Infomagic: Set Recovery On

Ok... varning utfärdad. Lika bra att säga det på en gång. Vad som framkommer här är ett domedagsscenario. Om Du som läsare hade väntat dig ett enkelt problem och en enkel lösning kanske Du bör läsa någon annan sammanfattning först för att på ett bättre sätt ta till dig innehållet i nedanstående artiklar.

Det här är en artikelserie i tre delar författade av programmeraren "Infomagic". Serien är hämtad från programmeraren Cory Hamasaki's "Y2k Weather Reports". Hamasaki hävdar att han har följt Infomagic's artiklar och resonemang i drygt ett år, och menar att han besitter kunskaper som bara många års arbete med programmering kan skapa. (En liten ordförklaring: Infomagic använder ordet 'pollyanna' i texten. En 'pollyanna' är en person som är ohämmat optimistisk.)



In the mainframe editor that many programmers use to edit their source code, the command "SET RECOVERY ON" causes the editor to save partial updates so that, in the highly unlikely event of a mainframe crash, the work the programmer has done will not be lost. Pollyannas don't use this command much because they know that mainframes are so reliable they never fail. Of course, pollyannas occasionally lose hours of work that has to be done all over again. Pollyannas also say that Y2K isn't a big problem and our economy is so robust and our programmers are just so brilliant that we can easily fix any problems that are left. They are dead wrong, as you will be if you believe them.

Our modern, technological, civilization has all of the strengths and all of the weaknesses of Charlotte's web. It is strong enough to support the weight of the spider and to hold it's prey. It is strong enough that one or two broken strands can be easily repaired and the web can last for years. But break enough strands and the entire web instantly collapses, beyond any possible repair.

The strands of the web are the myriad interconnections between each of the "nodes" of our civilization. We, ourselves, are the nodes, as are business and non-profit organizations and government agencies (webs within webs, if you will). Some of the nodes are computer systems with Y2K problems which will not be fixed before they fail, taking all of their connected strands with them. In fact, some of the nodes have already failed (e.g. the credit card and POS terminals which failed in 1997 and still have not been completely fixed almost two years later). Others will fail in surprising ways next January and still others will fail, randomly, throughout 1999. More and more strands will fail the closer we get to New Year's Evil. It is a dangerous blunder of epic proportions to believe that we have any of 1999 for more remediation and testing.

So far, we have been able to fix the broken strands, because they are few and we, the programmers, are many. But at some point, the number of failures will exceed the number of programmers, and the strands will be permanently broken. Inexorably, the failures will continue and they will propagate to the rest of the web, like a run in a nylon stocking. I have a nasty feeling this will happen quite some time before the great phalanx of failures on New Year's Evil itself. Even, perhaps, as early as January 1999.

To understand why the entire web will fail, we must consider a number of factors. First, look at the consequences of a major system failure. I remember an incident when a small group of programmers attempted to extort millions from a large european business, Unilever, by stealing the current copies of their master files and destroying all the backups. (One of the group was my successor as Systems Programmer at another company). They were lucky and got their files back, thanks to police intervention. Others have not been so lucky. Statistically, when a medium/large organization has a major loss of IT capability, 50% declare bankruptcy within a month and fully 90% declare bankruptcy within a year. Essentially, a major IT failure means the end of the business, even under the ideal conditions of a fully functional economy, with readily available capital to borrow for recovery.

Many Y2K failures will be limited in scope to just the few strands with which they are connected but some will, indeed, cause the total failure and collapse of the business itself. This in turn will cause more, and more significant, failures elsewhere in the web. One of the big three auto manufacturers has more than 60,000 supppliers, of whom more than 12,000 are considered "critical". If just 5% or 600 of these critical suppliers go out of business, so does the auto manufacturer and most of the other 56,400 suppliers. And if you think you can resurrect 600 data systems, or replace them with manual systems in time to stop the larger failure then, quite frankly, you are nuts! The failure of a handful of small suppliers will, inevitably, bring down all of the major auto manufacturers, destroying all of their nodes and all of their strands in the web. And this is only one industry, critical though it is. The web might be able to survive one or two such failures, but not any more.

At this point, we are no longer talking just about software failures, we are talking about larger, macro-economic failures throughout the web. Supplier dependencies exist between industries, as well as within them. For example, all industries depend to a certain extent on ball bearings, most of which are produced in Brazil -- a country far behind the power curve on Y2K and already on the verge of economic collapse as a result of other factors. Another "supplier" upon which all of the other nodes are dependent is the banking and finance industry, which brings me neatly to the next point I want to make.

Y2K is only one of the disasters facing the real-life world wide web and, perhaps, one of the least significant. Many parts of the world are already in deep economic trouble. Japan has been in a depression for two years and is now entering an ominous deflationary spiral. Other parts of Asia are in even more trouble (particularly Malaysia, North and South Korea and China, but all the rest, as well). The Russian economy has effectively ceased to exist, and millions are about to die as their problems are passed on to their German neighbors and financial backers. Brazil and South America are next and their neighbor and backer is US (United States). On top of all this we have a grossly overvalued stock market and, of course, that little problem of "derivatives" and the exposure of all of the major banks to hedge funds like LTCM.

And none of the bailouts are working. Billions from the IMF, and the Russian Ruble continues to crumble. Billions lent to LTCM, and they are still in trouble. Drop Japanese interest rates to 1/2% and there's still no "interest" in buying from the consumer. Do you know why we in the US had our last 1/2% drop so soon after the first? Well-informed rumor has it that the request to Greenspan came from the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, home of one of the nation's best known banks. Apparently, if the discount rate wasn't lowered, they couldn't stay in business . . . But don't single them out just because of their name. In Japan, nine of the ten largest banks are, basically, insolvent. They don't have the reserves to do business in Japan, let alone on an international basis (although in Japan it is "tolerated"). Believe it or not, many of our own US banks are equally deep in the doo-doo. And if you really want, I could talk about their Y2K projects . . .

Now, the bulls (pollyannas) will tell you it just isn't so. They will tell you that lowering already low interest rates is a "good thing" and will stimulate dropping economic activity (which isn't happening). The bears (doombrood) say that they won't invest when the return is so low, and they'll put their money somewhere safe to weather the storm (which really is happening). The bulls shout that this company promises they will be Y2K compliant and therefore everything is going to be OK in all of the other companies and, sigh, WE'RE GOING TO MAKE IT! The bears ask "where is the independant proof"? and point to the flat out lies from supposedly honest organizations such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense, the IRS and the major banks.

For the moment the bulls are winning, psychologically. And that is the most important to them because they have no true foundation in reality. It is so easy to convince the idle masses that everything is hunky-dory as long as they can't see what is really happening to them (and most of them won't until it is far, far too late). This is why the stock market is so ridiculously over valued and why it has gained so much since the drops of September, based upon nothing but the superficial optimism of the bulls and their utter disregard of reality. But, at some point very soon, the "bull-shit" stops and the "bear-facts" will be known.

At this point the stock market bubble will burst. I have predicted that this would happen in the October/November time frame, and I stand by my words. Shortly after the November elections, I expect some outside trigger event, probably the devaluation of the Brazilian Real, and the collapse of their economy. This will be so close to home, and it's effect on US banks so great, that the bear-fact will be readily apparent even to the bulls -- the global economy really is in deep trouble and none of the economic gimmicks are going to work.

However, the market will not just crash as it did in 1929. Trading stop measures put into place since then will prevent a massive drop all in one day. Rather, there will be a series of major drops over a period of several days or even weeks. I expect a two to three thousand point drop in the DJIA by the end of November, with continued declines throughout December and early January. It will not be a happy holiday season for many. Doors will close and jobs will be lost, and the general sense of depression will weigh heavily on many.

Then, in January '99, we will see a sharp rise in the number of software failures attributable directly to Y2K. Many will fail because they hit data event horizons one year into the future, in 2000 itself. Others because they hit the year-99 special handling boundary (which includes, but is not limited to, treating "99" as "end-of-file"). Most of these early failures will be among the tardier members of the pack, including federal, state and local government agencies. Especially hard hit will be those who didn't think they had a problem or who decided to "fix on failure". But some will be among banks who think they have "remediated" their software and still have "all of 1999 to test". One thing I can guarantee is that all of these failures will be unxpected, just like the POS credit card failures, and they will take a great deal of highly skilled effort to track down and fix.

We may have enough good programmers to fix most of these early problems but some will undoubtedly cause business failures or interrupt critical public services. This will be the trigger of the second barrel and the noise will wake the sleeping giant. Finally, John Q. Public will sniff, smell the coffee, and suddenly realize that there really is a Y2K problem. This is when the bank runs will start and prices for survival items will go up.

We will also see something that has never happened before -- runs on the mutual funds which have fueled the growing market bubble. Unlike banks, there are no government guarantees for these investments and there are no procedures in place to limit withdrawals. Therefore, liquidity must come from the fire-sale of stocks held by the funds. Effectively, the small investors will be wiped out overnight, just as they were in 1929. The market will experience a secondary crash, the largest ever seen.

This is the climate in which we will have to find and fix the rest of the Y2K problems. A global depression reducing the cash flow of those businesses trying to remediate, limiting the amount which can be spent on Y2K. Tax base reductions limiting the resources which government can spend on their own problems, let alone those of others. A programmer pool, already too small, further reduced by those who have to work on the early failures (and the continuing failures throughout 1999). A banking and finance structure already so badly weakened that it can do little or nothing to help. A general public on the verge of panic and in fear of their lives as well as their jobs. Then, in January 2000, it all gets worse . . .

It is the end of Charlotte's web and the beginning of a downward spiral in population, technology and business (I will expand on this in the next article). There is nothing we can do to avert this problem. We might have been able to fix the computer problem if we had ignored the pollyannas and started on a massive, co-ordinated effort five years ago. We might have fixed the economic problem if we had ignored the bulls and taken the necessary economic steps five years ago. But we did neither, and now they are both combining, feeding on each other, to give us the biggest, deepest, disaster in human history (with the possible exception of Noah's flood).

It is too late to fix Charlotte's web. It is too late even to place backup strands in the most important places. It is time to SET RECOVERY ON. We must now make plans and preparations to ensure our own personal survival and to pass on as much of our technology as we can to our children. Perhaps, then, some future generation can rebuild what we are about to lose. Perhaps, even, they will learn from our mistakes.

But we can only SET RECOVERY ON if we plan for the very worst we can imagine (short of the extinction of the human race). To this end, the next article in this series will discuss just how bad I think it is going to get, how deep we are going to fall. The rest will deal with practical plans for survival, methods of passing on our technology, and suggestions for making social life easier after reaching the bottom.


Copyright (C) 1998,

This article is published as part of Cory Hamasaki's "DC Y2K Weather Reports" and may be reproduced under the same terms and conditions. All other rights reserved to the author.



In the first article of this series I predicted that the failure of even a small number of our computer systems, combined with fundamental problems already existing in the global economy, will lead to the total collapse of civilization as we know it. I would now like to expand on that and show you that collapse is probable even in an unreasonably optimistic best case scenario in which all of the systems are fixed before 2000. In any of the more realistic scenarios this collapse is absolutely certain. I would also like to explain just how devastating that collapse will be and to show that recovery in our lifetimes is an extremely unlikely outcome. We must prepare for a dark period of several generations during which much of our technology and knowledge will be lost and after which there may be a slow recovery by our descendants. Such preparations are the subject matter of this series of articles. However, we must also prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that the outcome of this situation might well be the total extinction of the entire human race. It really could be worse than I am predicting and I really am being optimistic.

First, I would like to assure you that I am not some kind of nut anxiously waiting for the end of the world. I am a professional computer consultant with 30 years of extensive, hard won experience in many different areas of information technology. I have programmed at the lowest machine code level on everything from small embedded systems all the way up to the largest mainframes. I have co-invented computer hardware and developed novel solutions to very complex problems. I have designed and implemented very large scale business computer systems and I have planned and managed the creation and growth of entire mainframe data centers. I have also worked at a senior level in some of the best consulting organizations in the world. In short, I am a super geek, with an extensive real world and management background beyond the art of computing itself.

I have been aware of the Y2K problem for at least 20 years, and actively working on it for about three. Until the beginnning of 1998 I believed that the problem could still be mostly fixed and I have always been skeptical of the wilder claims of potential Y2K failures. For example, as an airline and instructor rated pilot (my secondary career), I don't believe that airplanes will fall out of the sky. However, I am quite certain that many, if not most, large commercial aircraft will indeed be grounded -- by shortages (and higher prices) of fuel, by crippled Air Traffic Control systems and by the lack of sufficient general economic activity to justify their continued operation. Unlike the bulls and pollyannas, I am not fixated on the success or failure of individual systems. I have the capacity to see the larger picture and I am far more concerned with the total failure of Charlotte's Web itself -- that system-of-systems which forms the backbone of modern civilization.

I freely admit that many of my colleagues disagree with my conclusions and believe that Y2K will be nothing more than a "bump in the road". The problem is that, speaking as an expert, I have never seen any credible evidence to support their general position. Yes, they can point to individual successes, but this does not materially support their overall hypothesis of "no problem" and we (the bears or "doombrood") can point to far more failures, far more known problems, and the abysmal record of our own industry in meeting deadlines and required functional capability. In addition, I must point out that the disaster scenario requires the failure of only a relatively small percentage of our systems (let's say 20%) while the "bump in the road" scenario requires virtually perfect correction of almost all affected systems, all on time and all on budget. For the bulls to be right, we must somehow magically move from a historical on-time project success rate of less than 15% to a success rate for Y2K projects of at least 90 - 95%.

Such a position is clearly irrational. However, for the sake of argument, let us go even further and assume that all affected systems will indeed be fixed before they start to fail. Unfortunately, this would not solve the problem or prevent the disaster. You see, after any major maintenence change to a system (which Y2K most certainly is) there is always a residual rate of failure as a result of the changes themselves, even when the changes are properly "tested". The failures manifest themselves when the system is placed back into the real world of "production", as opposed to the artificial world of "testing". They happen because maintenence programmers customarily test only the immediate effects of their changes. There is neither the time nor the money nor often even the ability to test the entire consequences of a particular change to a system. The residual failures typically arise elsewhere in the system, at some point unrelated to the change itself and completely unanticipated by the programmer.

This last is why residual failures are so hard to identify and correct. Often, we can't even tell for certain whether a particular failure really is the result of a recent system change or not. In turn, this is why a good system administrator would never return two or more systems to "production" at the same time. Not only is the risk of failure almost doubled, but there is also a small chance of both systems failing simultaneously. For Y2K, the problem is greatly compounded by the fact that, essentially, we will be placing all of our corrected systems back into "production" at roughly the same time. We can even calculate the magnitude of the residual failures, to a first approximation.

The actual rate of residual failure depends on a number of factors, but mostly on the size of the system and the scope of the changes. Under average conditions, modest changes to a moderately sized system, the rate would be about 7%. The scope of Y2K changes is, of course, much more extensive than this and many of the systems are extremely large, so the residual failure rate is also likely to be higher. Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let us again assume an overly optimistic residual failure rate of only 5% for Y2K related changes. But this is only for one system. For a business with multiple systems (which they all have) the chance of a system failure can be computed as:1-(1-f)**n, where "f" is the failure rate and "n" is the number of systems.

An average small business would have perhaps 5 systems so, assuming a residual rate of 5%, they have about a 23% chance of at least one system failure (1-(1-.05)**5 = 0.226). A medium size business would typically have about 25 systems and, therefore, a 72% chance of a failure (1-(1-.05)**25 = 0.723). A large business with 100 or more systems would have a 99% chance of a failure (1-(1-.05)**100 = 0.994). This is EVEN IF ALL OF THE SYSTEMS ARE FIXED! Of course, many of these failures will be relatively easy to fix, but others will require an effort beyond the capabilities of the business and they will not be fixed before the business itself fails (this is particularly true for small and medium businesses using packaged software). In addition, the great majority of these failures will have at least some domino effect on related customers and vendors. To make it even worse, virtually everybody will be facing these problems at about the same time, leading to a chaos in which actually fixing the problems becomes almost impossible. At the very minimum this will lead to an economic disaster, JUST FROM THE ACT OF FIXING THE SYSTEMS THEMSELVES, without even taking into account the effect of the unfixed systems, of embedded systems or of an already declining global economy.

In reality, of course, the situation is much worse than this, and the residual failure rate will be much, much higher. Just how much worse is anybody's guess since we have, as yet, insufficient historical data of actual Y2K failures. One thing I can state, categorically, is that a "bump in the road" is not even on the scale of possibility. As we have seen above, the best case end of the scale really begins with a global economic disaster and even then assumes that all systems are fixed on time and that there are no outside factors such as a global recession. Clearly this, too, is an untenable position.

So, in a realistic best case, how much worse than an "economic disaster" is it going to get? Let's use the same formula but this time with a guesstimate of the rate of critical failures (those likely to lead to a failure of the business itself). As an expert, I personally think that the overall, critical failure rate will be between 10 and 20% but, again, let's be overly optimistic and say that only 1% will fail critically and terminally for the business. Even this means that 5% of small, 22% of medium and 63% of big businesses will, inevitably, cease to exist as a direct result of Y2K system failures. Interestingly, these numbers accurately reflect our intuitive grasp of the increasing dependance on information technology as businesses grow larger. But the exact numbers don't really matter because this is only the first level of failure.

The second stage of failure is the "domino effect", the interrelationships between vendors and their customers. Roughly speaking, each of the big three auto manufacturers has about 50,000 vendors of whom about 10,000 are "critical" to production. On the basis of the above, at only a 1% critical failure rate, at least 500 of the critical vendors (5%) will go out of business, forcing the production line to a halt. If that happens for any extended period of time then most of the other 49,500 vendors are basically out of business. Not that it matters. On the basis of the above, two of the big three (63%) will themselves go out of business because of their own Y2K failures, taking most of their vendors with them. Not that it really matters. 50% of the big three's customers are employed by small businesses, of which 5% will immediately go out of business. Unfortunately, the other 50% of their customers are employed by medium and large businesses of whom, optimistically, (63-22)/2+22 or 42% will also go out of business, removing their former employees from the auto market. Those who still have jobs will also be much less likely to buy and, with this immediate and increasing drop in sales, all of the big three will effectively go out of business -- together with most of their vendors. The same thing will happen in every other segment of the economy as well.

Even with unrealistically optimistic numbers, and without taking either embedded systems or the already poor global economy into account, I think this proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Charlotte's Web will indeed completely collapse, just as I predicted in the previous article. Unfortunately, that is still only the second level of failure.

The third level of failure is something I call a devolutionary spiral -- the unwinding of everything we have built over the last 2,000 years of civilization. It is a continuing, self perpetuating, reduction in global population, economic activity and technical capability. It has many of the characteristics of a deflationary spiral in economics; of the entropy of a closed thermodynamic system; and of the sudden jump to a lower energy level which we see in the decay of many nuclear-physical systems. Historically, it is much like the fall of the Roman Empire, which collapsed under it's own weight far more than from outside factors, and from which "recovery" took over 1,000 years. I don't yet know how to measure the spiral, scientifically, but I do know how to describe it.

The key is something called "carrying capacity", a term from the biological sciences. It defines the maximum population of a given species which a particular habitat can support under a specified set of circumstances. If the maximum population is exceeded, or if the capacity itself is reduced, the inevitable result is always a reduction in the population to a level far lower than the simple difference in population numbers would suggest. As an example, consider the plight of the beautiful Mule Deer of the Kaibab Plateau, close to my home in Northern Arizona. Several years ago, the greenie meanies manipulated a ban on the hunting of Mule Deer in this area. Until then, hunting had been used to control the deer population, with the permitted "harvest" designed to reduce the total number of deer, swollen by springtime breeding and summer plenty, to the maximum number which could be supported through harsher winter conditions. As a result, the year round population of deer was normally at it's theoretical maximum for that particular habitat.

Without hunting, the first snows found the herd 25% larger than the winter carrying capacity. At first, the poor deers just lost weight, competing with each other for a food supply far below that needed to support them all through the winter. As the winter progressed, however, the weaker deer (does, fawns and the old) quite naturally died -- by their pitiful thousands. But, worse than this, even the stronger, dominant males were weakened to the point that they, too, succumbed in higher numbers than usual. By the next spring, the Kaibab deer herd was reduced to less than 50% of the normal, springtime population and there were fewer new fawns. In the fall, there were less dominant males and less healthy does, to take care of building the new population. It took decades to recover to normal levels (and then only with the resumption of controlled hunting).

I am personally sickened by the images of this event, by the triumph of "emotion" over "reason", but that is not the point I wish to make. The point I must make is that we, ourselves, are really not that different from the Kaibab deer herd. We live in a complex, computer dependent, world with a carrying capacity of about 6 billion souls. Take away some of the computer capacity, as little as 10%, and we lose a significant portion of the carrying capacity. Because of the domino effect, if we lose just 10% of our businesses (and even the government expects more) this could easily translate into a loss of one third of the carrying capacity and, thus, 2 billion dead.

But that's just the beginning of the devolutionary spiral. Unlike those Kaibab deer, we human beings are to a large extent responsible for creating our own carrying capacity. Without our complex society there is no way this earth could support or carry 6 billion people. But, conversely, without 6 billion people there is no way we could create such a complex society in the first place. When we lose a significant percentage of the population, which we certainly will, we will also lose an important part of our ability to maintain civilization itself. As a result, we will lose even more of the carrying capacity and even more of the population. Once the spiral starts it feeds on itself and it cannot be stopped by anything we do. It will stop, all by itself, but only when a new equilibrium is reached with a much lower carrying capacity and a much smaller population, with far less economic activity and more limited technology.

It doesn't matter whether you believe me. It doesn't even matter if I am right. Because you are not the only one reading this article. Through the magic of the internet there are thousands, perhaps millions, who are also reading and who do believe. There are millions of others who have found similar opinions elsewhere and who also firmly believe it's really coming, really soon, to a town near them. They believe it is serious enough that they have already decided to withdraw their money from their banks and mutual funds. When that happens en masse, some time next year, our entire economy will collapse. In a sense, the end has already begun and the spiral has already started to unwind.

There is nothing wrong with their decision, even though it will indeed trigger the very collapse they are trying to protect themselves against. The point is that Y2K is real, the global recession is real. Roosevelt was wrong. We really do have something more to fear than fear itself. It makes sense to prepare. It is sheer folly to ignore Y2K and those who do so will be numbered among the dead. The sensible question is not whether to prepare but how to prepare and for what. The remaining articles in this series will cover the how, for the moment I am concerned with the what. I have painted a pretty bleak picture of the total collapse of civilisation itself and the death of billions. Using highly optimistic numbers, I think I have shown that this is not just possible but probable. It makes the most sense to prepare for this worst case scenario. If you prepare for anything less, and I am right, you will not be prepared at all and you, too, will be numbered among the dead.

To drive this point home, I would like you to consider the closest historical precedent I can think of. The Roman Empire also collapsed in upon itself, in much the same way that I am predicting. As it collapsed, the carrying capacity of the empire was reduced and the population did indeed spiral downwards, reaching a low point several hundred years later around 1350. Most of their technology was also lost and their roads, aquaducts, cities and monuments soon fell into disrepair because none of the survivors understood the Roman technology. Even if they had, there weren't enough people nor enough economic activity to justify let alone institute the repairs. Consider this also. After a 1,000 years there were indeed survivors. They just weren't Romans.

Five miles from my boyhood home in England are the ruins of a Roman fort, built in the time of Hadrian to protect the estuary of the largest local river, and the center of trade and commerce in the area. Today it is little more than a few piles of rubble, but legend has it that every year, at midnight on Good Friday evening, the old town comes back to life for just one hour. As a boy I would sneak out and ride my bike to the old fort. More than one dark night I spent there, listening for and almost hearing the ancient sounds, looking for and almost seeing two thousand year old ghosts from a long dead civilization. I wonder what little boy will look for us, if we don't prepare.


Copyright (C) 1998,

This article is published as part of Cory Hamasaki's "DC Y2K Weather Report" and may be reproduced under the same terms and conditions. All other rights reserved to the author.



Thanks to the enlightenment of our Arizona legislature, I legally carry a concealed handgun pretty much wherever I go. When close friends ask why I carry a gun, I usually reply "It's in case I see the elephant". Now this is obviously a highly effective technique since, after the introduction of carry permits, there have been fewer incidents with dangerous elephants in our state. But, actually, there is a more serious and darker side to my answer that usually passes over the heads of those to whom I am talking. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys almost never travelled beyond the frontier towns and their entertainment was often brought to them from back east. A rare treat was the arrival of a travelling circus and, particularly, the elephants which seem to have fascinated these simple hardworking men. Over time, the expression "goin' to see the elephant" came to be used whenever someone decided to do something totally different or unusual. In the combat shooting fraternity, particularly in law enforcement, "seeing the elephant" has now come to mean a close encounter of the deadly kind. This is the meaning intended in my reply (and in the following remark).

As I write this, we are fast approaching January 1999. In just a few days, we will see the first wave of year-ahead Y2K system failures, as well as a wave of the Year 99 failures which many have been underestimating. At the same time, the US dollar will face it's first challenge in half a century with the introduction of the Euro (which is already advance trading higher than the dollar). And then we also still have that crazy stock market bubble and the deepening, irreversible, global depression. We are about to enter a short period of intense trouble and great dangers. I believe this will last 3 to 4 years, starting in January 1999, and will then lead to the longer devolutionary spiral I described in part two of this series. If I am right, we will eventually lose half to two-thirds of the world's population. Most of us are "going to see the elephant" (perhaps more than once) and, statistically, most of us will not survive our own close encounter of the deadly kind.

This article is intended to help you prepare to meet that awesome elephant and to give you a better chance to survive those first terrible years. The first step is to load your most important weapon, not your gun, but your mind. Any good instructor will tell you that the key to survival is attitude. Believe that you will survive and your chances of actually doing so go up dramatically. This applies as much to economic hardship, hunger, thirst and illness as it does to a fire fight. But positive attitude alone is not enough. You must also make a realistic assessment of your situation and you must be able to make logical decisions and carry them out under stress, perhaps under threat of death. Let's deal with this last point first.

One of the best ways to deal with extreme danger and your own imminent demise is to accept that you are already dead. This may seem to contradict the need for a positive attitude but, in practice, it does not. A friend of mine was the instructor pilot aboard a Learjet whose student pilot lost control just after liftoff and the plane immediately rolled inverted and crashed. The accident lasted only seconds, but before the airplane even touched down he had the fuel shut off and the emergency exit already open. As my friend explained it, he knew he was going to die but at least they would find the switches in the correct positions and the checklist completed. This attitude gave him the calmness he needed to take the steps which resulted not only in his own survival but also that of his student. However, the time to accept this is not during the takeoff roll but, rather, long before when you are mentally preparing and training yourself for a potentially dangerous activity.

In the Y2K context, the time to accept your own death is now, before the fun really begins. If I am right, and I honestly believe I am, then you must accept that you are statistically more likely to die than to survive. As am I. If you can come to terms with that now, you will be far better prepared to face anything you might encounter in the next few years, and your chance of survival will actually go up. I cannot tell you precisely how to do that -- it is something we must all face in our own way. In my own case, Christian faith gives me the certain knowledge that there are some things worse than death as well as the promise of something more valuable than life itself. I also have children and a grandchild who are more important to me than my own survival, so they come first. Your mileage may vary, but whatever God you believe in, the time to make your peace is now.

Accept this probability, come to terms with it, and you will also be better prepared to realistically assess your situation and to make rational, practical plans for survival. The first fact you must accept is that no government agency will be able to help you. You must do it all yourself and/or with a tight knit group of family, friends or neighbors. Neither the US Federal Government nor any other national government on earth is going to be ready in time. Even if a few individual agencies do fix their systems, they are unlikely to be the ones that we, the people, really need. Government "missions" worldwide are aimed more at controlling people than helping them, so their definition of "mission critical systems" is unlikely to match your own. In any case, the drastically lowered economic activity in this period will cut the tax revenues of all governments, national and local, to the point that none will be able to afford to help and few will be able to service their debts and pay their present employees. It will be much worse than the 1930's because, this time around, government debt levels are greater, tax rates are already too high to be raised very much without serious opposition, and social "safety nets" already consume such an enormous portion of western economies that they, too, cannot be expanded without causing an even greater collapse. There'll be no spending our way out of this one. Worst of all, currencies like the US dollar are no longer backed by real assets as they were in 1929. Even the partial gold backing of the Euro is unlikely to instill sufficient confidence, in the context of a total economic collapse, to allow it to continue in use as a medium of exchange. The economic model for this can already be seen emerging in Russia -- a barter/exchange system, an almost totally ineffective government and virtual elimination of the welfare state. Oh, and on top of all this, you probably won't have a job.

No, in the short term, government is more likely to be your enemy than your friend. The United Kingdom, Canada and other nations have already announced contingency plans for martial law, which is just another name for a dictatorship. In spite of, and indeed because of, recent denials, I am certain the US will do the same. Such dictatorships usually begin for benign reasons, "for the good of the people", but they rarely achieve the stated intention and more often they get worse and more despotic as their failures become more apparent. Once established, they are almost impossible to remove without force of arms. As wiser men than I have said, those who trade their freedoms for the illusion of security are bound to lose both. I feel truly sorry for our European and Australasian friends who have done precisely this, trading the right to their weapons for the illusion of public safety and thereby practically guaranteeing the loss of both. The stormtroopers will have a field day throughout these countries. They will maintain "order" but at the cost of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It will be a long time before most countries taste freedom again.

Here in the US, it will at first be worse than Europe but, I think, it will get better sooner. We do have the second amendment; a wide availability of privately owned firearms and ammunition; and even a military which is predisposed towards the people rather than against them. But there is no cause for complacency and I think there are good reasons to conclude that we could well be in the beginnings of a second civil war before the end of 1999. The key indicator (not cause) for this is the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton and the divisions it has exposed within society. It doesn't really matter whether or not he is convicted because he would only be replaced by Al Gore, who is just as deeply hated by conservatives and just as likely to declare martial law. None of the possible outcomes can do anything to resolve the fundamental problems. For, in truth, we are a deeply divided nation, split almost down the middle between the political left and right. The polarization gets stronger each year, there is less and less dialogue, positions have become more deeply entrenched and anger, resentment and violence are boiling just below the surface (on both sides). This can only get worse when the Senate action is over and those on the right realize that nothing has changed and the system has badly let them down. This is the volatile mix, the powder keg, of a civil war and its dual fuses, the declining economy and Y2K have already been lit.

As 1999 progresses, as the global economy continues to decline and as more and more of the early Y2K failures occur, there will be some sudden, critical failure which will trigger a social crisis. There are so many possible causes, so many loaded cannon, that I cannot say which it will be or when. It might be the inevitable US stock market crash, it may be an international monetary collapse or it could simply be a handful of Y2K failures serious enough to finally wake up John Q. Public and to launch a series of bank runs. Whatever the cause, governments all over the world will seize on this as an excuse to put their plans for martial law into effect, hoping to have some kind of emergency administration in place before their existing systems are wiped out by Y2K. From their point of view, this would be the "right" thing to do, an ideal "contingency plan", and most of the world's peoples will accept it (if only because they don't have the weapons to oppose it).

But not here in the US. We do have weapons as well as a long, healthy tradition of mistrust of the government and its motives. Waco, Ruby Ridge and similar incidents may seem extreme and uncommon in the current peacetime context but they do show that Americans will resist government oppression, even in the face of overwhelming force. If a state of emergency is declared, if supplies or weapons are confiscated, such incidents are likely to increase (as are more violent incidents like the Oklahoma City bombing). You can bet your life your friendly Fred Fed is well aware of this and his emergency plans will absolutely, certainly, include the rounding up of private weapons -- even though this will trigger the very violence it is supposed to prevent. However, they are unlikely to attempt this with regular or national guard personnel. These people are trained to defend against outside enemies and they are unlikely to fire on private citizens or to confiscate private property (except in the case of a full fledged insurrection or riot). In addition, many are themselves strongly opposed to the present regime and believe strongly in the right to keep and bear arms. Their military weapons could just as easily end up being used against the government as for it. Fred Fed knows this, too.

This is why the initial US contingency plan is based on FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and civilian federal agents from various other departments. This is why FEMA thinks it needs trained snipers, SWAT teams and detectives experienced in performing background checks on private individuals. This is why the FBI is sending advance teams into areas most likely to shelter "dissidents". This is why BATF thinks it needs armed attack helicopters. This is why the law enforcement agents of fully civilian agencies like the USDA and BLM need to be more and more heavily armed (so that they, too, can be transferred into the fray when needed). This is why state and local police agencies are being gathered into the fold.

Ostensibly, the justification for this increased government control and the loss of civil liberties will be "public safety" from the small minority who really will try and take advantage of the situation. Isn't that always the excuse? But, as with gun control and the drug war, the difficult primary mission will soon be forgotten and agents will spend most of their time on the easier task of gathering information about innocent citizens and interfering with their lawful activities. This is why you must be very, very careful who you accept into your survival group or with whom you discuss your plans -- even if you are not storing arms and ammunition. Fred Fed (and your unprepared neighbor) is just as interested in your food and other supplies as he is in your weapons. After all, he and his family have to eat too!

In America, then, the first elephant we are likely to see will not be the purple mutants from the big city or divisions of well armed battle tanks. It will be Fred Fed, who has already proved he will reliably fire on private citizens (regardless of the legality of the action). The same Fred Fed who has already stated that he will steal private property if "he" thinks it necessary. So how do we deal with this elephant? The correct answer is "we don't". Quite apart from legal and christian-ethical considerations which should, rightfully, discourage us from overthrowing our government, your first choice in dealing with any elephant must always be to avoid him, if at all possible. In this case it means avoiding the conflict by caching most of your arms and supplies, while this is still possible and legal.

Preferably, you should have several smaller caches known only to you and to a highly trusted backup, one for each separate cache, someone who will pass the supplies on to your family or group if anything happens to you. This will minimize your potential losses to accident, theft and the machinations of Fred Fed. Each cache should have supplies for about a month, with at least twelve months total -- enough to last you through the summer of 2000 (by which time you should already be growing your own food). You don't need expensive dehydrated food or emergency rations designed to last for decades. Basic canned goods will all last for a couple of years and provide all of the nutrients you need. Staples like flour, dried milk, sugar and salt can also be stored for at least two years in sealed containers or buckets. Make up a month long set of family menus from these sorts of foods and store the whole lot in a single cache. Then repeat the same items in another cache for each additional month for which you are preparing. Be generous in the amounts so that you can feed additional mouths or spread the contents over a longer period of time if that becomes necessary. Add 25% for needy outsiders and this can be your insurance policy for a lost cache. This shouldn't cost more than a couple of hundred dollars per person and would also be good advice for non-americans. Your own first elephant may not be as big and bad as ours, but he'll still be after your food.

Of primary concern should be your assault or battle rifle and its ammunition, if you have one. You really won't need it for the first stages of meltdown and it is the most likely to be the subject of confiscation or registration (which is just a prelude to confiscation as it was in Nazi Germany, England and Australia). In the short term, before the rollover, you can adequately protect yourself and your family with a shotgun and/or a handgun which are less likely to be confiscated and will attract less attention. You will sorely need your rifle in the second stage of meltdown, after the rollover itself, when we really will have to deal with roving bands of purples and, quite probably, a more developed level of civil war. We also have a responsibility to keep alive the flame of freedom for our allies in other countries, even though they gave up that freedom themselves. A rifle can be stored for a couple of years, well oiled, in a sealed plastic bag (with desiccant to absorb the moisture). When you buy your (military surplus) ammunition make sure that it is already stored in sealed, moisture proof packs or cans. Store small amounts (say 200 rounds) in each of your caches.

Finally, if you haven't already done so, you need to convert most of your spare cash and paper investments into gold and/or silver coins. Depending on the value and risk, spread them across your caches or create separate caches for your coins, as I do. Keep a little cash and a few coins on hand for your daily needs and remember you can always convert one or two coins back into cash if necessary for short term needs or to pay the credit card bills. Keep most of your worth in precious metals from now on and nothing in stocks or bonds (unless you like gambling). The stock market bubble will burst and everything you still have invested will be lost. Same goes for banks. The bank runs will start when John Q. Public wakes up and anything you still have in your accounts will also be lost or at least restricted in the way you can use it. Personally, I converted most of my spare cash to gold during 1998 and withdraw all but a few hundred of the rest before the end of the year. Any new, extra cash will go straight into gold. Real estate is a big problem and you will have to decide for yourself just how seriously you are going to take this but I wouldn't want to own property in a major city in the last half of 1999. If you're going to, the time to sell is now, while prices are still high, interest rates are still low and there are still buyers. Put the proceeds into rural property and/or more precious metals.

These few simple precautions should cover you through the first stage of collapse, up to and including the Y2K rollover itself and the first few weeks of 2000. After that, you will need to be planning to grow your own food; to produce your own energy (including electric power and motor fuel); to survive the coming violence, disease and despair; and to pass on knowledge and technology to future generations. If you haven't already done so, you will also need to relocate from urban areas to somewhere with a smaller population and a greater carrying capacity. These are the subjects of following articles in the series.


Copyright (C) 1999,

This article is published as part of Cory Hamasaki's DC Y2K Weather Report and may be reproduced under the same terms and conditions. All other rights reserved to the author.

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