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"Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.”
-Jane Perrone, The Guardian
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
I SEEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT ON BROADWAY
Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
…Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
The Star Spangled Banner
(Francis Scott Key)
On Thursday 14 August some sixty million people across North-eastern America commemorated President George W Bush Day (also known as The Festival of No lights) in the form of massive statewide electricity blackouts
My Dictaphone was not affected
Here’s what it recorded
2.50 AM on Friday 15 August.
Breaking (so-called) News! on the main networks and has been for about two hours (although the BBC has since dropped it but CNN persists) is massive power outages across several American cities (centred on New York) and apparently Canada as well.
And right now word coming in that the Canadian Prime Ministers Office says that lightning struck a power plant there (I didn’t know that they even had electricity in Canada!) - thus the cause of all those blackouts (hello! – ever heard of a lightning rod?)
Mayor Bloomberg has just been saying that there’s no evidence of any terrorist connection.
I’m just reading at the bottom of the screen on CNN that apparently twenty-one power plants shut down within three minutes.
Wolf Blitzer has just given what I’d consider pretty obvious advice in the form of “a warning to viewers using candles – don’t let them spill over” etc.
First of all, that’s pretty elementary and furthermore it’s a non sequitur - if you're actually using candles then you wont be actually watching television in that you wont have the electricity to watch TV
And also its very low-tech advice from CNN – the polar opposite of the high tech involved in putting CNN to air and the polar opposite of the techno babble they usually bombard us with.
Which just goes to show how in this high- tech era we can go from A to Z almost instantaneously and all it takes is just for the power to go out.
We’ve got all this technology but we don’t have the technology to actually be able to handle life without this technology - i.e. during a power failure when all that technology becomes useless and CNN, one of the most technologically advanced outfits on the planet, resorts to Candle Information which is pretty much all they can do in these circumstances.
So far the Americans are lucky because its still daytime but, as night falls, I think obviously that is when the trouble begins.
That’s not just for the obvious reason – that its harder to see in the dark – but also that in a lot of these “civilized” (developed) societies you turn the lights out or have the police go on strike and its complete pandemonium, complete regression, complete chaos and law of the jungle (looting, robbery, murder, etc).
I don’t think its schadenfreude to say to the Americans “welcome to the real world” – its an astonishing fact that more people today are living in the dark then during the dark ages!
Now the comparisons begin and the most obvious one I can think of is Lebanon, which I’m familiar with.
For all our faults, problems and tragedies even we don’t go crazy when the electricity goes off and there certainly isn’t a breakdown in law and order when the electricity goes off – that is apart from the usual breakdown in law and order.
What I’m saying is that there isn’t any additional breakdown in law and order – it’s just the usual normal regular breakdown in law and order.
By the way, that “breakdown in law and order” as I put it that we have in Lebanon isn’t what you’d expect when you hear that sort of term applied to somewhere like the Bronx - in Lebanon its simply a matter of controlled chaos (if that sounds like an oxymoron to you then you haven’t lived in Lebanon) like the crazy driving, the undisciplined individualistic nature of the people etc but perfectly orderly and civic to an extent.
I still have to struggle to resist the urge to shoplift every time I’m in a shop here and the electricity goes out.
God forbid, but I think New Yorkers might be actually wishing that this were a terrorist strike after what may ensue during the hours of darkness to come.
In that at least, God forbid, a terrorist strike is confined to a particular area or a particular building and is also external – coming from without.
Whereas an escalation in what I don’t think I’m exaggerating in calling the civil war that is ongoing in most American cities during the best of times would be widespread and random and across an entire city – coming from within.
Another comparison, you certainly wont see wall-to-wall Breaking News! coverage on Lebanese television of power outages (even if they’re affecting entire cities)!
Actually, strictly hypothetically though as we’re a long way away from this, what you probably would get is wall-to-wall Breaking News! coverage in the very unlikely eventuality of power “inages” so to speak – that is electricity being on in entire cities.
Although the civil war here ended over a dozen years ago we still have irregular power supply and daily power outages across the country and particularly in regional areas away from the cities.
Our situation here reminds me of the joke they say in some African country – “what did we have before we had candles? – electricity”; meaning that many such countries actually had functioning electricity before then going on to destroy that through war, corruption, incompetence, negligence etc (or all of the above and more in some cases)
The cause of Lebanon’s power problems appears to be that whilst most of the infrastructure appears to me to of been fixed or well on the way to this it appears that there are political factors that are now coming into play.
I’m not really following Lebanese affairs too closely (which I’m sick of and are always repetitive and it would actually a step up to say they were parochial, they’re less than parochial they're village politics) but apparently there’s a big kafuffle over the state owned Elecricite du Liban regarding outages, running out of fuel,etc.
I’ll get further details on that later (only to make fun of it) but it would appear that the increased shortages (does that make any sense or is that an oxymoron or have I invented an entirely new syntax?) we’ve had this summer have been due more to political factors, as usual in Lebanon, rather than actual technical infrastructure factors plus, once again as usual in Lebanon, corruption
Quite simply, somebody stole all the money!
That’s not the only time that politics has played a role in power outages but in the instance that I’m about to relate it was understandable and more a matter of national security (albeit futile).
I’m not disclosing any state secrets here – its pretty much common knowledge – but I remember that during at least one of the Israeli incursions that happened every couple of years during the nineties (separate from the war of attrition that went on everyday) when Israel would conduct a one to two week concentrated blitzkrieg on Lebanese infrastructure (electricity being a major priority – several substations were destroyed) it would appear (it was pretty blatant) that the authorities had ordered all the lights in Beirut turned off at night to give the impression to the Israelis that we weren’t home (TRY NEXT DOOR!).
Seriously, it would appear that that was done to give the Israelis the impression that they’d already succeeded in their mission and that they’d blown up and destroyed all our power plants and that they could just go home now – “move on, move on, nothing to see here!
Despite having one of the most powerful armies in the world, the Israelis weren’t my main concern at the time - my bette noir (in the noir so to speak) during that and other outages has always been what I call the “iron supplement’.
Whenever I go looking for a candle in the dark I’m always surprised to find that an ironing board always pops up from nowhere and ambushes me somewhere along my path.
There may not of been an ironing board in the house, in the country or even in the entire world for that matter but as soon as the power goes, there it is – the malevolent ironing board from hell!
If you ever need an ironing board or simply cant find yours (although they’re pretty hard to lose) try this – turn out the lights (power cut simulation for those not lucky enough to have them) and it will come to you!
But, when all is said and done, there’s a silver lining in every cloud.
As antiquated electricity grids worldwide struggle to accommodate larger populations coupled with increased demand and power outages increase I urge everybody anywhere experiencing any sort of power outage anywhere to see that silver lining in those dark clouds of darkness.
Enjoy the respite from the world, technology and the twenty first century.
Catch your breath; lie down in the darkness and, God forbid, actually think!
Listen to the BBC World Service on a transistor radio or, God forbid, actually talk to people rather than bombarding them with stupid abbreviated text messages or stupid unfunny emailed jokes and attachments.
Read a book by candlelight.
Look at the stars.
Make shadow puppets on the wall using a flashlight – the easiest is a bunny rabbit (although the novelty of this wears out pretty quickly).
But, if your still not happy with all that and you cant live without electricity then I suggest you go fly a kite!
It worked for Benjamin Franklin!