Interim Infrastructure Update: Blackouts, Sullivan vs. Silver

(Please see update below.) Local internet service (and phones and TV service) all went down again five hours ago, just a minute after the previous post. So this is a first-ever post-over-a-handheld-device-via-cell-hotspot, and I will make it terse.

1) I hear on the radio that many people in New York and New Jersey are getting panicky at the three-day mark with no electricity. Boy do people in D.C. sympathize and understand. We've had three episodes of that duration or longer in just the past two years -- of course minus the flooding, fires, and other terrible destruction. (One five-day stretch after an ice storm, with sustained temps in the 20s and 30s -- that was Dr. Zhivago-like; one after a summer thunderstorm; one after a "derecho," which I can't manage to link to now.) These things are boring when they happen to someone else. Maybe this will create some pan-Eastern-Seaboard solidarity on American infrastructure issues. And climate ones too.

2) I am a huge fan and admirer of the new NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan. But I think she has made her first mistake and is picking the wrong fight in criticizing the now-embattled Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight for placing a (mainly symbolic) charitable-donation bet with Joe Scarborough over who has a better model of how the election will turn out. In fact, the arrivals of Mr. Silver and Ms. Sullivan each at the NYT constitute good news. They are both forces for improvement in journalism.

That's all I can stand to do this way. When re-connected, some more Foxconn pics.
I did not mean to say, above, that what is happening in New York and New Jersey now is comparable to the prolonged no-electricity episodes that Pepco customers in the DC area have been going through. The damage there is far more comprehensive, and the unique situation of New York city adds unique hardships and challenges. I was mainly meaning to underscore the importance of infrastructure issues --  and the new salience of climate-change discussions, which Mayor Bloomberg may have done something important to advance.

But for the record, here is a note from a former DC-area resident now in New York:

I lived in Takoma Park for the last several years and went through the DC-MD blackouts, including 6 days this summer without power in greater than 100 degree heat. But there, almost everyone had a car, and the energy came back on in pockets that allowed you to drive a short distance to find a neighborhood with power that could give you food and a bit of heat, or cooling, depending on the season. In addition, you could flush your toilet.

But in Manhattan, it is the entire 4 mile by 2 mile block of Lower Manhattan that is without power. People must walk up and down the stairs in high-rise buildings and then to the perimeter of the zone to find food. Huge numbers of people can't do that. And power is necessary to pump water up in these buildings, so bathrooms are not getting water - no washing... not even flushing.

Beyond that, the disruption to the regional infrastructure has slowed delivery of fresh supplies, though my bodega had fresh milk this morning. And the one critical thing for people in the outer boroughs, where they do have cars, is gas. They're running out of gas and are finding themselves in that same situation of having to walk from their blacked out neighborhood to forage for supplies.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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