Power outage

Half-wild, half-cruel,
like the laughter of a solitary man.

– Paul Zweig, “Eternity’s Woods”

I’m used to waking in the dark; it isn’t that. I don’t really mind the thought that the majority of my fellow citizens may be simpletons, because I am myself exceedingly susceptible to delusions of every sort. It does bother me a bit, though, that virtually every analyst and pundit has skipped blithely over the glaring mismatch between exit poll data and election results. Exit polls, they suggest, are simply another form of opinion poll, and therefore only as good as the pollsters and the questions asked. Nonsense! I can think of only two ways the exit polls in Ohio could have been so wrong: massive voter fraud, or widespread lying by people who had just voted for George Bush.

The latter possibility deserves at least a little consideration. Willful ignorance and outright mendacity are not, after all, so very far apart. “He’s my president, so if he tells me that Saddam was poised to attack the United States, I believe him.” “Yes, I know that ‘faulty intelligence’ wasn’t to blame. We went in there for the oil – and it’s a good thing we did. We need that oil. If we have to kill a bunch of Arabs to protect our standard of living, so be it.” (I actually had someone say this to me a few months back.) “Sure, he lied. He does what he has to do. It’s all for the greater good, which most of us have no idea about. The ways of those who have access to the full truth will often seem incomprehensible to the more poorly informed masses.” (This is, of course, a neoconservative article of faith.) “Every decent, moral, Christian person has no choice but to vote for the candidate who will defend the sanctity of marriage and protect the lives of the unborn. But why should we tell the unsaved what we are doing? It’s not a sin to lie to liberal pollsters and reporters. ‘Let not the left hand know what the right hand is doing.’ It’s all part of God’s plan.”

Thank You, Jesus, For My Plastic Ears.
– headline from the Weekly World News

I woke in the dark with no power. This isn’t a metaphor. The electricity was out here from 1:10 a.m. until 6:35 a.m. yesterday, then again from 1:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon. The second time, my father finally called the power company and persisted through fifteen minutes of voice mail purgatory until he reached a human being, who informed him that we could expect to have our electricity on by 7:30 at the latest. When the power was restored only five minutes after he hung up, we felt absurdly blessed.

Our power company is a subsidiary of First Energy, the Ohio-based corporation found responsible for last year’s Great Northeastern Blackout. That was but one of six outages we had in 2003 that lasted 24 hours or longer. It doesn’t pay them to maintain their infrastructure, so they don’t. And with deregulation, they don’t have to.

This is the future, folks. Get used to it. In ten years, regular power outages will become an accepted part of life, just as they are in much of the so-called developing world where small, venal elites feel no sense of social obligation. Who needs bread and circuses when fear and repression work just as well? That’s something, after all, that both major parties believe in. Police repression in Boston leads to the death of a college student? Well, clearly there just weren’t enough cops on the street! Brutal U.S. presence in Iraq fuels an exponential growth of the insurrection? Let’s send in more troops! Flatten Fallujah! Kill ten Iraqis (or is a hundred?) for every dead American! Prisoners don’t respond to torture, or give useless or false information? Come up with better tortures!

Besides, false information is better than no information, right? As long as the empty suits on the network newscasts have something to work with.

Facts don’t matter any more – if they ever did. Remember all the public confusion surrounding the millennial year? No rational person could fail to conclude that the year 2000 was the last year of the 20th century and the 2nd Millennium. But rather than insist on the point, the mainstream news media put out the notion that it was mainly a matter of opinion. There were, after all, two sides to the argument, and all good reporters learn in journalism school not to pick and choose between warring points of view – just report them both. The same approach has allowed the Bush regime to get away with most of its outrageous claims, about everything from global warming to forest health to the War on Terror. Two fraudulent presidential elections later, it seems that our entire reality structure has become postmodern.

Out in the open,
Everywhere to go.

– Gary Snyder, “The Trail is Not a Trail”

But what does it matter, Dave, if nobody really knows what time it is? Time is, after all, an entirely human construct. And you wouldn’t get so worked up about these things if you took the long view, cultivated awareness, recognized that all is vanity, or samsara, or whatever.

Well, yes, I suppose that’s true. But it is curious how the time becomes suddenly so important to me whenever the clocks go dead. Winston Smith thought it might have been 1984, but it bothered him never to know for certain. I could just sit here and treasure the silence – I wrote yesterday afternoon, scrawling the words by hand on some old scrap paper I dug up – watch the sun through the window flirting with fast-moving clouds, stop measuring the daylight remaining until supper. This time of day it takes me so long to get the words out, I wrote, that I can watch my thoughts change course in mid-stream. For all intents and purposes, the River Lethe has only a single bank. Earlier I napped, and when I awoke I was only able to surface halfway, at first – a peculiar sensation. I tried to count to ten and kept getting off track somewhere in the vicinity of six or seven.

Before that, I transplanted some New England asters to my front garden. They had gone to seed in the most appealing manner, tousled heads of brownish gray waiting for the autumn winds to do the rest. I thought of the blogger Paula and her obsession with roadside weeds, her unflinching agnosticism. Now I sit in this unaccustomed silence and find myself wishing that I could meditate as deeply as a seed, still my internal clock and go into suspended animation. I’d come back to life only when all the conditions were just right.

Never forget:
we walk on hell,
gazing at flowers.

– Kobayashi Issa

It’s getting to me, I confess: the capriciousness of power, the pervasive dishonesty about its modes and motives. In my other blog, dead raccoon, I try to turn the tables, ape the Grand Inquisitor. Because every declarative statement now begins to seem fraudulent, as if made-to-order for the interrogator of the moment. One moment, please. A service representative will be with you shortly. Please hold.

One moment. That’s all they ever ask for, isn’t it? But it’s enough.

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