Let’s wait for the blackout, the light is too bright

The Damned.

Right-leaning alternative media went into overdrive over the weekend, speculating wildly about “simultaneous blackouts” at the Vatican and nationwide in Pakistan. As tends to happen, wild conspiracy theories zipped around the globe while sober analysis was still hunting vainly under the bed for its missing left sock.

What possible connection could there be between the two events? Some hinted darkly at a “test run” by Chinese hackers – ignoring the fact that Pakistan and China have a “Long Term Plan” and that Pakistan is an enthusiastic BRI client state. But it was the Vatican blackout that really got the conspiracy theorists revved up.

Most connected it to a press release by one Prof Alfio D’Urso, claiming proof of an Italian connection to vote-rigging in the US presidential election. Wilder claims were that Pope Francis had been arrested for child trafficking, roadblocks, and gunfights in the Vatican streets.

So, what really happened?

First, to Pakistan – which really was hit by a nation-wide blackout.

Power supply was restored across Pakistan Sunday after the country was hit by a massive electricity blackout, officials said […]

The latest blackout, which lasted roughly 18 hours in most areas, was caused by “an engineering fault” in southern Pakistan at 11:41 pm local time on Saturday (1841 GMT), which tripped the system and caused power plants to shut down, power minister Omar Ayub Khan told a press conference in Islamabad.

As South Australians learned, even in advanced countries, a cascade of events can shut down an entire grid. In 2016, the entire state was blacked out for several days. The blackout was caused when unusually high winds caused wind farms to shut down, overloading the Heywood interconnector – the state’s sole link to other states’ infrastructure. (Despite attempts to blame the outage on collapsed pylons, the blackout actually preceded the pylon collapses.)

So it’s not hard to imagine a network failure in a developing country blacking the entire nation out.

Indeed, it’s nothing new in Pakistan.

The outage marked Pakistan’s second major power breakdown in less than three years. In May 2018, power was partially disrupted for more than nine hours.


But, what about the Vatican? Once might be a coincidence, but two at the same time?

Here’s where things got interesting. Try as I might, I could find no news reports about a Vatican blackout. Even searching Italian media brought up nothing. The only items reporting it were from the same fringe alt-media sites, most of them repeating the same script. Was there a massive news blackout as well?

Well, no. Because, as it turned out, there was no Vatican blackout. Courtesy of the catholictraveler blog:

Now, I love a good conspiracy as much as everyone. You might remember when I posted the video of smoke rising over the Vatican. That video was shown in newscasts all over the world. It was actually a fire at a nearby tire shop […]

I looked out my window (I can see the Vatican from my apartment) lights were on. No gunfights. No police. Cars were coming and going as usual on an early winter Sunday morning.

So what happened?

It seems to be a combination of a crappy webcam feed and a lot of overactive imaginations.

Remember, during the Notre Dame fire, when dozens of social media posts claimed to have captured footage of a man in Muslim attire lurking in the cathedral? Noticing the odd colour cast of the video, I took a screenshot and adjusted the colour to match the warm colours of Notre Dame’s limestone. Immediately, the “Muslim attire” turned out to obviously be a firefighter’s yellow-green PPE.

Similarly, while the footage of the Vatican “blackout” is dark and murky, it’s immediately obvious that there are, in fact, plenty of lights to be seen.

Blackout? Or just a crappy webcam? The BFD.

As you can see, the camera exposure seems to be really low – something that happens to the live-feed often, by the way, when there is lightning and occasionally even during the rain. In any case, you can see the lights are very much on. You can see the dome, you can see the lights of the colonnade, you can see some office/apartment lights, you can see the nativity lights, you can see the Christmas tree star.

But, what about the roadblocks?

Several conspiracy experts also sent me screenshots of roadblocks around Rome. To which I replied that we are still on lockdown. Not as severe as before, but we still have restrictions in place as to where we can and cannot travel. So, yes, roadblocks and police checks are ongoing. This is especially true on the weekends when we have even more restrictions than during the week.

The Catholic Traveler

So there was no news blackout at all – because there was no blackout to report.

Just a whole lotta people looking at a dodgy webcam and seeing whatever they wanted to see.

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Lushington D. Brady

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In last decade or...