Veering West

COLM TOBIN: A lot of hot air as America takes a pop at bizarre travels of Chinese balloon

February 13th, 2023 11:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

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IT’S birthday party season in our house at the moment with three of us having our birthdays in the first quarter of the year. It’s actually a lovely time to have parties – they break up the January gloom and offer us a few small islands of cake, presents and family gatherings to carry us through the retreating winter.

These days, I get to enjoy a parade of strangely-named little Irish youngsters flooding through the house speaking in various indecipherable codes derived from Minecraft and The Minions franchises as we blow out candles and say things like ‘it’s great to be able to gather together again, isn’t it?’

And so, for most of the last month and into the next, we will inevitably be surrounded by multicoloured balloons in various states of deflation as we segway from one celebration to another. 

In this sense, I have absolute sympathy for the Chinese this week when they got into a spot of bother with the Americans, after one of their balloons went rogue over the Montana skyline and then over the Eastern seaboard of the United States. After days of pointing and dithering and foxnewsing (it’s a new verb I just made up), the trespassing blob was unceremoniously shot out of the sky, presumably by The Rock in a helicopter gunship.

I mean, it’s very easy to lose track of a balloon. There are about ten gathered in the corner of our living room here and every time the front and back doors are opened at the same time, at least one of them tries to make an escape in the ensuing draft. 

Life comes at you fast. One day you’re having a lovely children’s birthday party in the house, the next you’re causing an international diplomatic incident when an ‘I Am Five’ balloon floats accidentally over an airbase in rural England. 

The incident in the US appears to have had serious repercussions, though. 

The US is claiming the balloon was a surveillance device in the mode of Dr Evil. The Chinese state it was an innocent weather balloon blown off course during inclement weather. You’d think the weather balloon would have seen that coming.

Of course, we all know how these events can, on the one hand, seem faintly amusing but we know from the Russian military manoeuvres off the Beara peninsula a year ago, that these diplomatic kerfuffles can have deep and real geopolitical underpinnings. A much-anticipated visit by the secretary of state Antony Blinken to Beijing was postponed as a result of the encroaching sphere. 

Tensions have been high between the two new superpowers since the US has taken a hard line with China after Trump’s America First tariffs on steel and aluminium exports. In recent times, America has bolstered military commitments to Japan, Australia and the Philippines, giving Beijing some not-so-subtle signals. China, for their part, has continued to take an aggressive stance over Taiwan with fears an invasion there could stoke all-out conflict with the US.

Thankfully, none of this seems to dampen the craic and energy in my house as the party season continues. Their innocent young minds are yet to become aware of international tensions beyond knowing there’s a real baddie out there called Putin. 

Long may their innocent play continue. 

No Jedward
... or Johnny!

I DON’T know about the rest of ye but I find myself utterly exhausted and bemused by popular culture these days. 

I mean, first of all, there is the ever-burning bin fire that is social media, which I’ve largely jettisoned for fear I’ll be run into the sea by some baying mob.

Then we have events like last Friday night’s Eurovision qualifier on The Late Late, which I boycotted in the end. The last thing we need right now, with the spring sun appearing over the horizon and the thoughts of brighter days to come, is Jedward giving Johnny Rotten a lecture about music.

Then, there were the annual Grammy Awards last weekend, the winners and nominees of which I inevitably peruse each year, with decreasing amounts of knowledge.

There was a time, back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, when I would have had some passing knowledge of most of the contenders and a decent grasp of most of the categories too. I checked back in on the Grammy list for 1996 to make sure I wasn’t making false assumptions. 

And there it is – the best Album was Jagged Little Pill by Alison Morissette. Seal’s Kiss From A Rose was Song of the Year. The best Alternative Album was Nirvana’s Unplugged In New York. The Chieftains & Van Morrison. Tom Petty. Pearl Jam. Nine Inch Nails.

When I scan the awards for 2023, I do so with the detached confusion of Liz Truss trying to do an honours maths paper.

Brandi Carlile. Bad Bunny. Samara Joy. Some lad called Kendrick Lamar. What do any of these words even mean?

With the event celebrating 50 years of hip hop and Beyoncé winning a record-breaking 32nd Grammy Award, maybe it’s less about the music world going to hell in a handbasket and more about culture not being built and shaped around the tastes of middle-aged white men like me anymore? 

And that’s no bad thing. 

It takes a village ….

I SEE The Guardian has listed Castletownshend in the Top 10 Most Charming Villages in Ireland during what was presumably a fairly slow news day across the water. ‘The spirit of the past lingers like the salty air from a time when Anglo-Irish gentry gathered for a game of croquet while waiting impatiently for cucumber sandwiches to be served on the lawn.’ That’d be right up their street alright at The Guardian. 

Personally, I’d be straight into Mary Ann’s for the fish ‘n’ chips. But sure we’re all different.

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