EDITORIAL: Hullaballoon

In the 1983 Bill Forsyth-directed movie "Local Hero," the character played by Burt Lancaster advises his young employee, MacIntyre, played by Peter Riegert, to keep his eye on the stars while he is scouting out a site for a Texas oil company terminal in northern Scotland. Lancaster's character, the astronomy obsessed Felix Happer, at one point suggests that "Mac" keep a particular eye on the constellation Virgo.

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An eye on Virgo's location in recent days, or any of the constellations for that matter, might well present more than stars to the eyes.

The skies have been filled with balloons, a cylindrical object, an octagonal object, and one described as being the size of a small car.

The balloon originated in China and was shot down off South Carolina. Beijing denied it was spying and claimed it was a weather balloon. All indications thus far suggest something else entirely.

Had Beijing a sliver of wit it might have claimed that the balloon was a Lunar New Year Chinese lantern that blew off course. But humor and the Chinese Communist Party have yet to meet in this earthly realm.

Meanwhile, far above the earth, various balloons and mysterious objects continue to ply the skies.

The Chinese insist that their balloons are nothing more than civilian dirigibles. They seem to forget that if this was indeed the case they would have been obliged to inform, in advance, civilian air traffic controllers in all territories and states that the balloons would be flying over.

Oh well. The thing is that in a totalitarian state lies are accorded official status. So they tend to spout a lot.

As for the various other objects which have occupied the air forces of the United States and Canada to a degree not seen in some years? Well, there are yet fully descriptive accounts to be nailed down at ground level.

The commanding general of North American Aerospace Defense Command, General Glen VanHerck, wouldn't even specifically rule out the possibility of an extraterrestrial origin for the objects - as opposed to the balloons from terrestrial China.
Stated one report: “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out,” Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of NORAD, told reporters on Sunday when asked about the possibility of aliens. “I haven’t ruled out anything at this point.”

Regardless of origin, action was taken much more quickly against the three objects than the balloon that first made headlines floating over Montana.

The objects were flying at a much lower altitude than the Chinese balloon and the fear was that they could get in the way of passenger aircraft flying in the 40,000 to 45,000 feet range.

Meantime, various recovery operations are still continuing and we are all on alert for even more strange craft in our skies.

Another aspect to all this hullabaloo over balloons and such is that objects in parts of the sky where they should not be is nothing new.

And it not new for the skies around Ireland. As reported in recent years, the Russians have a habit of sending strategic bombers down the west coast of Ireland with their transponders switched off.

This poses a direct threat to civilian air traffic and is hugely irresponsible. Of course, we are well past the point of accusing Russia of mere irresponsibility.

But a critical fact in all of this is that Ireland has nothing to respond with, unlike NORAD, which is armed and equipped to the proverbial teeth.

Ireland lacks credible air defense above a mere 10,000 feet and must depend on the Royal Air Force to escort intruding Russians off the premises so to speak.

There has been a lot of debate in Ireland about defense capability in recent years. As things stand, nothing could be done about a balloon floating at 65,000 feet over, say, Mayo.

The only option left to the Irish powers-that-be would be to wave at the blessed thing. And that would not matter much - unless the balloon malfunctioned and fell to earth, or was struck by a micro-meteorite and plunged to the ground.

Over on this side of the Atlantic a lesson may well have been learned in recent days. Even if it is just a balloon, quickly stop it in its aerial tracks before reaching Montana, Alaska, Yukon Territory, or any other corner of North American terra firma.

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