corner, someone is hocking something. And so, at some intersection, some guy jumped out with… fireworks… no idea why he had any or where he got them, but it was interesting enough to pull over and check out his stash. We bough a bunch of stuff, including a curiosity you wouldn’t see around here, at any of the firework pop-up shops that show up near Halloween.

What it was… was an open-bottom hot-air ballon, made out of wire and tissue paper. It was pretty big — fully inflated, maybe a 5-foot diameter ball of wire and paper that held a big candle in the “basket”. Does this thing really work, we asked… oh yes he said, very well… and proceeded to explain to us the process of unwrapping it and inflating it… after all, fire and tissue paper aren’t always going to go together well. OK, so cool… let’s get it… and we did. And on one of the following nights, we went a few km. out of town into the middle of the pitch-black desert (pitch black except for the crystal-clear, star-filled southern night sky, a real-life planetarium) and fired off a bunch of fireworks… and left the ballon for last. But eventually we got to it.

My cousin sort of held the balloon “up” while I lit the candle and held the basket straight and flat to the ground. Very quickly, the thing inflated… it was very impressive how little time it took to heat up the air underneath the ballon. Within 2 minutes, he didn’t need to hold it up… it was a big, glowing ball… and that air was hot, and pulling very hard… and I’m not exactly sure at what point I was supposed to let go, but eventually I couldn’t really hold it… so I let go, and the thing shot up into the sky, surprisingly quickly. It was incredibly impressive. Up it went, very quickly and very high. Ooooh. Ahhhh.

And then… well, the air isn’t necessarily still at certain altitudes. The wind caught it, and it started to drift toward town. Oh shit, that’s not ideal. And then… the wind caught the basket and candle, and ever so slightly tipped the basket to the side, causing the candle to come closer to the edge… like the edge of the bottom of the balloon itself. You know, the tissue-paper ballon.

What happened then was really impressive to see, even from far below on the ground. It caught on fire, and it was all entirely consumed within seconds, the entire thing engulfed in flames. For a few seconds, it was an impressive glowing fireball. Of course, that quickly became nothing more than a very hot mess… a collection of burning wire, which came crashing to the ground. Oh, the humanity.

We ran over to where this mess of wires hit the ground, glowing hot and still slightly burning…. and did the responsible thing and called the fire department. Ha ha, as if… no, we just buried it all in sand, and I’d be surprised if it weren’t still there today.

But the next day, no pictures… but a lot of people had seen it Did you guys see the UFO? What UFO we asked… oh yeah, this big glowing ball in the sky around 10pm. Oh yeah… no, didn’t see it. Oh, you missed it… it was huge, like 10 feet tall. An hour later, the story we heard was 20 feet tall. 30 feet… someone saw it land. Someone saw what might have been an alien. Someone’s dog barked, and it never barks; maybe more than one alien. By the end of the day, it was a full-on War of the Worlds.

We kept our mouths shut, because during that time, the country was still under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and breaking laws wasn’t a good idea. There was enough illegality about all of that, that talking about it was a bad idea; but hearing the story get taller and taller… that was amusing.

Anyway, as we’ve recently seen, the ability for anyone and everyone to be able to document what’s going on around them is leading society to new levels of accountability — which can only be a good thing. “Because I said so” is no longer an accepted threshold for the truth, no matter from whose mouth it’s emerging. This is where I’d end up saying something that someone might conclude is a Trump-bashing sort of statement… but I don’t need to. Like with UFOs, look at the evidence (or lack thereof) and make up your own mind. When things are going downhill and the top guy is saying things have never been better, you don’t need to have take a graduate course in critical thinking to figure it out.

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