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Quickfire

Fresh perspectives on today's stories

Today 6:32 pm

How a rogue balloon could scupper US-China relations

A Chinese surveillance balloon has been spotted over the US. Donald Trump wants the military to shoot it down.

By Katie Stallard

The first reports broke on Thursday (2 February). The United States military had detected what it believed to be a Chinese surveillance balloon in American airspace. Fighter jets had been scrambled to track it. The president had been informed. The Pentagon had advised him, for now, against shooting it down due to the risk of debris to people on the ground. More details emerged over the hours that followed. It turned out that the balloon had first been spotted by a civilian airliner on Wednesday (1 February). Defence officials had traced its route from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to Montana, in the country’s north west, where the US maintains an arsenal of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, and where the balloon now appeared ...

Today 5:16 pm

The curious case of the Chinese spy balloon

Is the Pentagon in panic about the so-called balloon gap?

By James Snell

In the depths of the Second World War the Japanese empire tried to start a plague of forest fires in the United States with squadrons of incendiary balloons. It failed, although six civilians were killed in a single successful balloon bombing in Oregon in May 1945. In February 1942 there was what people at the time thought was an aerial battle above Los Angeles. Later the authorities said everyone had been shooting at nothing. Although some theorists said it was aliens, this episode was eventually attributed to the release of one or more weather balloons by army meteorologists. Spotters mistook them for Japanese airships, causing anti-air guns across the region to open fire for an entire evening and night. A supposed alien crash site ...

Today 4:02 pm

My hometown is the Satanic capital of the UK – and no wonder

Hints of the occult are everywhere in the sleepy Suffolk town of Bungay, which hosts a hundred times more Satanists than the national average.

By Benedict Spence

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way rambles. In deepest darkest Suffolk a cold wind blows and black dogs are on the prowl. It’s always faintly amusing when one’s home makes the headlines, but this week mine has done so for some faintly malevolent reasons. The sleepy (hollow) town of Bungay has been revealed as the site of Britain’s largest concentration – or congregation – of Satanists, according to the latest census. Apparently 70 people here, out of 8,500, live to spread the glory of Lucifer – roughly a hundred times the national average. On first inspection, this might surprise outsiders, given the imposing towers and facades of the four churches in the centre of the town. But perhaps there’s ...

Today 8:00 am

Why have the BBC and Labour Party learned Tuftonspeak?

How the “tax burden” went mainstream.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Going through the website of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, a UK pressure group pushing for a low-tax society, I find 17 press releases between December 2010 and 31 January 2023 using the term “tax burden”. Among its published research papers, there are 18 uses of the phrase, between February 2006 and 16 January 2023. Last month, Keir Starmer mentioned the “taxation burden” in an interview with the Guardian. This week, a BBC review of the impartiality of its economics coverage pinpointed language like “tax burden” rankling with some audiences. Three months before the BBC published its review, I reported that terms like “tax burden” were in contention. At the time, a source close to the process described it to me as a “loaded ...

3:43 pm

When will the Guardian let staff return to the office?

The title’s employees remain stuck at home following last December’s ransomware attack.

By The Chatterer

Spare a thought for the poor souls at the Guardian. It’s now more than a month since they were allowed into their swanky offices near King’s Cross. And there’s no sign of an imminent return. ICYMI: the Guardian confirmed last month that it had suffered a ransomware attack and that the personal data of some staff members had been accessed. The “highly sophisticated cyberattack” was detected on 20 December and staff have been working from home since. Staff complain of having been “kept in the dark” by management in recent weeks. Possibly cognisant of this, the Guardian’s executive team hosted a call with staff on Tuesday 31 January to update them. The Chatterer’s pals still don’t seem to have a clear idea, ...

12:42 pm

The long shadow of Mr Blobby

Malice and stupidity were never far from Blobby’s bulbous surface. He was the perfect foil for the vacuous pop culture of the Nineties.

By Stuart Maconie

A former producer of mine once posited that there should be a “breathalyser” attachment on computers that would prevent, in his case, the late-night purchase of a Fonz-themed board game for £50 from eBay. “I don’t even like Happy Days” was his rueful morning-after buyer’s remorse. Alcohol, or the kind of mass hysteria seemingly baked into the online world, might partly account for the oddest story of recent days: that an online auction for a Mr Blobby suit developed a crazed momentum that ended with a winning bid, later reneged on, of £62,000. But there is surely more to it than that. Generation Z start here. Mr Blobby, a bloated, demented pink humanoid inhabited initially by the actor Barry Killerby (who was ...

8:00 am

Why Rishi Sunak ought to beware of Prosecco Mums

As childcare, constant guilt and the cost of living bite, Xennial mothers symbolise the latest voter shift.

By Eliza Filby

Much has been made of Rishi Sunak being our first Xennial prime minister (born between 1975 and 1983). But as much as our politicians represent a generational switch of gear, it’s the voters that exemplify the real tide of change. In 2023 another important sub-group is emerging, one that symbolises the latest societal shift. They are instantly recognisable in our workplaces, homes and social media feeds, and politicians ignore them at their peril: Prosecco Mums. They are more Hunsnet than Mumsnet; Xennial mothers who favour a certain Italian sparkling wine. One in-depth analysis of the prosecco consumer from 2018 identified that 41 per cent were graduates, 81 per cent lived with their partner or children and the majority, 52 per cent, lived in the ...

2 days ago

Ron DeSantis supporters are overlooking something crucial – he’s boring 

The potential Republican presidential candidate has built his reputation on anti-woke antics, but he also has zero personal charisma.

By Charlotte Kilpatrick

There’s an adage in American politics that voters don’t choose the candidate whose policies they most agree with, but the candidate they’d most want to have a beer with. This question, known as “the beer test”, tries to measure authenticity, likeability and general charisma. Looking back through American history, the last president nobody would want to be cornered with at a party was Gerald Ford (who was never elected to the office), and before that maybe Calvin Coolidge, who was president during Prohibition so nobody could drink with him anyway. This test holds up in our time too. Say what you will about Donald Trump, he has a magnetism that carried an entire reality television franchise, and appealed to plenty of middle-America Maga voters ...