A canard in flight
Bryan Zepp Jamieson
February 5th, 2023
On a number of occasions, I’ve compared the Presidency of Donald J. Trump to a Marx Brothers movie. I had one such in mind: Duck Soup. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) becomes dictator of Freedonia, and declares war on another country, Sylvania in order to cover up the blunders and farce of his reign. (“Medals for everyone!”)
We were spared that in real life, due in part to Trump’s personal cowardice. There’s also the fact that there were only three countries he could credibly wag the dog with, and he was too busy sucking up to Putin and Un, and had too much money in China, so he had to be careful about pissing off Xi.
And besides, it was a Marx Brothers movie! Yes, Trump was grandiose and incompetent, a veritable Firefly, but the movie was meant to be a silly comedy, nothing more. Right?
In the past 24 hours, I’ve had cause to revisit that line of thinking. The reason was caused by a balloon.
Yes, that balloon. The Chinese craft that drifted over the Pacific well north of the Aleutians, and then rode the jet stream south through the length of British Columbia and into Montana. Once in American airspace, the American right all lost their collective minds, which average the brilliance of a really slow gas leak.
When I first heard about it, I just grinned and observed that if Xi really wanted to cause pandemonium in the US, he would announce that a small child had stowed away on board the craft. Back in 2009, a Colorado couple, Richard and Mayumi Heene, announced their six year old son had somehow stowed aboard a runaway helium balloon, sparking days of incredible media frenzy. The story was a fake—the kid was hidden in the attic of their home, and the Heenes got convicted on filing a fake police report and spent some brief time in jail and got fined $36,000. I hope they make a movie about it someday, maybe something like Duck Soup, and the kid gets a cut of the royalties. He’s an adult now, and I doubt the incident made his life easier.
The following day I wrote, “This story has more holes than George Santos’ autobiography. For one thing, unless this thing had on-board propulsion and steering, it went where the wind went, and the wind is notoriously indifferent to militarily significant locales. Second, they say the balloon couldn’t gather any information that Chinese surveillance satellites couldn’t already get. Which leads, they think, to the possibility that the Chinese have some kind of super new technology we don’t know about. And the Chinese, being absolute fools, would put this extraordinarily sensitive technology on board an object as easy to spot, track, and shoot down as a balloon. Has anyone entertained the possibility that the Chinese were telling the truth and it was, in fact, just a weather balloon?” Nobody seemed to find any merit in that argument. Maybe next week I’ll be exonerated.
Of course, most of the loudest howls that this was the security breach and casus belli of the year came from the Right, who managed to find time to divert their attention away from such pressing issues as litter boxes in school bathrooms, the sexuality of M&M candies, and the need to expunge history of all mention of non-standard people except happy and carefree slaves.
Donald Trump, in full Rufus T. Firefly mode, posted, and I quote, “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!” Yes, all caps. His son, “The condom broke” Junior, and failed attempt to turn a warthog into a super model Marjorie Taylor-Greene, urged Trump supporters to go out in their back yards and open fire on the object, which was 66,000 feet up and not visible to the naked eye. The next day he had a change of heart and wrote, “”The Chinese would never have floated the Blimp (‘Balloon’) over the United States if I were President!!! Who sends a Billion Dollar blimp, with the most sophisticated equipment in the World, and large enough to hold ten cars or 3 large buses, into a complex pattern over the United States, without it quite possibly being manned, such as the ‘manned spacecraft?’ China should have been called to ask. If ‘no,’ shoot it down, if ‘yes,’ negotiate the greatest deal EVER!”
Well, that was actually sort of rational up until the last sentence. He must have remembered he still owes China money.
But then it turned out that three such aircraft overflew the US while Trump was President. The Pentagon announced that they just hadn’t told the Prez about them. They said they didn’t know about it until after the fact.
OK, I have questions.
Balloons, as a rule, don’t leave much evidence of their passing. No contrails, not even chemtrails. No sonic booms, since the speed of your average lighter than air craft only somewhat exceeds that of a constipated pug. No sky writing, no bombs dropped, none of that. Did the balloon call in to OANN to gleefully announce they had just owned the American libs?
So how do you notice a balloon drifted overhead several days later?
Second: they didn’t tell Trump? And they ADMIT they didn’t tell Trump? Isn’t this a bit like Firefly refusing to accept his foe’s surrender until he ran out of fruit to throw at him?
Normally, in a situation like this, willfully refusing to convey word to the president would border on treason. In this case, it may have just been common sense. Who knows how Trump may have actually reacted?
And of course, it may be that the previous three were, in fact, harmless weather balloons, and no motive for malign intent could be ascribed to them. But because Trump was president, the right wing media didn’t feel a need to stage yet another moral panic over them.
As you know, once off the coast, the USAF shot it down, and hopefully the payload will be recovered. They know exactly where it splashed, and the waters are reasonably shallow there, so there’s a decent chance of recovery. The Chinese are annoyed, but they probably would be no matter what intentions underlay the flight. The Pentagon is (belatedly) claiming the craft could maneuver under its own power, although the alleged flight path looks more like the jet stream pattern this past week than any sensible strategy.
Hopefully we’ll get answers. The right wing will be staging their latest moral panic by then and not paying attention, but the rest of us would like to know. Who knows? Maybe we can avoid war with Sylvania.