Y2K Hippies

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Just Because They're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Wrong

By Nigel Jaquiss jaquiss@wweek.com
Cover & Lead Story

Two weeks ago, Powell's City of Books hosted a Year 2000 summit, a standing-room-only gathering of survivalists, Bible thumpers, New Age hippies and gigageeks. Most of them had come to hear about the global chaos they fear will be caused by widespread computer failure on Jan. 1, 2000.

In the musty atmosphere of Powell's Purple Room, the paranoia was almost palpable. Two middle-aged matrons from Clark County, clad in stretch pant suits and waving survivalist literature, demanded to know how soon after Y2K the government would call out the troops.

A lanky Marine sergeant, his freshly mowed head gleaming, leaned out from the stacks of books to respond. "I never heard of this Y2 whatever before," he drawled, "but if we take over, you liberals ain't gonna like it."

Then, a self-described "rainbow gypsy" named Jason Gibson grabbed the mike. His face dusted with glitter and framed by a floppy purple velvet cap, Gibson shared Y2K advice he had learned from Hopi elders, urging those in attendance to form "crystal earth pods" and head to the hills. He invited people to join him at a Planet Art Network meeting, where they could get their galactic signature decoded and learn the real cause of Y2K.

As bizarre as the meeting seemed, it was made even stranger by the presence of Dick Hofland, the City of Portland's Y2K specialist. Wearing a starched button-down shirt and gold-rimmed reading glasses, Hofland looked every inch the bureaucrat's bureaucrat. What made Hofland's presence at Powell's strange was that he, the most conventional guy in the room, agreed with much of what was said. Rather than concentrating on how much software can be fixed in the next 400 days, people wanted to talk about what Y2K really means. In essence, the argument that Gibson and others made was that we have become far too reliant on computers.

As the meeting ended, Hofland, whose remarks all afternoon had been purely factual, turned philosophical. "Y2K will be a catalyst that gets people to take more responsibility for their lives and build community," he said. "And that's a good thing."

For two years, Hofland's job has been to coordinate all the city agencies as they prepare for the millennium. The city faces four key areas of vulnerability, he says: the police data record system, 911 and emergency services, the water supply and outside vendors, Hofland's biggest source of concern. The vendors who worry him most he calls "the iron triangle"--electrical utilities, telecommunication companies and banks.

Hofland believes larger companies are making progress; he's more concerned about small and medium-sized businesses that can't afford expensive software fixes. Overall, he sees Y2K as a gargantuan project-management problem rather than an uncontrollable catastrophe. "The technical solution for Y2K is very, very simple," he says. "The difficulty is the number of places it can occur."

Hofland has inventoried the city's systems and is now testing them to see if they'll crash in 2000. So far, he's determined that about 80 percent of the systems are compliant--up from 60 percent a year ago. For a couple of reasons, he says, Portland is less susceptible to widespread disruption of services than many cities are.

First, unlike cities that rely on computerized pumping systems, our water system is gravity-fed. Second, the Bonneville Power Administration, which supplies most of the city's electricity, can be restarted and run manually if necessary. However, Portland is connected to the Western Power Grid, which links all cities this side of the Rockies. Even if the BPA is OK, failures on the grid could turn out the lights locally.

After two years of debugging, Hofland is optimistic, but he's also a realist. "There is no silver bullet," he says. "Not Bill Gates, not Apple Computer."

A recent congressional report on Y2K stated that "It is now clear that a large number of Federal computers systems simply will not be prepared for January 1, 2000. At the same time, the utilities industry, the financial services industry, the telecommunications industry, vital modes of transportation and other indispensable industrial sectors are all at risk."

Last week, The New York Times and USA Today ran front-page stories warning of the social upheaval that could result from the failure of such systems. Closer to home, Sen. Gordon Smith, a member of the Senate's Special Committee on Y2K, told a recent gathering in Hood River that he was worried about how the problem might affect other countries, especially those with nuclear weapons.

Wall Street is worried as well. Edward Yardeni, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities and one of the Street's most respected forecasters, predicted earlier this year that Y2K will cause a global recession. Only two weeks ago, the Federal Reserve announced plans to print $50 billion in extra currency in the next year. Fed officials arrived at this figure by assuming that each of the country's 100 million households might withdraw an extra $500 ahead of Y2K. Officials say they want to ensure there will be enough cash on hand if there's a pre-millennial run on the banks.

Some Portlanders are preparing with even more urgency. Hidden among the used-car lots and chain stores on 82nd Avenue is an immaculate, cavernous building known as the Bishop's Storehouse. Its principal purpose has been to supply needy Mormons with subsidized food. Part of the facility contains a dry-pack cannery, where church members buy and can dehydrated food. For the past decade, only church members used the cannery. Today, it's busier than Toys 'R' Us the day after Thanksgiving. Business is up more than 400 percent, says Bishop's Storehouse director Lou Sponseller, who attributes the increase to non-Mormons. "Y2K is unquestionably the driving force," he says.

In Portland, the most unusual approach to Y2K can be found in a low-slung bungalow on Southeast 47th Avenue. From the outside, the house--sheathed in aluminum siding, its porch covered by Astroturf--is unremarkable. Inside, the ambience is more earthy, harking back to a groovier time. Feeble winter light barely penetrates the dank living room. The aromas of scented candles mingle with the smell of damp soil. In the kitchen, a wall of shelves supports Amazonian trays of organic sprouts--garlic, alfalfa and bean.

This bungalow, called the "Goddess House" by its inhabitants, is the unofficial world headquarters of the Planet Art Network, a group that believes Y2K is about much more than computers crashing. PAN members, who range from didjeridu crafters to civil-rights lawyers, hug each other a lot. They are an earnest bunch who use Bragg liquid aminos sauce instead of salt on their whole foods and who believe in communal living for reasons other than free love. Some look like time travelers from '60s communes, and others appear perfectly strait-laced; all greet each other with the Mayan salutation "In Lake'Ch," which means "I am another you."

..... PAN's founder is Josi Arguelles, a former art history professor at University of California-Davis. Arguelles has written several books, including The Mayan Factor and Surfers of the Zuvuya, which form the ideological backbone of PAN. Last month, Arguelles, 59, moved here from Arizona.

"I think he senses this is where the energy is at," explains Gibson, the 29-year-old rainbow gypsy and former telecommunications entrepreneur who spoke at the Powell's summit.

No concrete statistics are available, but local PAN members estimate that the group has over 300 members in Portland and 45,000 to 60,000 worldwide. Like Baywatch and the music of John Tesh, PAN is reputed to be enormously popular in foreign countries, in particular Japan, Brazil and Chile.

Arguelles, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is best known for staging an event called the Harmonic Convergence in 1987. Derided by The New Republic as the "moronic convergence," the event was an attempt to bring together spiritual seekers at holy spots all over the world.

For the past four years, Arguelles (also known to his followers as Valum Votan and by his galactic signature, Blue Spectral Monkey) has been preaching that humankind has fallen progressively out of sync with nature. He dates the decline to 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII adopted the Gregorian calendar, the 12-month, 365-day version that became the world standard.

Arguelles advocates the adoption of his 13 Moon calendar, which is derived from the ancient Mayan calendar and corresponds to natural cycles. Each day in the PAN year has a unique name. For instance, this newspaper hit the streets on White Overtone Mirror.

Arguelles contends that by abandoning "12:60 time," as he calls the 12-month, 60-second system, and adopting the 13 Moon calendar, humankind will return to a balanced relationship with the earth. "The very essence of all of modern civilization, the 12:60 timing frequency is an error in time, a manifest illusion, a dark spell held together by money and machine," he writes.

In the past few months, PAN has seized on Y2K as a metaphor for its message. The group agrees with more mainstream observers that computers will crash. Unlike these people, however, PAN thinks that the crash, while initially threatening stability and order, will ultimately make the world a better place.

.... These days, Gibson and Time are preparing for Y2K. Their vision of the millennium is dark. They believe that Portland will be without food, heat or functioning banks. Sewage will run unchecked into the rivers, and garbage will pile up in the streets. When electricity and telecommunications and distribution systems get wiped out by computer failure, they say, the three days of food stored on supermarket shelves will soon be exhausted. Refrigerators won't work, and trains won't run. Energy markets will be disrupted; natural gas and oil will be scarce. People will be cold. Many will have guns. Gangs will roam the city. "I believe this planet is going to go through a very serious loss of life," says Gibson.

The only way to avoid a bummer of a millennium, they say, is to return to sustainable living. No more agri-chemicals, toxic waste or mistreatment of indigenous peoples. But--and this is where they differ from the survivalists--change must be made collectively, not by huddling in separate bunkers. "It makes no sense for individuals to prepare without community involvement," Time says. "Unless communities prepare collectively, there will be a lot of suffering."

Y2K--and where to be on New Year's Day 2000--is the main topic of conversation at the Goddess House these days. Sky wants to remain in Portland because she believes her highest calling is to serve as a peacemaker. Gibson, however, plans to flee town and says he will be armed.

"Some of us have genetic memory chips which recall tribal ways," he explains. "Some of the people that I've been studying with are armed to the hilt. We've lost the sense of what it's like to be a warrior society."

When Gibson leaves Portland, he'll have a lot of choices. According to Time, PAN members either own or can use at least six rural "homelands" across Oregon. They won't divulge addresses, but the homelands range from 12 to 250 acres and are in the Gorge, Mount Angel and Ashland and on the coast. Elsewhere, mostly in Montana, Arizona and Texas, the group says it has access to several thousand acres of land.

Arguelles has suggested that 13 is the optimum number for the "crystal pods" of people who will go back to the land. Ideally, members of each pod will be specialists--butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc.--but the essential criterion, Gibson says, is that "they must have energy that fits." They must also learn skills such as how to make fire from scratch. Although it's not obvious how Y2K imperils the world supply of matches, a PAN posse recently road tripped out to the Gorge to bang flint against rock. In addition, members are learning how to identify useful plants and employ alternative energy sources. As a result of Y2K disruptions, they believe our monetary system will collapse and that their skills will save them. "People are accustomed to buying what they need with money," Time says. "We're going to find out what money can't buy."

PAN's message of sustainability encompasses many ideas that are fairly mainstream: organic farming, respect for the environment and the importance of community. But the movement's ideological stew of New Age beliefs, Hopi wisdom and Mayan worship of nature challenges comprehension. Members tend to obscure the sensible parts of their message with a mind-numbing reliance on Trekkie-like jargon (PAN folks don't simply talk--they "download energy packets") and some puzzling inconsistencies.

Where PAN really careens off the deep end is in its conspiracy theories. To some members, Y2K is more than a giant computer malfunction and a symbol of over-reliance on machines; it is, they claim, actually part of a grand plan of global domination by sinister forces. "Y2K is a conspiracy between government and big business to consolidate power and establish a New World Order," Gibson says. The New World Order is, of course, a favorite catch-all of the ultra right. For it to crop up in PAN's quiver of arguments is somewhat surprising, given the group's liberal leanings.

.... Dick Hofland isn't going to rush out and join PAN. He isn't even interested in his galactic signature. Gibson and Time, he believes, overestimate the consequences of Y2K. "Something won't go right," Hofland says. "But I think it will be trivial, rapidly repairable anomalies rather than systemic breakdown." Competition will force industry to be Y2K-compliant, he believes, and government agencies will get the job done--at least locally.

Still, he finds a lot to like in PAN's insistence that people take responsibility for themselves and lead more sustainable lives. When asked by an audience member at Powell's whether the best response to Y2K isn't moving to the country and getting some protection, Hofland replied, "Well, I live in Yamhill County, I've got a big dog, and I've got a gun."

He was half-joking--he's had the dog and gun and lived in Yamhill for years--but he takes the threat of Y2K disruptions seriously. "Y2K won't be the end of the world as we know it," Hofland says, "but it will tell us how we're a

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), December 06, 1998


He was half-joking--he's had the dog and gun and lived in Yamhill for years--but he takes the threat of Y2K disruptions seriously. "Y2K won't be the end of the world as we know it," Hofland says, "but it will tell us how we're all interconnected."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Willamette Week | originally published December 2, 1998

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-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), December 06, 1998.

That's a long article, but I wanted to post it because it is so interesting and includes several Y2K thread topics.

Last night we went to a mall, first time this Christmas season, to shop for a few presents and supplies. It was really fun to get out and see all the happy shoppers cheerily going about Life As We Know It! And then, zammy, the above article was face-up up everywhere (it's a popular free magazine) all over the mall. *AND* there were many shoppers sitting on the multitudes of benches eagerly reading this article.

And each place we stopped and mentioned Y2K, everybody knew what it was, and nobody was sneering or saying "It's nothing." *Everybody* was saying, "I'm learning about it and starting to prepare."

It was really an eye-opener. Because we've spent so many years shut-in with one ill patient after another, we're socially out-of-it, and are always amazed by something when going into crowds.

From what we saw last night, the Y2K cat's already out of the bag, and it won't be long before it is the main topic of conversation.

BTW, that mall was an extremely conservative one in Yuppie-land, and spiffy dressed-up ultra-conservative Grandma-land.

Ashton & Leska in Cascadia

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-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), December 06, 1998.

Wow. All this in a local Oregon newspaper? Amazing, Leska.

When more "people take responsibility for themselves" and others "and lead more sustainable lives" we'll all be a lot better off, Y2K ready or not.


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 06, 1998.

One little clarification here :)

I'm not sure what the definition of a hippie is.

But I'm fairly sure neither Ashton nor I would qualify. We're not normal, but we're quite straight-laced, cautious, very hard-working ppl. Yes, we are vegetarians, and have an old '69 VW, but we need that for hauling nursing supplies to our perpetual Work-In jobs caring for dying patients in their homes. Ash got the van for $100 a long time ago, and it serves us well. We also have an Oldsmobile for fitting in with the fuddy-duddy neighborhoods. :)

Ashton & Leska (not hippes:), hermits in Cascadia

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-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), December 06, 1998.

A much more natural calendar is one proposed by the late Dr. Asimov. He suggested doing away with the multiple month madness, and just haveing four breaks in the calendar - of 91 days duration except for two - one of which will have 92, the other will have ninety two every fourth year. We could be real original and line these breaks with the equinoxes - and then name them spring, summer, fall and winter. A perpetual calendar would be really easy to build - just add a flap over day 92 and pull it off every fourth year (yeah, yeah except in the case of a century year modulo 4 - blah blah blah - lets not get super picky right now, OK).

-- Paul Davis (davisp1953@yahoo.com), December 06, 1998.

This is a very LONG and powerful story about standing up for what you believe and what is right. Gives me hope that we can turn the newsmedia around on reporting the facts about Y2K. -- Diane

A YEAR IN THE SKY - Last December 10, Julia Butterfly climbed 180 feet up an ancient redwood tree in Humboldt County's beleaguered Headwaters Forest, named the tree Luna, and refused to come down. She's still up there. 12/06/1998 - San Francisco Chronicle

See it for yourself at ...

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/ 1998/12/06/SC27435.DTL

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 06, 1998.

Hey diane, that's a great idea -- why dont you join her? You could climb a microwave tower, name it "Lunatic" and refuse to come down until the system does.

just kidding :)

-- a (a@a.a), December 06, 1998.

Diane, that was an incredible article. Thank you for bringing it up for us. Butterfly's dedication is unheard-of. Sounds like she'll do fine during Y2K. Wish the coming stomach-turnover crunch could have such a zealous media advocate. It will be interesting to see how the Time magazine article turns out, the one ppl on this forum are being interviewed for. When that comes out, around New Year's 1999, the dial will turn up again.

xxxxxxx xx

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), December 06, 1998.

a (a@a.a), afraid I love a daily hot shower and my cafe latte to much to hang around metal towers. I do admire and honor the type of spirit it takes to be so dedicated. Within any future "dark" moments as they come and go, I'll remember Butterfly. Each one of us may well be faced with learning how to "fly" our spirits as high.


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 06, 1998.


06 December 1998

Savvy Hippie Cashes In On Millennium Bug Doom


THERE is a profit in doom - as a 50-year-old hippie from the US has found with mixed feelings. The millennium bug, Y2K, is coming and with it a spreading panic that computers will collapse, wreaking havoc on civilisation as we know it.

The bug, many fear, will cause chaos as the world's computers crash, triggering widespread power failures, a collapse in the monetary system and interrupted water supplies. Around the world, the concerned and the paranoid are preparing by buying a wide range of products that do not need a conventional energy supply.

And Steve Troy, of Boulder, Colorado, is the man they are turning to. He's become a reluctant millionaire almost overnight. While pleased with his good fortune, it disturbs him since he believes money brings a host of responsibilities and that "you can lose meaning in your life" by having too much cash.

Troy owns what used to be a little company called Jade Mountain, a "sustainable living" mail-order business which he started in 1972. His interest in living "off the grid" began in 1966, when the teenage Troy was doing what he calls "peace corps-type work" in a remote part of Mexico, where there was little infrastructure and no power.

His firm sold kerosene lamps and heaters, then expanded to include DC lighting - the battery kind that works off solar panels or wind generators.

Then, in May and June of this year, business began to triple.

In demand were solar panels (R2 400), current inverters (R5 400), solar Nicad battery chargers (R120 to R1 200), drip filters for water purification, composting loos at R6 000 each, reflector-powered "sun ovens" (R2 100), washing machines and tumble dryers that take power from the sun (R12 000 for the pair) and crank-powered short-wave radios (R600).

At first, he thought only the most paranoid of people were stockpiling for the possible crash. "But then computer engineers working on the problem started telling me they were afraid they were not going to make it in time. When they started stocking up, I realised we could be in trouble," Troy says.

He believes the US, where the government has allocated $60-billion (about R33-trillion) to upgrade computers, is least likely to be affected.

"The figure I've seen quoted is that about 15 percent of US businesses could fail. Japan will be badly hit - 50 percent of businesses could crash, with the figure rising to 66 percent in China." Troy, to his credit, has been careful not to spread fear and has refused to advertise his goods, except through his catalogue and web site. It was only when his company was mentioned in a Y2K newsletter that the run on his goods began.

He tells the story of one US woman who has spent $3 000 (about R17 000) on solar toys and crank radios for her entire family as Christmas gifts.

"She told me she had taken out two new credit cards for her Y2K shopping. I suppose she thinks that after the banking systems collapse she won't have to repay the debt.

"People see this as insurance. Everyone takes out insurance in case his house burns down. No-one wants his house to be ravaged by fire, but people need to know they're covered just in case." Troy tells how, in parts of Wyoming and Idaho, tracts of defensible land are being bought up by people who fear having to fight off marauding crowds after "the crash".

Troy believes Africa and Third World countries, where the reliance on high technology is minimal, will survive better than their First W

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), December 07, 1998.

Troy believes Africa and Third World countries, where the reliance on high technology is minimal, will survive better than their First World counterparts.

xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), December 07, 1998.

Interesting Jade Mountain article Leska. Thanks.


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 07, 1998.


On Tom Brokaws NBC Nightly News tonight, 12/07/1998, they covered the Redwood tree-top story of Butterfly.

Im impressed with the speed a story can be printed in a local major market, S.F., then 24-hours later hit the national TV news. Already knew that, but its confirmation just the same.

Wonder what local Y2K stories could be impressive enough to interest the national newsmedia?

Ideas, anyone?


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 07, 1998.

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