For the week of April 14, 1999  thru April 20, 1999  

Y2K crisis is in the mind of the beholder

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Humor finally is finding its way into dark doomsday talk about Y2K problems that’ll supposedly cripple the world commencing on New Year’s Day.

This gag, as an example, is making the Internet rounds:

Solving the Y to K problem in 2000 is simple-- Januark, Februark, Julk.

Some serious folks, however, are asking aloud if the prediction of a "Y2K crisis" isn’t just one large manufactured prank on the gullible who seem to fall for any prediction about impending doom.

Remember the missile "crisis" with Castro’s Cuba in 1962?

Hysteria about a possible nuclear missile strike on south Florida created a bonanza for builders of underground fallout shelters in the Miami area. I know; I was there and watched a few neighbors build and stock shelters with supplies that were never used.

A prominent Dade County judge was so certain of a nuclear attack that he packed up his family and fled in panic to inland Missouri – then promptly was drummed out of office as a coward when he returned to Florida months later after the non-crisis.

And then there are shameless religious cultists who forecast the world’s end: their hysterical followers sell their earthly belongings and retreat into underground bunkers to await the final hours that never come.

All this comes to mind with the current spectacle of panicky Americans preparing for the predicted crash of U.S. society because of feared computer failures on Jan. 1, 2000.

Beneficiaries of this alarm are the same as in any manufactured "crisis" of the past– retailers of "emergency" provisions, whether backyard fallout shelters during the Cuban missile "crisis" or supplies for the Y2K "crisis."

A friend who’s CEO of one of a major brand name computer industry corporation popped into Ketchum overnight with his wife for dinner a few weeks ago.

I asked about the Y2K "crisis."

Mostly hooey and hype, he said. Problems may occur in Asia and Third World countries, he reckons. But whatever shutdowns in computers occur in the United States will be inconsequential, short-lived and isolated.

Advice of cool heads is worth repeating – preparing for a routine emergency always makes good sense.

Along the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines, wizened residents always are ready for hurricanes that can snuff out power and water supplies for days.

Ditto along the tornado belt in the Midwest.

Emergencies, dislocation, loss of services – discomforts aren't new to Americans.

As an early teen at World War II’s onset, I remember shortages of gasoline, sugar and meat. A backyard "victory garden" to keep vegetables on the table was necessary. Blackouts on the Florida coast were routine. Travel was a luxury. Women and children collected scrap rubber and metal for the war effort.

Against that backdrop of history, whatever scattered interruptions might develop on Jan. 1, 2000, surely will be tolerable for those who don’t allow their imaginations to go berserk, and who have the capacity for petty inconveniences-- should they come.

Murphy is the retired publisher of The Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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