FINALLY, they’re treating UFOs with the gravity the subject deserves. The phenomenon was investigated this week by the US Congress’s Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee. The meeting was described as counterproductive.

That is to say, it concluded there was nothing to conclude. That hasn’t stopped the Pentagon going nuts with names, having set up a UFO squad called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronisation Group.

Neither is it referring any more to Unidentified Flying Objects, but to “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”, after rejecting for obvious reasons “Aerially Recorded Space Encounters”. Clearly, something is afoot. But is it the whole nine yards?

The flurry of activity follows 400 US military sightings, including 11 “close encounters” – near misses. Indeed, the number of sightings, described as “frequent and continuing”, has more than doubled in the past year, as the stigma of reporting them lessens.

This was the first hearing into the subject since 1966, when Republican congressman, and future president, Gerald Ford called an investigation after a UFO was seen by more than 40 people, including a dozen police officers, in yonder Michigan.

US air force officials said the phenomenon was caused by “swamp gas”, which Ford thought “flippant”. But the subject attracts flippancy. One chap in the tabs last week claimed he was abducted and made to fight in wars between different groups of bug-eyed, alien dweebs. They sounded more like football hooligans than advanced beings.

That’s the big worry: they might be nutters. Just like us. Already, leading worriers in the US have speculated that the UFOs could be – all together now – a threat. Yay! Let there be war! World wars are so last century. Time for planet wars.

Right enough, many alleged sightings take place near military bases. But the aliens never do anything. Maybe they operate to the same Prime Directive as in Star Trek, so they can observe us but not interfere in our lunacy.

If there’s a Captain Kirk among them, surely he must be tempted to punch Putin on the snoot. But, no, they just hang about, being slightly irritating. Condescending even.

That’s if they’re there at all. Today, when decent ratepayers can’t even shoplift or take a wizz up an alley without it being filmed in glorious technicolor, footage of UFOs remains conspicuously awful. Most of it turns out to be drones, kites, balloons, birds or reflected mirrors.

Folk say it’s unlikely that Earth would be the only place in the universe that harbours life, however degraded. But how do we know they’ll be advanced? Do they listen to prog rock, support Hibs, watch Carry On films?

Perhaps they’ve got daft wee heids, or a tentacle where their willie should be, or their halitosis could floor you at 10 yards. Are they vegan? Wiccans? Woke?

I doubt if we’ll find out in our lifetimes. They’ll probably just come down for a look when the place is a smouldering ruin, wondering if they should have interfered after all.

Mouthing off

ONE of the many social obligations I’ve managed to avoid is public speaking. My horror of it is not your nervousness. It’s a phobia made more severe by being rational.

Disliking being the centre of attention at the best of times, I also believe it a terrific conceit to think scores or hundreds of people have nothing better to do than listen to you.

Deeper than that, I don’t even like to speak to large groups at a dinner table or even in a pub. I’ve a deep, atavistic fear that, when all eyes turn towards me, it means the tribe has decided to eat me. Deep down, I’ve a horror of mobs, knowing the irrationality of which communal humanity is capable.

Accordingly, I was intrigued to read of a study by researchers at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Plymouth, which found that audiences like nervous, vulnerable speakers. This goes against all the conventional wisdom in the myriad how-to books on the subject. They say you must project ease, because that relaxes the audience themselves.

The best way to put an audience at ease is through humour in your introductory remarks. Tony Benn, born to orate, was the best public speaker I heard. After listening to a succession of trade unionists, feminists and whatnot grimly banging on, we shifted restlessly in our hard-backed chairs.

But, with a series of wonderfully witty anecdotes, Benn made the stress leave our shoulders and had us eating from the palm of his hand.

The books tell you that the secret is to breathe, but what if you can’t? What if the words stick in your throat and won’t come out?

Eschewing public speaking has caused me grief. I’ve declined invitations to speak at the funerals of friends. At one time, organisations who regarded me as an important influencer of public affairs – shut up, youse – asked me to address their members. I declined them all. I never married because I didn’t want to make a speech.

I’ve known folk who enjoy public speaking. They have high self-esteem and low sensitivity. They ought to feel ashamed of themselves. But they do not. How I envy them.

Who scoops dino poop?

Half of the nation’s nippers believe dinosaurs still roam Britain, according to an important survey by toy manufacturer Mattel. A third said they’d love to have a dinosaur as a pet. Clearly, they haven’t thought this through. Apart from anything else, what size of poop-scooper would they need when taking their pet for a walk?

Oi polloi

A woke warrior threw eggs at a new statue of Margaret Thatcher in Grantham, Lincs. We love when daft events are reported in a matter-of-fact way. Thus: “Three eggs were thrown at the statue, with a cry of ‘oi’ heard after one hit its target.” Such detail brings a story, if not a statue, alive.

Wobblies crushed

As you’d expect, jellyfish will soon be sucked and crushed by robots. The technical innovation is being trialled in yonder Japan, where the wobbly monsters get caught in fishing boats’ nets and spoil catches. Some of the beasties grow to six feet and could have your eye out. Well, they’ve got it coming now, the gelatinous swine.

Pet mates

A quarter of folk in Britland prefer their pets to their partners, believing them more loyal and, more importantly, appreciating that they never answer back. Half talk to their pets about their feelings – “Ah’m right fed up, ken?” – and believe their pets understand them. Still, it’s cheaper than a psychiatrist. And probably more effective.

Have a word

Half of Britain’s drivers don’t know what many buttons on their cars do, says a survey. They can’t find the fog light, bonnet-opener or desired heating. That’s because we live in Symbol World. If car manufacturers would just put words next to buttons, like in the sane old days, we’d know exactly what does what.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.