I wanted to share with you some of the current thinking of Y2K savvy individuals who have impressed me with their well-founded views; I cannot say that I agree with everything they say, but their positions strike me as being reasonable - and, for all I know, when I disagree with any of them, I might very well bewrong.
Tom Benjamin: "Many, many, many computer failures..."
Tom Benjamin was trained as an economist; he spent twenty years working in management at Employment and Immigration Canada (now Human Resources Development Canada); here is Benjamin's "model" of what happens in the year2000:
"We have many, many, many computer failures...
"These computer failures disrupt global supply chains mostly in small ways but once in a while in a very big way. The disruptions are usually very brief, but are sometimes for prolonged periods. They may occur because a good or service cannot be produced, or because they can be produced but not invoiced, or because they can be produced and invoiced but the customer cannot pay the bill. Sometimes the impact of the failure is mitigated by a smart employee. Other times they are compounded by humanerror.
"The supply chains are disrupted in ways and for reasons that we cannot imagine. Everyone is supplied by countless chains so everyone faces some disruption, even though the probability of failure is very low for each individual chain. The result is spot shortages of different products in different areas. There are also surpluses of products and services that no one wants to buy because...
"Everyone runs into cash flow problems. Sometimes this is because product can't be shipped, sometimes because the bills don't get out, sometimes because the customer can't pay, and sometimes because the customer can pay, but chooses to pretend they can't. Information - the oil that lubricates the economy - turns to sludge. Businesses without cushions fail. Unemployment rises.
"Businesses that survive and people who are employed quickly shift purchasing priorities. The perception of what we need becomes vastly different very quickly. Productivity crashes because everything takes longer and employees who experience computer problems have less confidence in thetool.
"We spend more of our time trying to get through on customer service telephone lines or standing in a bank line. We have much less leisure time as a result of all the 'minor' inconveniences. We don't spend as much going to hockey games or on ski trips or onmovies.
"This leads to more business failures. Some businesses may not fail but they may as well be bankrupt. General Motors cannot go broke - they could lose billions a month for decades - but the assets of the company are worthless if they cannot produce and sell cars. If people cannot afford to buy cars, the capacity isidled.
"It is difficult to imagine an economy that continues to contract for a long time, but it has happened at regular intervals throughout economic history. It is the past 50 years that has been unprecedented, mostly because of globalization, IMO [In My Opinion]. The bigger the economy the more difficult it is to get a cascade of business failures started. The broader the market, the broader the spread of risk. But once it does start, globalization and increased interdependencies will also make the cascade very difficult to arrest."
Rick Cowles: "When the inherent fault tolerance of complex systems becomes saturated, the system begins tofail..."
Rick Cowles, of Energyland.net (formerly EUY2K), and a Westergaard Year 2000 columnist, was recently asked some questions based on the following quotation:
"Cowles said he did not expect a 'big bang' on Jan.1,2000, but rather a period of perhaps two to four weeks when errors accumulate in data processing and control systems. 'If you don't start dealing with those errors during the period when they are accumulating, you are going to see some major crashes, but that is not unique to the electric utility industry.' He added that he expected some nuisance failures and a decline in the reliability of utility delivery systems next year. 'I don't think we are going to see anything that is catastrophic, that meets the end-of-the-world predictions of some of the stronger Y2K pundits,' Cowles said."
Here are the questions posed to him, and Cowles' replies slightly revised by the author andreformatted:
"Question: Which portion(s)/aspect(s) of the delivery system will be impacted? Reply: Let's first define 'power delivery.' There are three major components to a typical regional power delivery system: generation, transmission, and distribution. 'Generation' is the factory where the power is produced. 'Transmission' is the bulk product distribution pipeline. 'Distribution' is the local (third tier; end user) end of the product distribution chain. From a Y2K perspective, I expect disruptions in each of the three major components, somewhere in every geographic region on the planet. But lest you think I'm less than forthright in this assessment, let me hasten to add that failures occur in each of the three major components of power delivery systems every day of the week. Each component of a typical power delivery system, though, has enough inherent redundancy that isolated failures are mostly transparent to the end user. The lights rarely go out, but when they do, it's sometimes in a dramatic and totally unexpected fashion. (Ref: NYC blackouts, and the recent San Francisco blackout). More on this in aminute.
"Question: When you say 'reliability' are you referring to a decline in dependability or security (or both), and will they result in customer outages or simply reduced safety margins? Reply: Both, and both. I fail to see, after observing industry work on Y2K (and more to the point: participating in this work) - how anyone who has ever dealt with probabilistic risk assessment can even begin to say that the Y2K issue wouldn't result in reduced safety margins. When you have an organization like the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] backing off on some of it's most basic regulatory tenets simply because of Y2K, you are (at least in some small manner) reducing safety margins. And if every industry, every government agency, every business is 'reducing safety margins' even just a wee bit, the net result to society as a whole is a big reduction in overall safety margins. Anyone that has a background in probabilistic risk assessment understands that creating safety margins (or in this case, reducing safety margins) is not a linear process - it is logarithmic in nature. (As an example of what I mean when I say 'logarithmic in nature,' think about earthquakes and the Richter scale. A magnitude 6 earthquake is 10 times as powerful as a magnitude5.)
"Question: What components do you see failing due to Y2K that will act as the catalyst for the 'decline in reliability,' and can you describe the sequence events from the failure mode to the manifestation of the reliability issue? Reply: I'm going to give a very simplistic explanation here. All the average person needs to understand is that most operationally important process control systems in any business or industry won't quit operating because of a single failure in the system. This is because there is a degree of fault tolerance built into every important control system, regardless of the industry. When the inherent fault tolerance of complex systems becomes saturated, the system begins to fail. Sometimes this fault tolerance saturation is instantaneous (such as in the San Francisco example), sometimes it takes a little longer to play out (such as in the Western U.S. power outage from several years ago). Any single or multiple component failure in a complex control system could act as the catalyst for a decline in reliability. It could be a single motherboard failure, or a UPS [Uninterruptable Power Supply] that doesn't correctly sense and respond to an instrument loop power failure because the UPS wasn't challenged until two weeks after 1/1/2000.
"Question: Will these Y2K failures occur on rollover, or as a result of a time window failure sometime after the rollover? Reply:Both.
"Question: How did you derive the 2-4 week prediction? Reply: First of all, it's not a prediction - it's no more than an educated guess about how the problem will most likely manifest itself, and again, I haven't changed my opinion on this since at least the middle of 1998. I arrived at this conclusion as no more than an educated SWAG [Scientific Wild Ass Guess] based on my own analysis of the data and observations that I've compiled while actually working on the problem for clients - much the same way that many electric industry personnel have derived that there will be zero impact. The same way that Ed Yardeni arrived at his recession prediction. The same way that other economists have derived that there will be zero impact on theeconomy."
Dick Mills: "I'm very worried about the summer and chronicproblems..."
I asked Dick Mills, electrical engineer and Westergaard Year 2000 columnist, to clarify my understanding of his perspective on electricty and Y2K:
"From what I recall, you have maintained the fo/-+)'%#!--
He replied as follows:
"1) The reason for only 72 hours is that no matter how many things go wrong, we can bypass them and restart manually. I heard one utility guy say unambiguously, 'We have not found any part anywhere in the power grid or any plant that can't be operated manually and which we haven't practiced operating manually.' Actually, they'll probably be able to restart in 3 hours, but 72 hours gives a very big safety margin for Y2K confusion. See Another Myth - We Must Fix all the Bugs To Have Power.
"2) Brownouts occur all the time but nobody notices. Most utilities practice doing brownouts evey year. Have you noticed? If the answer is no, they can't be a big deal. Brownouts are a non-issue. See Will Y2K Make Your Equipment Explode?
"3) I do think January 3 at 1600 Zulu time is the peak risk [that is, 4:00 p.m. UTC, 11:00 a.m.ET].
"4) I'm very worried about the summer and chronic problems. The difference is that shortages don't cause collapse and general blackouts, but rather curtailments, appeals to conserve, rolling blackouts or orders for indusutries to shut down. Just like the hot months in the summer of 98 and 99 when lots of areas experienced shortages. Similar problems could occur in the first weeks of January, but again, they're shortages not blackouts. For the average guy the biggest impact may be that he gets laid off from work for the duration. If you add that to the risk of layoffs because of the domino effects in the supply chain causing business to close, you get lots of unemployment. For lots of people that is more serious than freezing pipes. See Worse Than Blackouts, Y2K Power Shortages.
"5) I'm also very worried about the price of power in the summer. We're in the midst of deregulation and not all customers will be protected by regulated rates. See Power Yes, But At What Price?"
Joe Bradley: "They might be less convenient and less efficient, but many failed systems will be made to work, one way oranother."
Joe Bradley is an economist who has worked in government and academia, and who now is employed in the financialindustry:
"In a nutshell, it is very likely to be bad. There are too many things that can go wrong for all or even an overwhelming majority of them to have been fixed. Systems will fail...lots of systems, whether computers used principally for accounting or the ubiquitous embedded chips. While we focus our attention on whether we will have the convenience of continuous electrical power, though, we neglect the strong possibility that there will likely be serious social chaos in many pockets around the globe. The effects of the disruptions within these will inevitably spread, through one vector or another, causing imbalance elsewhere. Clearly, the change will not be sudden, but neither will it beunnoticeable.
"It does not help in the least that the world is going into the New Year in a substantially unstable economic condition. With the continuing ailments of Japan, the redistribution of manufacturing and trade activity is continuing to occur; ever-shifting trade agreements and international alignments merely muddle the situation. Populations are affected. The implementation of the Euro this year was an act of dubious merit, but it has served to radically modify the political/diplomatic dynamic in Europe, with a lot of softened rhetoric and (apparently) vigorous attempts to make this 'union' work, despite the complications caused for internal economic policies. The financial market in the United States certainly gathers the most attention in the media, but the enormous bubble that modified tax laws have created in the U.S. equity market (IRAs, mutual funds, 401(k)s, etc.) is not just confined to the U.S. In today's world of global trading, there has been a spillover effect into other markets - most of the major equity market indices from around the globe are higher today than they were the day before the Hong Kong crash; some are more than twice as high! In the U.S., tax-deferred annuities have allowed the small saver to obtain previously unheard of rates of return, but as soon as those small savers begin to lose principal, expect a catastrophic decline in themarket.
"In this environment of instability, virtually any factor that adversely affects equity valuations will ultimately affect economic conditions, and there are a lot of things that can (and many will) affect equity valuations. At the foundation of what was once called 'political economy,' but which divided into Economics and Political Science over 100 years ago, is that the reality of economic circumstances dictates the exercise of the tools of any political ideology. Ideally, the group's leadership (national, communal, tribal, alliant... whatever) would take whatever actions necessary to adapt the old 'order' to the new reality. Unfortunately, the exigencies of political leadership make expedient action necessary, and the best way to distract a people's attention from their own misfortune is to find the 'bad guy,' the enemy on whom the group's troubles can be blamed. For many groups, this will be the nearest neighbor or neighbors. In Africa and in parts of Asia, I anticipate (at least) border wars if Y2K impacts are severe; the same may hold true for parts of Latin America. Other groups will be more sophisticated in their assessment of their problems, and the technology based in the United States will become the evident tool of their internal destruction. The diplomatic relationships in the world may radically change, and the structure of alliances may shift dramatically. The economic repercussions of this areinestimable.
"A three-day 'bump in the road' may take on the characteristic of being twelve yearshigh.
"There is another side of human behavior that must also be taken into account. Those of us who are truly concerned about the possible effects of Y2K tend to dismiss the nay-sayers retort concerning human ingenuity. We who 'get it' tend to operate with the current technological status quo as a benchmark (and, I suspect, most of us feel that it is a pretty primitive benchmark, at best). We refuse to accept the idea that behavioral patterns are resilient (albeit taking more time to adapt in stable societies than among those who are familiar with catastrophic change), but this common characteristic of our species could actually help to minimize the disruptions caused by Y2K failures. There are lots of ways to work around the majority of the failures that might occur. They might be less convenient and less efficient, but many failed systems will be made to work, one way or another. In this way, the impacts of Y2K will be diminished. However, to overcome the possible mass of disruptions that could occur next year, some sort of coordination will be necessary on a worldwide basis. I do not see the necessary sort of leadership evident among today's world leaders or within the geopolitical structure of current international relations. The result will be delays in the management of thesituation.
"With regard to specific industries, energy is by far the most at risk. Our world still relies on fossil fuels for the vast majority of its insatiable demand for power. However, the energy industry depends directly on so many other industries (of which transportation is the most important) that are, in turn, directly dependent upon energy, that a simple failure in the supply chain could cause a more general and complicated collapse of an industry that is central to the functioning of virtually every other industry."
Jay Golter: "Nobody will accept personal responsibility for any badevents..."
Jay Golter, of the Northern Virginia Year 2000 Community Action Group, is a financial analyst with a U.S. federal agency and the author of the Open Letter to Alan Greenspan, November4,1999; he recently posted the following remarks to a listserv:
"The thoughts I will convey in this message are focused on worst case scenarios. If events do not turn out to be severe in their impact on people, then the issues I will be addressing in this message will not emerge...
"My particular set of personal experiences that helped me to clearly understand Y2K better than others...includes time that I spent traveling abroad...One country I traveled to was Iran in September of 1979. At that time, there had been a few very large public demonstrations against the Shah in cities outside of Tehran. A few people were boldly predicting that the Government might have to make some concessions and form a constitutional monarchy. I left the country in early January, about a week before the Shah fled...
"As I immersed myself in Y2K-land, I always had a concern in the back of my mind that, if mishandled, the problem could have the result of causing our social fabric to fray and unravel. That is what motivated me two years ago to go forward with my public outreach activities (as opposed to working in a more limited professional arena). In a mirror image of what seems to have motivated the actions of industry and political leaders, I also have been more concerned about the social consequences of Y2K than of the actual technical problems that will occur (although they too frighten me). However, while our leadership has focused on public behavior prior to rollover, and tried to minimize behavior that would disrupt normal economic activity during these past few weeks, I was concerned with the public's behavior after they experienced Y2K impacts on their lives and how it would affect their image of the social contract theyhold.
"Two years ago, it was inconceivable to me that our leaders could handle this problem as badly as they have. Especially an administration that has engaged in damage control as much as the current one has done should have understood the need to get in front of public expectations. Instead we have guaranteed that nearly all people will be caught by surprise when even the most optimistic possible scenarios unfold...
"Nobody will accept personal responsibility for any bad events. Do you have a supervisor who has refused to deal with Y2K issues despite your frequent urgings and your providing large quantities of materials about it? Should things go wrong that are within his/her purview, expect that person to claim that it wasn't his/her fault that they didn't act. It will be because 'they' didn't tell him/her that Y2K was going to be a problem. Of course, for the vast majority of the population, it will be true that nobody warned them (and they didn't have the benefit of direct contact with a Y2K believer like yourself.) Persons who have never planned further than the schedule of tonight's TV programming will be certain that, had they known that there were going to be problems, they would have engaged in extensive preparations.
"People (including you, dear reader, and myself) will view whatever problems emerge as confirmation of their prior beliefs. An example of this is that we will be badly affected by events overseas. People who are of an isolationist/protectionist mindset will see this as confirmation that we should be more of a fortress country, limiting our international dependencies as much as possible. People with an internationalist outlook will view this as confirmation that we are interdependent and need to support international development and foreign aid lest we suffer from additional consequences from problems in other countries. Both views can't be right, perhaps neither are. However, don't expect that people will quickly understand whatever explanations of the problem you, yourself, haveformed.
"People, at least some large percentage of them, will demand revenge for the disruptions to their lives. If it is not clear who should be punished, a scapegoat goat will befound.
"It could be dangerous times. Politicians will be busy taking the public pulse and riding whatever crests they find in the waves. In the search for 'Justice,' actual responsibility will not be important. If someone can make a good case that some particular cause existed for our problems, and has a good-sounding story for how that cause should be dealt with, it will have great public appeal.
"During this period of turmoil, people will begin to hold on to diametrically opposite opinions and believe each to be true. For example, they will truly believe that we must 'all pull together.' At the same time, they will looking for whom to blame. They will criticize 'those people' who are hoarding now-scarce goods while waiting in line to top the tanks of theirSUVs.
"Current leadership will be delegitimized. The two great examples in this century of leaders in the English speaking world rallying their countries from despair are FDR and Winston Churchill. Both were replacing the discredited political leadership that was blamed for causing the problems. If Y2K problems are severe, it will dominate the elections in 2000. However, we won't have a new leadership assume office until January of 2001. This may be too long a period for people to tolerate. This problem extends beyond the political leadership. All kinds of opinion leaders from editorial boards to pundits will be struggling to explain why they so badly missed this particular call. Corporate leadership will be defending themselves from irate shareholders, but also from any situations in which their mismanagement leads to social pain.... All of these players will try to play the blame card in an effort to hold on to their cherished positions insociety.
"Things might start to occur at breakneck speed. In Iran, at first nearly every Iranian I knew supported the protests. One day, one of them mentioned that he was uncomfortable about the way that it seemed the streets were being taken over by high-school age demonstrators. That day, almost everyone in the room dismissed his concerns. Within a couple of days, it was clear that the high-schoolers had taken over the streets...
"This will not be a good time to advocate 'Big Views.' As I said, nearly every Iranian I knew supported overthrowing the Shah. This included left-wing students, constitutionalists, middle class bureaucrats and of course, those supportive of an Islamic republic. After the dust had settled, only the last group survived...Although I respect the views of many people in our teleconference group who believe that Y2K is reflective of some fundamental flaw in how we have organized our society, unless you have a neatly packaged prescription for a different form, I urge you not to use any Y2K upheavals to advance those views. You may end up successfully detaching individuals from their anchors. But they will be adrift, looking for an easily digested solution to attach to. You probably won't like the one that emerges any better than what we currently have.
"We should try to agree on some set of 'reforms.' During the period in which people are groping for answers, things that we offer may find a receptive populace. However, I would want these proposals to be modest in nature, tinkering rather than redesigning the system (for reasons pointed out above). Examples would be: (1) If the electric power industry falls on its face during Y2K, we should advocate that a system of federal oversight of the industry be instituted (similar to the safety and soundness examination process the banks are subjected to) rather than nationalization of the industry. (2) If shortages of pharmaceuticals causes deaths or severe medical complications, we could advocate that a system of strategic stockpiles of essential medications be established in every community, financed by special assessments on the industry, as opposed to other, more radical changes..."
Ralph Daugherty: "It will be close, but nocigar."
Ralph Daugherty, fellow programmer and Westergaard Year 2000 columnist, sent me the following when I asked him for his year 2000prognosis:
"I was born in Daytona Beach. It is a small town that in the summer becomes a microcosm of America, swelled with visitors from all over. But today Daytona is a microcosm of Y2K. From the December 8, 1999 News-Journal Online story "Close, but no cigar for Daytona's new computer software":
"'DAYTONA BEACH - New computer software failed a deadline Tuesday to "go live,"... "We are still not 100 percent ready"...Two previous "go live" dates were rescheduled July 1 and Sept. 14. Software related to the city's general ledger, payroll and utility billing were city concerns going into the test Tuesday. Utility billing remains a concern...Computer programs...at a company that processes the city's utility bills have to be changed to communicate with the city's system. There will also have to be additional coordination with computers at [Daytona's] bank, which receives utility bill payments... "We have a very complicated system with a lot of interaction between all the systems we have. They all must talk to each other and send information to other systems at other agencies."'
"Deadlines being extended until they can be extended no more. Software that isn't ready with only days remaining. Software which doesn't know what century it is coming to a crashing halt. Complex interactions between systems still not resolved in the final hours.
"What will happen to software that hasn't been prepared to work in the year 2000, that hasn't been completed, that hasn't been thoroughly tested with the date advanced to 2000? The software will fail. It will be close, but no cigar.
"Like Daytona Beach, many cities, counties, states, and Federal agencies have software which will fail. Highly automated, understaffed, running obsolete systems, failures at government agencies affect all of us. Unfortunately, political leaders told us that all is well, not to worry, but their systems will incur some of the worst Y2K failures. In the midst of these failures, pleas for millions of dollars and requests for forbearance while they scramble to replace failed systems will not be well received.
"The failures in Federal government systems will be especially threatening.
"The U.S. worldwide military: Command and Control planning system runs on a 1960's era Honeywell 8000 computer. The government plans to replace this system with a networked Web interface in mid-2000. The government's system that handles Federal security clearances is a newly developed $100 million system that is not Y2K compliant. The replacement? A $300 million system, hoped for by mid-2000.
"Major Federal systems will fail but replacements are a tantalizing six months away. But at least these are systems that the government will continue using in 2000, some 8% of all Federal systems. 92% of Federal software systems will be placed on a shelf on January 1 until it can be determined what to do with them. For example, the FDIC says that only 40 of their 500 systems are critical in performing their job of overseeing banks. What will they do with their 460 other systems, and how will they get by without them in the meantime?
"It cost 8 billion dollars to fix 8% of Federal software systems. How much will it cost to fix the other 92%? How long will it take? How will the affected governmental services be performed in the meantime? What will the public reaction be when we are asked for tens of billions of dollars to replace this software? What will the reaction be from people who are no longer receiving state and Federal payments?
"Software failures will not be limited to government agencies. The software of many businesses is still not Y2K compliant. Even more companies did not test their software on a computer with the date set to 2000. Businesses do not fail as fast as their software fails though. It took one former 4 billion dollar company a year to go bankrupt after their new software system failed. Y2K software failures will bring some companies to a halt. Others will suffer debilitating effects for months.
"Thousands of companies will not believe that their software can just stop working. Dates will be set back on computers as a workaround, but new data will conflict with existing data. Quickly following Y2K failures will be the inevitable lawsuits. The courts will be inundated with Y2K lawsuits. The fingerpointing will begin in earnest.
"Transportation systems already stretched thin will collapse. FAA control system failures, limited to hours in the past, may last for days. This has never happened before. The effects of a regional air traffic control system failure of only a few hours cascades quickly throughout the nation. The computers in these FAA air traffic control centers still run on vacuum tubes and have yet to be replaced with new systems.
"Railroads are barely coping after recent nationwide mergers. Railroad traffic control is barely controlled chaos. Y2K will stretch these systems past the breaking point. Any means necessary will be taken to ensure that coal is delivered to power plants in the frigid depths of winter, but what means may be necessary?
"Transportation problems worldwide will cripple oil imports. Twenty-five years after the OPEC oil embargo, the U.S. is more dependent on oil imports than ever. A recent price increase in oil prompted Presidential candidate Steve Forbes to suggest selling oil from our Strategic Reserves. How long will our Strategic Reserves last when oil imports are crippled? What will we do when a real strategic need arises in the midst of this crisis? The 1973 oil embargo created a severe economic recession. Y2K induced oil shortages will be similar to what we faced then. How will we respond?
"Emergencies created by this crisis will affect Presidential primary elections. Vice President Gore will bear the brunt of criticism for this and will be soundly rejected in the primaries. John McCain's military leadership will stand him in good stead in the primaries and on into the Presidential election. Y2K will be a major political factor.
"The potential for failures in software at all levels will create unpredictable product shortages. A shortage of a key component can bring an entire supply chain down. Some shortages may be life threatening. The specific type and duration of failures are unpredictable, but the potential is so vast that it is inevitable. Usually workarounds and substitutes will prevail. Hopefully a key component shortage will not last long. But we can only hope.
"We will come to realize how far we have drifted from what our grandparents were prepared for. We will come to realize that we are totally dependent on a continually functioning supply chain to stay alive. Completely forgotten are the years of storing a harvest to live on until the next growing season, of any notion of storing water so vital to life, of what it takes to survive a harsh winter. If nothing else, Y2K will awaken in us a sense of survival, a sense of self-reliance, a sense of too much dependency on a modern world. Y2K will cause many changes in the way we think in the days ahead."
Karl Vogel: "The 'non-critical' systems that everyone's going to ignore... will become less 'non' and more'critical'..."
Karl Vogel, who works for Sumaria Systems, is a programmer and system administrator at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio; recently, he forwarded to me these comments that he had posted to a listserv, November1998; he stands by themstill:
"From what I'm reading and hearing, lots of places will see their Y2K budgets come to a screeching halt on 3 Jan 2000. The job of persuasion we have now might be nothing compared to the one we face after telling management that the job's not done yet:
"1. 'Temporary' fixes that were put in place to just get us through the big day will have to be examined and replaced, or we'll be stuck with them for the next decade.
"2. The 'non-critical' systems that everyone's going to ignore for the next 421 days will become less 'non' and more 'critical'.
"3. Euro conversion won't be going away any time soon, and a CFO [Chief Financial Officer] can relate to losing the European markets much better than to two missing digits, especially if local business has been lost due todisruption.
"4. Anticipate numerous calls for licencing and certification of anyone involved with software production. We don't have to stand tall here, but we will have to stand up: legislation that's proposed in a hurry when people are mad can be very damaging and hard to get ridof.
"5. Money for software/hardware upgrades will be tight for at least two reasons: the recession we'll have if even the best of Dr. Yardeni's scenarios comes to pass, and the backlash we'll be getting as a profession when things finally start to settledown...
"Gratitude and reasoned discourse come from comfortable people who haven't had their lives recently disrupted. We'll get neither, and we can't take this personally if we expect to function...
"I'm not worried about people knowing what I do for a living. I'll simply tell them, 'Who do you think issued the warnings, who do you think controls the budget, and who do you think put this off until the lastminute?'"
Bonnie Camp: "It's very ironic that the clues to the ending of the story, which have been there from the beginning, are being almost universally discountedorignored."
Bonnie Camp, frequent contributor to the discussions on the open forum at Rick Cowle's Electrical Utilities and Y2K website, is that rare individual of profound insight and meticulous attention to detail, though she usually bills herself as a "gray-haired grann.y" (I have already quoted her at length in Reflections Prompted by the June Y2K Experts Poll.) I asked her if she would like to share her prognosis; in reply, she sent me the following essay, "Modern Americans are Besotted with Happy Endings," which she had written for some of herfriends:
"So you want to know how the story ends? So do many folks who have been following the Y2K tale through its many chapters. But I'll bet you want a prognostication in detail. If components will fail, what components will fail, how will they fail, how many, in what infrastructure areas, and what will the consequences be? Which systems will be affected, what data will be corrupted, how many problems will cascade to other systems, or infect data elsewhere?
"You might as well ask a weatherman to tell you exactly how many square millimeters of land in the world will have rain fall on them January 1, 2000, and while he's at it, exactly how many drops will hit each millimeter, and what the effects of the accumulative runoff will be. The weatherman would think you were a screwball, and rightly so. He could tell you whether the sun was shining or not, though, or if a storm was on the horizon. Which you could pretty easily figure out for yourself anyway, if you had a mindto.
"That's why I think you don't really want to know how the Y2K story will end. It's very ironic that the clues to the ending of the story, which have been there from the beginning, are being almost universally discounted or ignored. I think it's because the ability to interpret those clues has been mangled or lost in the often ignorant bliss of our illusion-strewn society. Somehow people nowadays have become besotted with a mandated happy ending and fantasies can interfere powerfully with judgments. Prince Charming is a piker compared to a modern James Bond, after all. Americans thrive on the conquering hero who wields technology like a sword. They also decry anything that smacks of the unpleasant. Even classic fairy tales are re-written; sanitized, fluffed up, endings changed.
"You didn't know that? The Y2K story has been edited and changed, too, over the last two or three years, but few have noticed. Or did not want to notice. I cut my reading teeth on the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson and I'm grateful to those authors. I may have sobbed uncontrollably after finishing 'The Little Match Seller' or recoiled at the greed and evil in the world of Grimm, but I learned the difference between illusions and real life at a youngage.
"Cinderella's two self absorbed step-sisters took a knife and cut off their toes and heel, respectively, in a desperate attempt to get a foot into that glass slipper! I'll bet that's not a part of the nicey-nice modern Cinderella story you know, is it? But in the original versions, when the focus suddenly became just making it to the castle, the desperate sisters didn't stop to consider if they might bleed to death before the wounds healed, or if those toes were a lot more important for their future well-being than they realized.
"In the Y2K story line, triage has been portrayed as a simple, bloodless process having little to do with desperate need and imminent danger. And you believed that? The partial or total abandonment of a vast bulk of computer systems here and around the world has been given the illusion of business as usual. Chop, chop. We don't need those heels and toes. We can stomp around without them. Not enough? Well we don't need that arm, either. One will do. Come to think of it, one leg will do as well, as long as you have a crutch handy. 'Put a crutch in the contingency plans, Marvin.' Desperate measures for desperate goals.
"You want to know how the story ends, but you think the massive triage of government and corporations everywhere doesn't give enough of a clue? Try this then. The computer systems people I've spoken with about the triage in the international corporations they work at have sometimes reluctantly, sometimes sadly, agreed that they honestly didn't know of any 'non-critical' systems in ordinary times. Heels and toes. They matter. Except when your life is at stake. Did you catch that? When your life is atstake.
"If you've been following the Y2K story for a couple of years like I have, you also know what rational technology experts in government and business had to say about what it takes, and how long it takes, and how problematic it is to successfully complete any large scale computer project. You know that in the next chapters of the story all the characters began claiming they were certainly going to be able to have all their systems compliant by December 31, 1998, leaving 'a whole year for testing.' Then came the part where the formerly-agreed-upon need for comprehensive testing was edited from the script in increments. You didn't think those deletions had anything to do with the end of thestory?
"The Y2K writers probably were counting on the fact that most of you wouldn't notice something odd about the bidding wars in the chapters that followed, either. Bidding wars? Huh? Didn't you pay attention when one champion contender in the remediation game took ten years to almost-finish his project but he was constantly one-upped by other contenders of the same relative size who proclaimed they could do the job in one third or one quarter of the time? The writers were right, that you wouldn't see that as a clue to the ending of the story, weren'tthey?
"Did you notice that if you compare chapters, compare the status information and requirements for success from 1997 and 1998 with those of today, it looks like we're talking about two entirely different stories? That's because part of the story is gussied up to meet modern illusion standards, and the other is real. Which is which? As I see it, there are only two possible conclusions to thecomparison.
"(1) Either most of the 1997 and 1998 government and business reports, and the requirements deemed necessary for success in 2000 were lies...or (2) Most of the government and business status reports and prognostications now arelies.
"If you've been inundated with Disney all your life, you'll probably pick number one. I pick number two. We cannot have gotten to where they say we are, from where we were - and we needed to. MacGuyver didn't whip up a fix in the nick of time. Government, military, and business IT personnel didn't suddenly morph into a cross between Super Guru and The Flash in the middle of our story. But you'd like to believe that, wouldn't you? Even though somewhere deep down you know the real story played out more like this in thebeginning:
"'Of course we're going to get moving on that project. We've got it all planned. Sure, we haven't gotten very far yet, but we'll get it all done, there's plenty of time. It's early days yet! It's just that we're in the middle of these other projects right now, too... and of course, we've got to keep up with the day to day stuff that has to be done... and by the way, did Harry get that financing approved yet? And Mary, remind me to find somebody that knows what the heck an embedded system is, willyou?'
"Then as the deadline draws closer, reality intrudes. Life is what happens when you're making other plans. Shortcuts are taken, errors are made and unexpected troubles arise. It's not as simple or as quick or as easy as you told yourself it would be. The trouble is, you told others how easy it would be, too, and now you're stuck.
"Strip away those modern fairy tale illusions and there's the reality of human nature staring us in the face. We waited too long. We didn't take the problem seriously enough soon enough. Only a small portion of what needed to be fixed has been. What has been fixed hasn't all been fixed adequately or competently. Things have been overlooked and comprehensive testing has been more talk than action. Do you really need to knowmore?
"Sigh. Okay, I'll tell you. There will be a plethora of failures, in a broad range of types and an equally broad range of severity. Surprises will abound. Most of them will be unpleasant. Our collective patience will be sorely tried, the fabric of our social and business interactions will fray in some places, rip in others, and disintegrate altogether in still others. The shortsightedness of decades will come back to haunt us, as shortsightedness always does. That ghost from the past won't go away in three measly days, either. It will cackle and boo around us for months if we're lucky, years if we're not. In late 1997 this story couldn't have had a happy ending and it can't have one now. The real story is an old-style tale, full of folly and pain. If we're fortunate, we may be able to discern the moral of the story and grow in wisdom as we work through the myriad problems and misfortunes we'll be presented with. But there will be a cost. It will be more than we want topay.
"Argue if you will. Call me crazy as a loon. I'll stick with my own form of literary prognosis, it's served me well all my adult life. There can be no happy ending to the tale of the two-digit date. Forget the illusions. The real story is penned in the style of Grimm, notDisney.
"By the way, the two foolish little pigs who built their houses of straw and sticks and didn't think the wolf could get them? After the huffing and puffing was over, they didn't escape and scamper away to the wise little pig's house, as Disney tells it. They goteaten.
"And the Little Mermaid? She died. The Prince married somebody else. That's the real story. But you didn't want to know that, didyou?"
What do those perspectives have in common?
Excluding Cowles' and Mills' opinions about Y2K and electrical power, which are specific to that aspect of the situation, the preceding essays have several things incommon:
all of them are the considered opinions of intelligent individuals who have been studying Y2K for more than ayear, none of them fall into either the Bump in the Road category or the Collapse of Civilization category,and none of them necessarily assume that power production, the banking industry, or telecommunications are going to fail,yet all of them are a great deal more pessimistic than the two-or-three-day-storm scenario, though that scenario has been promulgated by government, industry, and mainstream media, and is accepted without thought by the majority ofAmericans.
"New channels cut their way far under the surface. The turmoil and the trembling became unreadable by any man. But below the fresh confusion was heaving some deep and irrevocable change."
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
) 1999 ELC
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) Westergaard.com, Inc., 1999
-- Ed (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 15, 1999