"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
—Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
(Swans - October 22, 2012) POWERLESS: How does it feel to be without electricity? I've read an article in the Abu Dhabi publication The National last July that reported that Iraqis were receiving between 9 and 12 hours of electrical power on a daily basis. That same month in India, 600 million people experienced a total power blackout for two days. In the U.S., in the East and Midwest, over two million people were left without electricity for several days in the midst of an unrelenting heat wave. (You can read stories about the vulnerability of the US electrical grid.) Last week, Colorado had 50,000 households out of power due to heavy winds. That same week, heavy winds cut electrical power to some 50,000 households in the southwest of France. I recall Femi Akomolafe telling me that in Ghana the delivery of electricity is so erratic that at any time, every day, he is left without power for hours. Shortage of electricity all over the world is well documented by international organizations. According to the International Energy Agency, over 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity.
IT'S DIFFICULT TO FATHOM how it feels to be without power. In our isolated house in the northern California hills near Boonville, we have been lucky. A few outages for minutes or short hours here and there -- nothing drastic -- can be remedied thanks to our electrical generator, and we have UPSs to keep our computers running for a while. We have yet to experience a long-term -- several days -- shut off. The utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has done a good job at keeping us powered over the years. Without power we would be not only isolated but utterly unable to function. Our water well runs on electricity -- no power no water, but for that which is held in our water tanks. No power means no fridge, no microwave, no oven, no coffee machine, no radio or TV, no heating, no Internet satellite, no computers, no phone (but our old AT&T one) and, of course, no light. Only our cooking stove and our water heater run on propane. Everything else is dependent on electrical power.
A FEW WEEKS AGO, PG&E sent us "an important notice of a planned electric interruption in [our] area." It would take place on October 13 from 9:00 pm to October 14, 8:00 am. It was, fortunately, not a Swans publishing weekend. So, we proceeded to get prepared. We got all our flashlights out and loaded their batteries (which required electricity), got out a few candles just in case, and I did a full backup of our data to my main computer and a memory stick, because in the last outage we experienced a couple of months ago, our recently installed Network-attached storage (NAS) did not come back on line after power was back (it took me hours to make it happen). Then, I shut down everything. We went to bed. The power went off around 10:00 pm. I woke up the next morning at 6:00 am. It was an eerie feeling. The house was totally silent, so were the entire surroundings. It was still dark outside. So I sat quietly and waited. By 8:00 am, the power was not back. We called PG&E and listened to a recorded message advising that power would be back two hours later. Two hours later the power was not back. We called again and heard that we would have to wait another two hours. I became speechless, silent. My face became so gray, my mind so blank, that my wife became concerned for my heart and my health. The only thing I could think of is how tired I am of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Nowhereness is no fun, solitude is no fun, isolation is no fun, but lack of electricity is a killer. The power came back around 10:15 am and it took me until 4:30 pm to get the NAS back on line.
I APOLOGIZE to all people whose electrical experience is much worse than mine, but being powerless, electrically or otherwise (think political powerlessness), I'd love to not join your lot. Better get my generator working again.
PERHAPS THERE IS SALVATION over the sky or the electrical lines, as the state of California may dedicate more resources to the electrical grid so long as funds are pulled out of the rabbit's hat. To save money, authorities have decided to slowly introduce drones over the state to keep criminality in check. The military uses remote-controlled aircrafts all over the world to have people either desist or be killed. They are cheap and they function well. Why not use these wonderful tools over our land? After all, they only cost $50 to $100,000 compared to the $3 million needed to fuel a helicopter (and that does not even include the purchase price). They work on electric batteries, so the state will have to make sure that the juice is available. And think about how much money will be saved on not paying helicopter crews anymore. Splendid idea. From now on drones will take care of us all, from the time we leave home to the time we come back. I can already visualize them circling around our local hills to detect marijuana plantations, which the constables fully ignore. And think about how useful they will be to monitor those popular demonstrations and peace rallies that threaten our very democracy and our way of life! We already see tanks and armored vehicles in the streets of various California cities. So, why not drones? Perhaps we will keep electricity available...at the price of our freedom. As we glimpse down the slippery slope, first they'll be equipped with cameras; next, they'll be equipped with guns...
TO KEEP IDIOCY ASIDE, let's remember Pierre Mendès France, who died 30 years ago on October 18, 1982, at the age of 75. He was one of the most principled politicians that France has known in the 20th century (Americans, think of Eugene Debs). His time in power -- just about 258 days -- is recalled as an era in French politics when morality and integrity held sway. I wish François Hollande, the current French president, could emulate that great man.
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.
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