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Opinion: Bill Walton, The Balloon is Going Up

The staff at City Hall have floated a trial balloon to see what the cost of the twin ice palace, I mean twin pads, will cost by sending out tenders. What is the council tolerance for a million, two, three, or more?

With all the recent excitement about balloons, I thought I should do a layman’s primer on balloons just so you are not frightened by those running about saying "the sky is falling, the sky is falling." True, there have been a couple of examples of balloon remnants and pieces of exploded missile parts dropping from the bright blue sky but these are just souvenirs, yours for the keeping.

The term about the balloon going up hearkens back to the Great War when observation balloons were used to look at the enemy’s troop placements. These balloons were tethered, not only so they and their "pilot" could be retrieved in case one of those new aeroplanes came along and tried to shoot it down. Not a pretty sight when the balloon was filled with hydrogen.  This was in the era when radio communication was in its infancy and the balloon observer had to talk to the ground forces via a telephone cable.

However, nowadays, air-to-ground communication is wireless and can be sent from, say, somewhere over North America all the way back to China. The people in Beijing know within seconds what the weather is like in Canada or the United States. And the neat thing is, this can all be done without a human aboard the sub-space balloon. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words, so the balloon just sends pictures (accompanied by eavesdropped voices) back to China or wherever the home base was for the qì qiú. (One might as well learn Chinese for the weather balloon.)

We must accept that these foreign balloons may not be weather balloons. They are perhaps, "trial balloons." The idiom of a trial balloon is a test to see what people think of an idea. Or in the current case, how does the military of the test country react to a balloon? At what altitude can the opposition bring down the qì qiú with conventional weapons, say a fighter jet? Or, more critically, at what altitude can they not bring down said qì qiús?

Our Honourable PM said they were monitoring that first balloon that transited from Alaska to the east coast of the US before they decided to shoot it down. Yep, they were monitoring it from the cockpit of our old CF-18 that could not get up into the thin atmosphere to take a shot. (And be assured that those new Lightning Lemons we are buying cannot either.) And so, safe at 70,000 feet, the Chinese or whoever owns those observation balloons, sent a few more over at lower altitudes, checking the performance of the American fighters.

Not to worry — we got this.

No one will realize that for a mere million dollars you can send a balloon bomber halfway around the world whereas a manned mechanical aeroplane costing hundreds of millions of dollars can be intercepted. Do not give that a second thought. We will never have bombs dropped on us from balloons. Not even water balloons from a balcony.

Back here on earth, our feet firmly placed on terra firma, the staff at City Hall have floated a trial balloon to see what the cost of the twin ice palace, I mean twin pads, will cost by sending out tenders. What is the council tolerance for a million, two, three or more? It was good to know that about half of the cost of the new rink is covered by other Canadians via a Green Grant. Of course, most of us have contributed to the reserve funding already through our tax system but be assured you will get your chance to contribute more and more, for years and years.

Some might say that this whole rink thing is a hot air balloon — full of gases fermented from dreams of hockey tourism dollars, future professional salaries in the NHL (not so much for women’s pro hockey) and televised bonspiels (limited seating for spectators), and fees for walking around and around the palace. I suppose we might as well learn Chinese for a hot air balloon too since we are seeing more and more of them emanating from our politicians: rè qì qiú.

Meanwhile, councillor V is running up a trial balloon to test the willingness of area councils to open discussions on the Castle Arms and Cassellholme bylaws and management structure. Or it may be that the councillor already has observations from a qì qiú in other municipalities and is now preparing to drop a few bylaws onto the Castle Arms board. It could be a 'Whether' balloon, I suppose.

Anyway, fellow citizens, trust our leaders when they say the sky is not falling. Those are not UFOs, just qì qiús. Keep your stick on the ice, your eyes on the goal, and keep skating. Don’t look up.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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