A Consolation of the Balloon Hysteria

This balloon hysteria is a very depressing exhibit of American imbecility, but it has had the happy effect of putting me in mind of Ton Sawyer Abroad, a book I last enjoyed in my youth and have too long neglected.  Edited by Mark Twain, the book was written by Huckleberry Finn and recounts a journey that he, Huckleberry, Tom Sawyer, Jim, and “the professor,”  made in a balloon.  Here is a passage that spoke to the soul of young JMSmith, and speaks no less eloquently to JMSmith the old man.

“We was used to the balloon, now, and not afraid any more, and didn’t want to be anywheres else. Why, it seemed just like home; it ’most seemed as if I had been born and raised in it, and Jim and Tom said the same. And always I had had hateful people around me, a-nagging at me, and pestering of me, and scolding, and finding fault, and fussing and bothering, and sticking to me, and keeping after me, and making me do this, and making me do that and t’other, and always selecting out the things I didn’t want to do, and then giving me Sam Hill because I shirked and done something else, and just aggravating the life out of a body all the time; but up here in the sky it was so still and sunshiny and lovely, and plenty to eat, and plenty of sleep, and strange things to see, and no nagging and no pestering, and no good people, and just holiday all the time. Land, I war n’t in no hurry to git out and buck at civilization again.

Now, one of the worst things about civilization is, that anybody that gits a letter with trouble in it comes and tells you all about it and makes you feel bad, and the newspapers fetches you the troubles of everybody all over the world, and keeps you down-hearted and dismal ’most all the time, and it’s such a heavy load for a person. I hate them newspapers; and I hate letters; and if I had my way I wouldn’t allow nobody to load his troubles onto other folks he ain’t acquainted with, on t’other side of the world, that way. Well, up in a balloon there ain’t any of that, and it’s the darlingest place there is.”*

What Huck and young JMSmith didn’t understand is that the nagging, pestering, misery-mongering “good people” will always demand that a balloon be immediately shot down.

*Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer Abroad, ed. Mark Twain  (New York, C.S. Webster & company, 1894), pp. 108-109

14 thoughts on “A Consolation of the Balloon Hysteria

  1. Shooting down a big balloon is not an easy task. Little balloons will pop if you poke them, but big balloons will hardly notice. The hold so much gas, the difference in pressure between inside and outside is so small, that the small holes (like those made by bullets) leak so slowly, that they make no real difference to the balloon’s flight. Came across this bit of information a while back and couldn’t resist the opportunity to share it.

    • That is interesting. It also suggest the whole “debris field” was BS, since by your account a large balloon would, if punctured, sink towards earth very slowly.

  2. Balloons are a construct of the white male patriarchy and they will be redistributed in the spirit of egalitarian equity.

  3. If that was a Chinese spy balloon, Beijing certainly wasn’t trying very hard to hide the fact. Over twenty-five years ago, just as the sun had dropped below the horizon from the vantage point of my house in south-central Oklahoma, I spotted a bright object high above the horizon and high in altitude that I referred to as a “UFO” until I got the trusty ol’ telescope out and zeroed in on it. After tracking and studying it for a few seconds, I identified the object in question as a “weather balloon,” so it was no longer a UFO. Best I can tell from having seen photos of the Chinese “spy balloon” on the internet, it was made of the same *highly refective* material the “weather balloon” I observed through the telescope in the mid-’90s was made of.

    I feel a lot safer in any case, knowing that the balloon in question has been shot down! I expect we’ll start knocking out Chinese spy satellites any day now as well.

    • This may have been meaningless media chatter, or it may mark the pivot to war with China. If a balloon floats over a top secret military base, you’ve got the wind to blame. That same balloon could have floated across the land of liberty and sensed nothing but corn fields and trailer parks.

  4. When he was 6-years old, my grandfather, who was born in 1870 and was staying with his grandmother in Paris, met a very old lady, in her nineties, Mlle de Montgolfier. Her father was one of the Montgolfier brothers, who made the first piloted hot-air balloon ascent in 1783. In his sixties he had married his housekeeper, thirty years his junior.

    Alas! Balloons were not discussed, but she did recount how, as a toddler, her nursemaid pulled her into a draper’s shop in the Faubourg-Saint-Antoine, as the mob surged down the street to storm the Bastille.

    In his 40s, my grandfather saw a German Zeppelin over the Moray firth. The Repulse, the Renown and the Prince of Wales were at anchor there and their quick-firers made short work of it.

    His wife, my grandmother, watched the moon-landing on TV.

    The sheer span of human memory is remarkable. St John Henry Newman’s earliest memory was of his family discussing the death of the Cardinal Duke of York, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s brother in 1804 and, in the 1950s, I met an elderly brother and sister in Birmingham who had heard Newman preach.

    • Speaking with my father the other day, he recalled his grandfather recalling his father recalling his service in the Crimean War. So I recalled my conversation with my father when I next spoke to my two sons, passing on a a recording of Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” and a copy of Thompson’s Scotland Forever. As usual, both asked “why were we never shown poems and paintings like this in school?” I told them it is a diabolical plot to turn all heterosexual males into philistines.

      • You have stirred another memory.

        My great-uncle was a cornet in the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons), the regiment depicted in Lady Butler’s Scotland Forever. As such, he was one of the “Old Contemptibles,” the British Expeditionary Force sent to France on the outbreak of World War I; dubbed by the Kaiser “a contemptible little army, they adopted the name as a badge of pride.

        A week later, he found himself stationed in Saint-Maur-des-Fossées, the original home of the Seymours. On patrol, they encountered a scouting party of Von Klück’s army and, as the function of cavalry was to cover and discover, they exchanged a few shots and galloped back to their own lines. Now, Saint-Maur-des-Fossées is 11.7 km from Notre-Dame-de-Paris, half-an-hour’s ride or a two-hour march. As he often say, “It was a d*mn*d close-run thing.”

        He lived near us and he was the man who taught me to ride. At 70 years old, he could pick a handkerchief from the ground in trot.

        The trumpeters of his old regiment attended his funeral (cavalry have trumpeters, infantry have buglers) and, at the Post-Communion, they and the organist played the Trumpet Voluntary. As the coffin was carried from the church, the pipe-major played “My Home.” I held Flynn, the last horse he rode. She was allowed to wear the regimental saddle-cloth and his boots were reversed through the stirrups. After the internment, the pipe-major played the quickstep, “Hielan’ Laddie.” I never hear it, bu I think of my great-uncle.

    • “The sheer span of human memory is remarkable.”

      I would estimate that it takes about 100 years for an event to move from memory to history. As you point out, in addition to people who remember an event itself, you have people who remember people who remember an event. Not quite living memory, but there’s a big difference between that and what comes next.

      The estimate comes assuming that someone would have to be around 20 to participate in or remember an event well, then if that person lives 70 years and they have a grandchild who lives 70 years, that’s 140, but if we suppose there is an overlap of 20 years between grandparent and grandchild, we get 100 years. (For this estimate, the idea is to look at when most people would be alive, when an event is part of the memory of society as a whole, though of course for individual people it can be longer, as your very interesting examples show).

      For instance, in Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere when he says “Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year”, Longfellow himself didn’t remember Paul Revere’s ride, but he grew up among people who did. I think he knew that when his generation died, the event would pass into history from memoery, so that’s one reason why he wrote the poem. As it happens, Longfellow died in 1881 and the event took place 1775, so that fits with the estimate.

      It’s important to ensure that the true understanding of events is passed onto the next generations before that 100 year deadline passes.

      • I live in Scotland and I own a piece of ground, about 18 acres of winter pasture, which is known locally as “the ten shilling land of Boyd.” [The shilling is an old British coin, 20 to the pound, abolished in 1971]

        As a child, I was intrigued by the name and so I asked the old shepherd about it. He looked after the sheep on the common grazings and he knew everything. He told me that there was once a wicked king, who charged the poor people money, just for living on their own land.

        Years later, I had occasion to check the progress of title in the Register of Sasines and, sure enough, the piece of ground was described as being “ten shilling land of Old Extent.” Now, the Old Extent was a survey of rental values, carried out by King Alexander III in 1280, in connection with a proposed land tax.

        People around here don’t forget things like that in a hurry.

  5. ANY Chi Com balloon might be carrying nasty things: bio weapons, EMP devices or who knows what else. That is why we should have taken this one out over the Pacific. Balloons like these typically travel eastward at about 60 miles per hour. We therefore had about 3 days to intercept it before it crossed our west coast. The DoD and the CIC are derelict in their duty, if they are not actually internal enemies. The ballon flew over the entire continental USA. If the Chinese get away with this, (and they have) they will launch 1,000 of the things at one time and saturate our defenses. The ONLY way to defend ourselves from these cheap weapons is to make the ChiComs fear us. But nobody fears Biden. Thus Biden himself is a threat to us. He should be removed ASAP.

    • The Balloon was blown south by the same freak winds that brought record low temperatures to Mt. Washington. You’re right that we may one day regret living downwind of China.


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