A cloud of metal dust released by U.S. military airplanes in the skies 100 miles west of Los Angeles caused a temporary blackout in the city and “interfer[ed] with radar at airports in southern California” when the cloud began blowing back toward land.
What exactly was the purpose of this inadvertently weaponized offshore atmospheric event? “The Navy says it spread several thousand pounds of the particles of chaff in an operation 100 to 300 miles offshore designed to test its ability to jam radar,” the New York Times reported.
The idea, though, that there are airplanes flying somewhere out there west of Los Angeles creating strange weather for those of us on shore—clouds sculpted on the rising winds of the Southland, drifting unpredictably toward Santa Monica—seems both extraordinary and all too ready for capitalization. Sunsets on demand! Your least favorite celebrity gets married on a Malibu terrace and repurposed military aircraft paint the distant skies red, weaving fantastic ribbons of color in front of the falling sun.
It’s like something out of J.G. Ballard’s old short story “The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D,” in which famous portraits are carved into passing cloud forms by trained kite operators standing below on the shores of a tropical island. They have invented a stunning, lo-fi, vernacular 3D printing that can only be applied to the earth’s atmosphere.
“Lifted on the shoulders of the air above the crown of Coral D, we would carve seahorses and unicorns, the portraits of presidents and film stars, lizards and exotic birds,” Ballard wrote, describing this new mythology of atmospheric design and the “manicurists of the air” who so beautifully practiced it.
Or, for that matter, perhaps this strange meteorological event—the metal chaff of a new weather emperor, self-installed atop his flying throne, deploying cloud-weapons across the horizon—was an electromagnetically active twist on the anti-hero from Roberto Bolaño’s novel Distant Star. There, we meet a skywriting poet-pilot with a penchant for fascism who sells his political soul to the Nazis in order to write his Romantic words in huge drifting scripts above the mountains of South America.
He becomes “a Michelangelo of the sky,” as Ballard might have it.
Meanwhile, radar-jamming clouds of nanoparticles settle onto the plates of outdoor diners in Venice Beach, salting take-out pizzas and dusting the bodies of sunbathers, as screens inside the LAX control tower madly ping with invisible aircraft.