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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A weekly column for those who live and walk in Silicon Valley

by Barbara Dahlgren

Cursing the Darkness
Column for the week of August 24-30, 2003

At 4:11 p.m. on Thursday, August 14, 2003 the biggest blackout in U.S. history took place. Lights went out all over Northeastern United States and parts of Canada. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Ontario, and Quebec were all affected. You can get your “official” black out T-shirts (as opposed to any unofficial T-shirts out there) to commemorate the event at They are inscribed with “I Survived Historical Blackout New York City August 14, 2003.” It’s amazing how quick the merchandisers get these products out. They were probably cranking them out by hand in some candlelit cellar before the lights came back on.

It’s a little disconcerting to think that the failure of three power lines in Cleveland Ohio could set up a chain reaction that left tens of millions in the dark so quickly. More than 100 power stations shut down in nine seconds. After 9/11 the first thought was that it was an act of terrorism. People seemed to be more at ease when they found out it wasn’t. Then the reality that one-quarter of the U.S. could lose power in a matter of seconds because of such an archaic system set in. It didn’t really bolster everyone’s confidence. Who needs terrorists? We can just sabotage ourselves.

People coped remarkably well. Looting was at a minimum. Restaurants gave meals away and residents had cookouts for the neighborhood. It was better than letting food spoil or throwing it away. Those who were stranded managed somehow. It’s amazing how emergency situations change your priorities. What’s the point of complaining? Everyone was in the same boat so just go with the flow.

It didn’t take long for the Democrats to start placing blame on the Republicans. I’m sure the reverse would have been true if we had a Democrat for President. Bill Richardson, former Energy Secretary said, “I told you so” but his criticism was for Congress in general. “We’ve been warning this for years. Regrettably nobody listened so Congress didn’t act. The problem is we’re a superpower with a third world grid that is antiquated.” Everyone agrees that our power grid is out dated but modernizing, upgrading, and expanding it will take time and money. It simply was not a priority in the past. The cost to do it now is conservatively up to $50billion. Of course it’s a given that it will have to be footed by the consumer. Hey, that’s nothing in CA! Our deficit is already $38 billion and growing.

It is a tragedy that something our country is so dependent on had become such a low priority. Even though they were warned repeatedly politicians chose to hide their heads in the sand and pretend such catastrophes could not happen to us. After all, how can power grids that service our whole country contribute to a private political campaign and who wants to elect a guy whose motto is “Vote for me and I’ll be sure to triple your electric bill!”

Biblical principles show that wise men foresee what is to come and prepare accordingly. (Proverbs 22:3) The Bible also tells us how quickly a nation can fall. (Revelation 18:10) Life changing events can happen pretty fast. It only took seconds for this blackout to occur. Of course we usually look to outside sources for our destruction but sometimes we can be our own worst enemy by not wanting to be confused with the facts. This incident is a wake up call for our nation to shed some light on our outmoded systems. If we don’t, we all may be cursing the darkness.

©August 2003

Be sure to visit this page every week to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at



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