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Y2K Spells Trouble
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 1999

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Does Y2K signal the end of the world as we know it? Gary North says it does. Of course, he's cried "Wolf!" before. In the past North has predicted that the end will come through nuclear war and the AIDS virus. Now he's harping on the Year 2000 Problem. He says he's moved to Northwest Arkansas so he can drill his own natural gas well and to be close to a conservative Presbyterian church and a large university library. He recommends stockpiling toilet paper to use as a barter item.

On his Web site, North paints this scary scenario: "At 12 midnight on January 1, 2000 (a Saturday morning), most of the world's mainframe computers will either shut down or begin spewing out bad data. Most of the world's desktop computers will also start spewing out bad data. Tens of millions – possibly hundreds of millions – of pre-programmed computer chips will begin to shut down the systems they automatically control. This will create a nightmare for every area of life, in every region of the industrialized world."

The slightly more reasoned Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem released its report earlier this month on the Web. "The Internet surges with rumors of massive Y2K failures that turn out to be gross misstatements," the report says, "while image-sensitive corporations downplay real Y2K problems."

Seems balanced enough. But if you peel back a few Web pages, you'll hear committee chairman Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) sounding a bit like Gary North. Several major industries are way behind the Y2K curve, Bennett warns. But the real problems rest with U.S. trading partners – Japan, Mexico, China, Germany and Taiwan – and oil-exporting countries such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. "Widespread disruptions will have a negative ripple effect on the world economy," Bennett says, "but the effects will be devastating for the people living in countries that experience infrastructure failures and a withdrawal of foreign investment. The U.S. will undoubtedly be called upon to play a humanitarian role, much as it would in the wake of a devastating natural disaster."

Some survivalists, therefore, are looking out for Number One. They are turning to sites such as Food Storage for Life, brought to our attention by faithful reader Karen Bock-Losee. The online presence of Pioneer Gourmet Food Provisions, a Utah survivalist company, this site offers a year's worth of pre-prepared food – potato flakes and peach drink mix – in cans and buckets.

Finding sites that are rational and reasonable about Y2K is not easy. Canadian David-Robert Loblaw pooh-poohs all the millennial hoopla. "The hysteria surrounding the Year 2000 computer bug will be the biggest money-making hoax in my lifetime," Loblaw writes on his Year 2000 Computer Bug Hoax site. And the Washington D.C. Year 2000 Group, a network of concerned companies and organizations, claims to be "the largest and most active Y2K group in the world."

So what will the new year bring? Good question. Here are two more: Should we continue to use the abbreviation Y2K to refer to a problem that was caused by an abbreviation in the first place? And are we really wise to rely on computers for solutions to problems brought about by, um, our reliance on computers?

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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