Are they really that stupid?

Like the calculated inflation of economic bubbles to give the impression of prospserity, some stories are hard to look in the face. The estimable Peggy Noonan looks one in the face anyway:

The heretofore unknown story happened last April 16. There was an armed assault on a power station in California. Just after midnight some person or persons slipped into an underground vault near Highway 101 just outside San Jose. He or they cut telephone cables—apparently professionally, in a way that would be hard to repair. About a half hour later, surveillance cameras at Pacific Gas & Electric [2] Co. PCG +0.58% [3] ‘s nearby Metcalf substation picked up a streak of light, apparently a signal from a flashlight. Snipers then opened fire. The shooters appear to have been aiming at the transformer’s cooling systems, which were filled with oil. If that was their target, they hit it. The system leaked 52,000 gallons; the transformer overheated and began to crash. Then there was another flash of light, and the shooting, which had gone on almost 20 minutes, stopped.
The assault knocked out 17 giant transformers that feed electrical power to Silicon Valley. A minute before the police arrived, “the shooters disappeared into the night,” in the words of reporter Rebecca Smith, who put the story together through interviews, PG&E filings, documents and a police video.
No suspect in the case has been identified.

The AK-47 type shells at the scene were apparently wiped clean of fingerprints before loading. The Wall Street Journal’s news side reported it Tuesday, but I guess I missed in amidst stories about how Russia isn’t 110% on board with modernity (if you know what I mean; if not, let me ask if your Google search page has a rainbow Olympic theme this morning, or is it just mine?).

The official PG&E version is that this was the work of “vandals.” The official FBI version is that it wasn’t the work of terrorists.

One can only hope that they’re not that stupid, but what should it tell us that these are the official versions.?

I got a modest generator to keep essentials going in our home for days or even weeks, but I’m under no illusion about this being protection if Metcalf was a trial run for something bigger. Noonan:

Welcome to my obsession. It is electricity. It makes everything run—the phone, the web, the TV, the radio, all the ways we talk to each other and receive information. The tools and lights in the operating room—electricity. All our computers in a nation run by them, all our defense structures, installations and communications. The pumps at the gas station, the factories in the food-supply chain, the ATM, the device on which you stream your music—all electricity. The premature infant’s ventilator and the sound system at the rock concert—all our essentials and most of our diversions are dependent in some way on this: You plug the device into the wall and it gets electrical power and this makes your life, and the nation’s life, work. Without it, darkness descends.

Because this is so obvious, we don’t think about it unless there’s a blackout somewhere, and then we think about it for a minute and move on. We assume it will just be there, like the sun.

But this societal and structural dependence is something new in the long history of man.

No one who wishes America ill has to blow up a bomb. That might cause severe damage and rattle us. But if you’re clever and you really wanted to half-kill America—to knock it out for a few months or longer and force every one of our material and cultural weaknesses to a crisis stage—you’d take out its electrical grid. The grid is far-flung, interconnected, interdependent, vulnerable. So you’d zap it with an electromagnetic pulse, which would scramble and fry power lines. Or you’d hack the system in a broad, sustained attack, breaking into various parts, taking them down, and watching them take other parts down.

Again, one can only hope that they’re working like crazy behind the insulting smoke-screen of the official versions. But:

I end with an anecdote. In 2006 I met with some congressional aides and staffers to talk, informally, about what questions should be in the country’s hierarchy of worries. They were surprised when I told them a primary concern of mine was electricity, how dependent we are on it, how vulnerable the whole system is. I asked if there was any work being done to strengthen the grid. Blank faces, crickets. Then a bright young woman said she thought there was something about electricity in the appropriations bill a while back.

You always want to think your government is on it. You want to think they see what you see. But really, they’re never on it. They always have to be pushed.


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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.