balloons and the threat to national security.

Jesus suffering fuck. Republicans are terrified of everything but guns–the one thing we KNOW kills thousands of Americans every goddamn year. They’re terrified of gay folks, terrified of the entire concept of gender that’s not based on a toggle switch, terrified of people of color, terrified of beliefs that don’t fall within their wildly idiotic interpretation of Christianity, terrified government agents will break into their homes and seize their gas stoves, terrified of books they haven’t read, terrified of surgical masks, and now they’re terrified by a Chinese balloon.

“My concern is that the federal government doesn’t know what’s in that balloon. Is that bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?”

This was no ordinary fucking idiot who said this. This was a special fucking idiot. This fucking idiot was Congressman James Corner, the Republican Chair of the House Oversight Committee. And he said it on FOX News, of course, the primary venue for fucking idiots. This fucking idiot has access to a massive amount of information; he’s a fucking idiot with a staff whose job includes researching issues of national concern and informing him so he won’t come across to the public like a fucking idiot.

I’m not a member of Congress. I don’t have a staff. But I have a Chromebook (I could have just used my cell phone, but the display is smaller and my eyes get tired). So let’s see if we can answer Corner’s concerns.

Did the balloon take off from Wuhan? Nope. Okay, first–because words matter–it’s a goddamn balloon. Balloons don’t “take off.” Balloons are inflated and released. It’s not a fucking missile. Beyond that, we can with a certain level of accuracy backtrack the balloon’s path based on its current height and known patterns of wind currents. And hey, a whole bunch of meteorologists did just that, and we can say with confidence it was released somewhere in west central China. Wuhan is in east central China. So, nope.

Do we know what’s in the balloon? Yes and no. I mean, yes we know what’s IN the balloon, since all high altitude balloons are filled with some lighter-than-air gas, like helium or hydrogen. But he’s talking about the payload. The stuff the balloon is carrying. And no, we don’t know what the payload is. However…

Is the payload a bioweapon? We don’t know, but almost certainly nope. First off, it would be massively stupid for China to attack the US. Secondly, even if China was stupid enough to attack the US, a localized bioweapon attack would be an incredibly weak opening salvo of a war. Thirdly, even if China was that stupid, a high altitude balloon would be a really inefficient and ineffective delivery system for a bioweapon attack.

Here’s a question this particular fucking idiot didn’t ask, but is being asked by lots of other fucking idiots: A) Could the balloon be carrying surveillance technology? Sure. But why? China launches a lot of rockets capable of carrying sophisticated surveillance technology–and by ‘a lot’ I mean they’re second only to the US in the number of rocket launches. If China wants to conduct surveillance of troops/bases/deployments, they have the capability to do it without resorting to a balloon.

The thing about balloons is they’re at the mercy of the wind. And yeah, we know general wind patterns at different altitudes, so while it’s possible (by changing the altitude of the balloon) to generally guide a balloon, they can’t be sent to spy on a specific target location. In addition to the wind, high altitude balloons are sensitive to the weight of the payload, to the amount of helium/hydrogen used for inflation, and even the air temperature at the time of release. Balloon guidance is largely a crap shoot; you know the odds, but you don’t know the outcome. To attach surveillance tech to a balloon and hope it drifts by something worth seeing is a really dumb surveillance approach.

Another thing. People keep saying “This balloon is the size of two (sometimes three) school busses,” as if that’s somehow threatening. The balloon IS A BALLOON. Even a really big balloon is just a latex membrane surrounding a lighter-than-air gas. The balloon may be really big, but that doesn’t mean the payload is really big. If the payload was the size of a couple of school busses, then the balloon carrying it would probably be the size of a football stadium.

But but but the military says they won’t shoot it down because of the risk of “debris could land on people or homes“. So doesn’t that mean the payload must be big? Nope. It means if you shoot a missile up in the air, the missile will come back down. That’s how gravity works. Could the US military shoot down the balloon over a rural area to minimize the risk? Sure. But the least expensive air-to-air missile (AIM-9X Sidewinder) costs US$430,818. Add in the cost of jet fuel (and that shit ain’t cheap) and we’re talking about spending maybe half a million dollars to take down a balloon. A balloon, for fuck’s sake.

So just what in the popcorn fuck IS the balloon and what’s it real purpose? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be just an underinflated weather balloon. Underinflated because a properly inflated weather balloon is designed that as the balloon gains in elevation the gas inside it expands to a volume larger than the balloon’s capacity to expand, at which point it…pops. The payload then returns to earth on a parachute. An underinflated balloon won’t reach that height and so won’t expand beyond its tolerance. It can just wander along until the elevated UV light at that height degrades the latex and it pops on its own.

Is this situation a violation of US air space? Yes. It may be accidental, but yes. But it seems highly improbable that the balloon or its payload, whatever it is, is a threat to US national security.

The actual threat to US national security is the Republican Party.

UPDATE: Well, it seems I was wrong. Apparently this balloon (which has now been shot down) actually was some sort of low tech surveillance device. So far, the best possible explanation for deploying such a random pattern easily detectable surveillance balloon is that it allowed China to gather information on what kind of signal technology the US uses to track it. Knowing what sorts of tech the US uses could possibly help China to find ways to thwart that technology, which would come in handy if they ever decide to actually launch an attack on Taiwan.

Yeah, this is the balloon in question.

It still seems to me to be a phenomenally stupid use of resources, but there it is. At least I was right about the missile used to take down the balloon. Which means we spent at least half a million dollars to destroy what may be around ten thousand dollars of Chinese technology.

And the threat to national security remains the Republican Party.

8 thoughts on “balloons and the threat to national security.

  1. The Chinese say that it’s a balloon that drifted off its intended course. It probably is.

    It must awful to be as gobsmackingly stupid and paranoid as some of these Republicans.


  2. When I heard the news a song began playing in my mind.
    “Paranoia strikes deep
    Into your life it will creep
    It starts when you’re always afraid
    Step out of line, the man comes and takes you away..” Neil Young 1966


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