Friday, August 15, 2003

Is it me, or are heat and electricity just a really big deal this year? First you have the madhouse election in California, which stems in no small part from the weird energy crisis two years back. Then you have Iraqis rioting because they ain't got no power, or they do and they don't, then they do, then they don't. And now there's the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003.

I was watching CNN when the power outage news broke, and I was reminded how disturbing it is to see a major news network in panic mode. First they mentioned there was no electricity in "in midtown Manhattan, as far south as Wall Street," which is a big like saying there's no power in Eastern Germany as far south as Vienna. Then reports of more outages started trickling in: Detroit... Cleveland... Toronto, Ottawa, Toledo... And you're thinking, "Um, they didn't just say what I think they did, did they?" They got a comment from the White House, which basically said, "We haven't the slightest clue what's going on." Then the anchors began uttering sentences starting with, "Of course we don't want anybody to panic...." Yet it was clear that's exactly what they were doing.

In a tizzy, I called my sister in Boston. She hadn't heard anything about it, and completely brushed it off, saying, "Oh, it's probably people just using their air conditioners too much!" I frankly feel a bit silly now.

Credit NYC Michael Bloomberg for being the first to calm things down by getting on the phone with CNN and offering some reassuring words (meaning, this doesn't look like terrorism). He held a press conference shortly thereafter. I'd never seen Bloomberg work the press before, but he has this amazing and corporate-creepy way of saying "SIR" or "MISS" at the end of each answer, immediately choosing the next question. As in, "Yes we have top people working on that right now SIR," pointing to the next person without skipping a beat. It's as though his time is too valuable to waste scanning the room or pausing to allow a potential follow-up question.

Stuff garnered from CNN's web site today: Here's the "Blame Canada" piece (via PragueBlog). Canada's Defense Minister said his U.S. counterparts told him "as a fact" that the problem started at a power plant on the U.S. side, probably in Pennsylvania. Yet Pennsylvania says all their power plants are working fine, except they don't have any power to plug them into! (Let me get this straight: In order for these plants to produce electricity, they need to have electricity coming into them. That's just brilliant. I'll bet you a bright shiny Canadian nickel this all started with a circuit breaker in some guy's basement in Rochester, New York.)

Apparently there was "serious looting" in Ottawa, yet In New York City only four burglaries were reported. Wonder what Michael Moore has to say about that! And by the way, does it strike anybody else as odd that Texas has its own separate power grid?

Back on this side of the ocean, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is practically facing the guillotine over his government's lazy response to the pan-European heat wave that has killed over 3,000 people in France alone. Paris daily Liberation reminded him yesterday that the sweltering summer of 1788 sparked the French Revolution. "You have been warned, Mr Raffarin," said RFI's press review yesterday. Meanwhile, tempers of American soldiers and Iraqis are growing short in the Mesopotamian heat.

This is one long, hot, strange summer.

Things are lovely in Prague, thank you for asking. Poured cats and buckets last night, and now it's sunny, cool and even a bit breezy. Power's working. And it's Friday!


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