TB 2000's Very Own Bob Magnus and 15 Minutes of Fame

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

So How about it Bob? Did they quote you right?

Hysteria fades, but are we ready?: 'Doomsdayers' aside, we seem to be less paranoid about Y2K

By Michael H. Hodges / The Detroit News


The Detroit News

SOUTHFIELD -- A shadow crosses Muriel Zweigel's brow, and she bustles over to the Southfield cop helping out at this evening's Y2K seminar at the Millennium Theater at Northland. "We've got a 'doomsdayer,' " Zweigel says, cocking her head sharply.

Not that Zweigel, an earnest senior citizen with red hair who's taken on Y2K awareness as a personal quest, is out to squelch debate. But she's run into some pills who badgered the speakers brought in by the Southfield Y2K community action group, and she isn't about to put up with that sort of "extremist" nonsense alarming the audience tonight.

These are hard days for doomsdayers. As an index of Michiganders' alarm about the Millennium Bug, you probably couldn't do better than tonight's underattended affair that draws 30 in an auditorium that seats hundreds.

Judging from dozens of conversations around the state, the Year 2000 alarm that society will be brought to its knees by a computer glitch -- so menacing, just months ago -- is mellowing into something like skeptical nonchalance. This probably owes a lot to recent upbeat government and industry reports, as well as, perhaps, a reaction to the hysterics earlier in the year.

"As time goes by, there's not the hype there was before," Zweigel admits a little forlornly, straightening up the hundreds of untaken fliers and pamphlets she's neatly arranged on a table in the theater lobby.

"Of course nobody's worried," snaps C.J. Harrison a couple days later, putting the final touches on a chocolate cake in her Grosse Pointe Park kitchen. "It's not cold out yet."

Once winter sets in, the hypnotherapist predicts a sea change. "Even I might start hauling in the Spam and the tuna," she says.

To date, however, the only Y2K movement in her brick home has been her husband's speculation about hot-wiring their gas furnace to the car battery should the power, never mind Detroit Edison's assurances, go down for the count.

If things get that bad, they might want to pay a longterm visit to Kim Long's household down the block. Long and her husband have invested in a generator, and, because they're worried about the safety of the water despite Detroit's assurances, a large RV water- storage tank they'll fill on Dec. 31.

Still, Long, an EDS systems analyst, downplays panicky talk. "We just think this will probably just last a week," she says. The Year 2000 brouhaha, you'll recall, stems from using just two digits to designate the year in computers, software and embedded chips. The risk is that some computers could interpret "00" as "1900" and pitch a fit.

It reads like some lurid revenge fantasy scripted by the Unabomber: The high technology that seduced and enslaved us now threatens to betray us to our doom.

And for a while, we flipped.

Last winter, a third of Americans had the jitters, anticipating "major problems" in the century rollover. But in a September USA TODAY/National Science Foundation poll, that dwindled to 11 percent. Half of us still won't board an airplane in early January, down a little from a December poll, although Northwest Airlines says early January bookings are actually "up slightly" over this time last year.

That may have a lot to do with the reassuring drumbeat coming out of industry and government -- the feds alone have spent $8 billion on the glitch-fix -- proclaiming that everything's going to be okay.

On the other hand, an October poll of government and industry Y2K fix-it specialists found that a majority are not going to fly on Jan. 1, and 42 percent are going to have more than $1,000 in cash on hand.

Some middle-of-the-road analysts think we could afford to be just a wee bit more concerned.

"To generate panic at this point," says William Ulrich, a computer contingency planner in Santa Cruz, Calif., who was one of the early, sober voices on Y2K , "you'd have to have a meteor hurtling toward Earth in plain view."

But another longtime Cassandra, Canadian Peter De Jager , is now thoroughly upbeat and gets a little testy when people suggest that he's backed down from his earlier, much-alarmed position. He agrees that he was "very loud and pessimistic" over the past several years, but the result is that "government and business have finally taken it seriously," and largely fixed the problem.

Robert Mangus, Zweigel's "doomsdayer," is deeply cynical about the new national mood. A rumpled fellow in a cable-knit sweater and camouflage baseball cap, Mangus says he's got 33 years' experience in "information technologies," and worked on Y2K "remediation" at Ford, Blue Cross and Chrysler.

People prefer government and business pablum to the truth, he says.

"What do they do to messengers?" he asks, in reference to his favorite on-line Y2K guru, Gary North. "They shoot them, don't they?"

North's web site (www.GaryNorth.com), titled "The Year the Earth Stood Still," is one of the most catastrophe-packed on the Internet. (For balance, take a peek at 9/ -- the "Gary North is a Big Fat Idiot" page.)

The federal government gave itself straight-A's for preparedness last month. Ulrich argues this amounts to a "multibillion-dollar public -relations blitz" that papers over big problems in certain federal agencies, notably welfare and Medicare.

There have been blips. Social Security chopped off 32,000 recipients as of "Jan. 1, 1900" in August. And a Senate panel recently warned of "severe long and short-term disruptions to supply chains" in overseas manufacturing that could plunge the U.S. into a major recession.

Whether this means planes dropping from the sky is, of course, another question.

And perhaps a pointless one, now that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has announced snafus will be nothing more than "negligible."

Do we really need to talk about this anymore?

Even Zweigel gets confused. "Sometimes I get discouraged over who to believe," she says, "but my son says, 'Mom -- you drive right down the middle.' "

So she's preparing -- prudently. "I buy extra canned goods when they're on sale," she says. And this year she'll take extra steps -- saving a year's worth of utility and banking receipts, just in case February brings out-of-whack statements, as well as cleaning out her fireplace and buying wood.

Not about to be caught unprepared is Y2K entrepreneur and true believer Michael Clark who, among other things, bought a cow and pig to slaughter after the New Year.

He and his wife, Marcia, are "about 70 percent" through their preparations in Hesperia, north of Grand Rapids, which include truly impressive volumes of home canning, assembling water barrels and laying in a propane heater and storage tank. They're planning for a six-week blackout. Heat-sealing packages of powdered milk, Clark complains that after a promising winter his Y2K -supplies business about dried up between April and August, though he points to an uptick in the past several weeks. Y2K pessimists, he says happily, "are starting to come back out of the woodwork."

Good thing. Clark's sitting on about 58 tons of wheat and six tons of milk.

David Kessler, the director of Boston University's Center for Millennial Studies, says the Y2K backlash has been strong enough that some people are now embarrassed to be caught preparing, for fear of "being seen as crazy."

Utterly unconcerned with anyone's opinion is Steve Doran, an Oxford, Mich., private investigator who filled up an entire supermarket cart a few weeks ago with Treat, a canned meat product, on half-price sale. "But you're talking to a Polish hillbilly," he says. "At any given time, I could survive for three months on what we've got at home. That's the way we shop."

He anticipates no catastrophes. But still, "If the Red Cross is preparing, shouldn't the average citizen?"

Reluctant at first to talk, the crew-cut fellow making change recently at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Friday fish fry in Royal Oak finally identifies himself as George Jones and Y2K as "a bunch of overblown hype." He blames the media. "Like everything else," he says, "they run it down the tubes. Beat it to death." Should events prove dire, he's got a backup plan. "No sweat," he says. He'll just move up to his farm on Lake Charlevoix. He's already got a stock of hurricane lamps, a good wood stove, propane oven and a manual pump he can install on his well. "Got a bunch of guns, too," he says, taking a drag on his Camel.

Around the corner at Noir Leather, owner Keith Howarth says his leather-and-kink boutique is fully Y2K -compliant. "I haven't ignored it at all," he says, noting that he's already updated his computer system's inventory control. He's ordinarily pretty laid-back and doesn't stress out, he says - - at least until the last minute. He laughingly worries that he might find himself in the company of the panicked masses come Dec. 26. "We'll all get through Christmas," he predicts, "and then go, 'Oh, s---! We got Y2K coming!' "

On the bright side, he says, there might be quite a run on firewood -- and he's got a backyard-full.

Howarth's twentysomething assistant, Stitch ("No last name" he says, "just Stitch") finds the lackadaisical public response typically American. "Our whole world is based on worrying about the little stuff," he says. "When the big stuff comes along, we can't be bothered." For his part, Stitch -- who's sporting a pentagram around his neck and knee-high laced boots on top of black vinyl pants -- sees a darker premise at work with Y2K . He believes it's a ruse the powers- that-be will use to abolish paper money. "Everything will just go plastic," he says.

At Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, where another Y2K panel is taking place on a sunny Saturday morning, Timeca Williams takes a moment out from goofing around with her little brother to consider the millennial rollover.

"I think possibly there will be unexpected blips, in my opinion," says the self-possessed fourth-grader at Bates Academy.

They haven't discussed Y2K at school, Timeca says, but she's already given blackouts serious thought. She recalls the day the electricity went out last summer. "A whole 24 hours not to be able to turn the TV on!" She grins. "I don't think I could stand that again!"

Her mother, Lisa Williams, says she's "pretty confident" they'll iron the bugs out before Jan. 1. But she worries about the older folks in her family, saying they now feel the same alienation they first felt when computers started invading society a generation ago.

"This is what they've always feared," she says. "What are these things going to do to our way of life?"

Downstairs in the lobby, retiree Charles Peterson emphatically insists he won't be cowed into stocking up. Apparently he hadn't reckoned with his wife. "Oh, yes, we will," Shirley Peterson interjects, taking his arm in amused reproach. "Why?" he wants to know, a little incensed.

"Because," she says with the authority of the one who controls the grocery shopping, "they advise it."

Being prepared

Most experts advise preparing for Y2K as you would for a three- day blizzard. To that end, The Utne Reader's " Y2K Citizen's Action Guide" recommends the following supplies for a family of four:

Essential items 1 gallon water per person per day (2 quarts for drinking; 2 quarts for cooking and personal hygiene) -- don't forget that pets need water, too.

Canned meats, fruits and vegetables.

Canned juices, milk, soup (if powdered, stock extra water).

Potatoes (fresh or dried flakes).

Ready-to-eat cereals.


Vegetable oils.

High-energy foods: peanut butter, jelly, granola bars, trail mix. Beans.

Soft drinks.

White rice.

Additional baby food and diapers.

Essential nonfood items

Flashlights with extra batteries.

Transistor radio with extra batteries.

Extra prescription drugs.

Firewood for fireplace or wood stove.

Chlorine bleach (with 5.25-percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, and no soap additives) for purifying water -- 4 drops bleach per quart of water.

Expecting the worst?

You might want to look into these additional long term provisions - - per person, per month -- recommended by the

Federal Emergency Management Agency:

Brown rice or whole wheat: 20 pounds.

Powdered milk (for babies and infants): 20 pounds.

Corn: 20 pounds.

Iodized salt: 1 pound.

Soybeans: 10 pounds.

Vitamin C: 15 grams.

-- andy (warhole@was.right), October 13, 1999


Robert Mangus, Zweigel's "doomsdayer,"... A rumpled fellow in a cable-knit sweater...

Oh man, that's brutal.

-- semper paratus (llmcl@usa.net), October 13, 1999.

I'm sure they meant "dimpled". You do have dimples, don't you Robert? :)

-- a (a@a.a), October 13, 1999.

Another disgusting article by a condescending smirking biased "reporter", and a complete gaggle of idiots

-- puke (duke@the.reporter), October 13, 1999.

* * * 19991013 Wednesday

Arrrgghh!! ...

semper paratus:

Good grief! This _IS_ brutal AND condescending! I do not know that man, "Michael H. Hodges/Detroit News!" REALLY! I DO NOT! I DID NOT GIVE PERMISSION, NOR WAS I NOTIFIED OF PUBLICATION.

'... Robert Mangus, Zweigel's "doomsdayer," is deeply cynical about the new national mood. A rumpled fellow in a cable-knit sweater and camouflage baseball cap, Mangus says he's got 33 years' experience in "information technologies," and worked on Y2K "remediation" at Ford, Blue Cross and Chrysler. People prefer government and business pablum to the truth, he says. "What do they do to messengers?" he asks, in reference to his favorite on-line Y2K guru, Gary North. "They shoot them, don't they?" ... '


No. I don't have dimples. Anyone might look rumpled in sweaters. I have been known to wear logo-free (hard-to-get) camo headgear, though.

Time to lie low.

Regards, Bob Mangus

P.S.: Link, please, Linkmeister?

* * *

-- Robert Mangus (rmangus1@yahoo.com), October 13, 1999.

Cant seem to find it... The Detroit News...

http:// www.detnews.com/search/navi.htm

Also try Nando News search...


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), October 13, 1999.

Here's the link for the article:


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), October 13, 1999.

Robert, it's the HEART inside the "rumpled" sweater and the HEAD inside the camo hat that really matters...and on this forum you've proven to have both a good heart and a good head. Let the idiots laugh: remember that those who laugh last, laugh best!

-- Elaine Seavey (Gods1sheep@aol.com), October 14, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ