Tuesday, 29 July 2003

If 75,000 people had no electricity, and nobody knew about it...

Last Tuesday morning, high winds knocked out power to over 200,000 customers of Memphis Light, Gas, and Water. As of 10 a.m. today—a week after the storm—around a third of those customers still have no power.

It amazes me that nobody is talking about this in the blogosphere, or in the wider media, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it puts events in Iraq in perspective: if a few minutes of wind can knock out power for an entire county in the industrialized world, with it taking weeks to restore power to some customers, should we be surprised that it’s taking longer to get things sorted out in Iraq?

For another thing, when this happens due to hurricanes, ice storms, or tornados, crews come from utilities that are hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles away to help. But not in Memphis for this situation. Where’s the help from Little Rock and Nashville, St. Louis and New Orleans? Seven people have died already, and more will probably die due to heat exhaustion (daytime temperatures uniformly exceed 90 degrees Farenheit, with very high humidity) and combustion-related accidents (carbon monoxide poisoning, fires, etc.).

Friday, 5 September 2003

Agenda-setting: the power of the Times

Why do Virginia Postrel and Glenn Reynolds suddenly care about the two-week Memphis blackout in late July and early August? Simple: the New York Times had an op-ed about it.

(Virginia’s reaction is common. I got stares of disbelief when I told people in Ann Arbor about the Memphis power outage when the Great Northeast Blackout hit the town. “Surely we would have heard about this,” was the common refrain.)

Of course, Signifying Nothing readers knew about it at the time, even though half of SN (Brock) was offline due to the power outage and the other half (i.e. me) was 750 miles away.