R.C. and others - a hint of what was known, and when, on embedded system risk in particular

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

It's taken me a while to dig this up, and since the original question has dropped off the board, I've taken the liberty of starting a new thread.

Jim Lord, writing for Westergaard, published this column on January 4, 1999: "World Future Society Holds Y2K Conference".

The conference under discussion had been held December 16-17, 1998 and included presentations by such luminaries as: Michael Aisenberg, a member of the President's Council on Y2K Converstion, The White House; Harrison W. Fox, senior staffperson, U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, the main congressional body overseeing the progress of Y2K repairs in Federal Government agencies; Michael P. Harden, president and CEO of Century Technology Services, Inc., (Mr. CEO?); Jonathan Spalter, associate director and chief information officer, U.S. Information Agency; chair, President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion Working Group on International Public Diplomacy, Washington, D.C.; and Joel Willemssen, director of the Civil Agencies Information Systems at the U.S. General Accounting Office.

In other words, lots of important and well connected people were there (I have listed only those individuals whose presence is relevant to the topic at hand - when did they know and what did they know.)

Again (for emphasis) those present included:

- A member of the President's Council on y2k Conversion

- a senior staffperson on the House y2k subcommittee, and

- The CIO of the US Information Agency

I believe that whatever these folks knew at that time, TPTB knew as well. I refuse to believe that the gulf is so wide and that the Commander in Chief is so far removed from these individuals that he would be entirely (or even partially) unaware of a situation that his subordinates understood well, especially if that situation were judged by those subordinates to represent a major potential crisis.

If one accepts the above assertion, then the relevant question is "What did these folks hear and share (what did they know)?" If their understanding clearly exceeds that which we have otherwise been led to believe, we may have our "smoking gun".

Posted along with the conference report is this article "The Y2K Problem: Technical Dimensions". While this article seems to have been written after the conference took place, it clearly reflects the information gathered from that conference as well as, perhaps, a bit of prognostication.

With regard specifically to embedded systems we read, "Besides producing flawed data and corrupted records, the Y2K problem will show up in three kinds of technical mishaps or disasters:

- Failure of some computers, including mainframes, minis, and personal computers,

- Disruptions of electronic networks and their interfaces with other systems, and

- Unanticipated and dangerous shut-down of "embedded systems," the built-in microprocessors that act as sensors, monitors, or controls in devices ranging from elevators and subway gates to weapons systems.

Of these categories, embedded systems may have the most potential for disaster. Their failure can "hurt people and destroy property." About 70 billion may have been put in use since the early 1970s (although estimates range widely), and of these up to 5 billion may be date-sensitive, or vulnerable to Y2K failures. Many of these are in process control systems that are part of larger, still more complex systems in an estimated 255,000 U.S. buildings and facilities. Others are in familiar, homely devices such as medical appliances, home heating systems, and elevators-where dates are not usually thought of as relevant, but which may be programmed to shut down if maintenance has not been done at specified intervals.

Few companies, government agencies, or facility managers have an inventory of the embedded systems in their facilities, or any knowledge of whether the ones they know about are date-sensitive. Nor, for the most part, do the vendors who provided them. The original manufacturers may be able sometimes, although not always, to provide information about their computers' vulnerability to Y2K failure-if one can tell them the model and serial numbers. But embedded systems may be difficult to reach, even if their existence is on record; they may be under a deep sea oil drilling platform, or an integral part of complex technological structures. Once found, many are impossible to fix or adjust and must instead be replaced. A further complication is that testing some devices may void the warranty, and may even precipitate a failure." (end quoted material)

This assessment was not only available to attendees but clearly sprang from information presented by the attendees themselves.

At the tail end of this article we read: "A congressional aide listed "Ten Top Disasters Waiting to Happen":

- An oil and gas shortage, with up to 46% shortfall (!!!!!!!!!!)

- Defense weapons systems failures

- Air traffic control system failure

- Utility power grid brownouts and blackouts

- Manufacturing production shut-downs, with ripple effects throughout the economy

- Supply base and services interruptions

- Water and sewer system breakdowns

- Public health and safety device failures (fire, police, 911 systems)

- Other embedded system failures in devices ranging from automobiles to robotics

- Public panic (possibly leading to runs on banks, etc.) (end quoted material)

These potential looming disasters were enumerated by "a congressional aide". Only one Congressional aid is listed in the program: Harrison W. Fox, senior staffperson, U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, the main congressional body overseeing the progress of Y2K repairs in Federal Government agencies.

Furthermore, from my reading of the above list ("Other embedded system failures in devices ranging from automobiles to robotics") these problems seem to be those which are directly related to and might be caused by embedded system failures. The potential disasters under discussion stem from the embeddeds!!!!

For whatever reason, the conference did not specifically address oil in their Review of Utilities, Infrastructure, and Supply Chains but did touch on (natural) gas, whereupon they concluded that "The gas production/gathering activity is particularly susceptible to embedded chip problems. Production platforms are heavily automated, with many inaccessible chips."

Once again we note a high level of awareness regarding the embedded problem.

Returning to the original Jim Lord article cited, we read: "On the second day, Dr. Harrison Fox, Professional Staff, U.S House of Representatives, subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology (Rep. Steven Horn's subcommittee) gave what many considered the most sobering session of the conference.

Dr. Fox indicated that,

- By this time next year, the panic factor will be in full force and rationing will be in effect.

- Of great concern are DOD, FAA (them pesky guys again) healthcare and state and local governments (especially water systems).

- Within DOD, nuclear weapons management and logistics systems were cited as most critical.

- Three of the five oil refineries in Venezuela (which provides some seventeen percent of the oil supply in the United States) will not be compliant in time and will have to be shut down. These and other problems "will lead to disruptions" in the flow of oil.

- Medicare will "fail massively."

- The State Department is still in the "Quill and Scroll" age

- Unsatisfactory performance in dealing with Y2K is indicative of the poor management systems and practices in use in the federal government.

- A comprehensive national level strategy is still needed.

- Everyone needs to prepare for Y2K and they need to start now." (end quoted material)

Jim Lord is the second source and confirms "the congressional aide's" dire assessment.

Dr. Fox later claimed that he his prediction of rationing had been misrepresented by Jim Lord. To the best of my knowledge he has not commented on the other statements attributed to him.

Note the specificity of Fox's prediction: "three of five refineries will fail". Again, this guy is not guessing. This goes to the root of my own suspisions, namely that TPTB actually do know quite a bit, that no one knows what is going to happen, but 'they' have a really good idea. I don't believe that our intelligence gathering and assessment capabilities are so poor that 'they' cannot come up with some fairly detailed information. Their information makes the Naval War College scenarios look like my 'back of the envelope' scratchings in terms of depth and quality (certainty) of analysis. This is what makes the bunkers, the massive generators, the executive orders, the 'mock' attacks on American cities, etc. so horrifying. People, they are *not* guessing. They are not 'playing the odds', contemplating 'risks vs. stakes', or buying 'insurance policies'. They know. This is what makes the other prognostications by Dr. Fox so horrifying. He is not just guessing! But I digress.

So then, if Dr. Fox Knew that the Venezuelan refineries would fail and 'suspects' "up to a 46% oil shortfall" (plus other disasters) which he seems to ascribe to embedded system failures - did Horn Know as well? Did Bennett know? Did Dr. Fox keep these assessments private, only sharing them at Futurist conferences, until late this year?

Are Dr. Fox's speculations something conjured de novo from his own mind? Is this his private analysis? Of course not.

People, this is Dr. Fox's *job*. His purpose in being an aide to the committee is to gather and analyze information. It is, really, totally inconceivable that the knowledge he obtained through these efforts would not be shared with Horn and Bennett. It seems just as unlikely that this expert's opinion and information would not be highly regarded by the committee co-chairman. They hired him and have retained him based on his credentials and his abilities.

Horn knew.

Bennett knew.

Clinton knew.

And they knew well before December 16, 1998. With all due respect to Paula Gordon, I do not embrace the theory that Clinton and other top level officials have been simply ignorant of the nature, scope and severity of this problem. Whatever else you may think of Clinton, I believe he is a brilliant man. I may be wrong, but I believe we need to look deeper before we begin to understand how we got to this point, at least so far as public policy and public disclosure issues are concerned.


R.C., Downstreamer, Gordon - I hope that you gentleman in particular find some value (at least entertainment) in the above analysis. I single you out only as an expression of my deep gratitude for the information and insights you have each consistently provided in an area that I am otherwise at a complete loss to comprehend.

Best Regards, Me

-- Me (me@me.me), December 23, 1999


Me, sounds to me like you got it nailed. Bill Clinton does nothing without a plan. Bill Clinton does nothing that doesn't further his own interest or gratify his ego and appetite. You can rest assured that whatever is coming down the road he has already calculated a way to make hay out of it. They don't call him slick for nothing.

-- Nikoli Krushev (doomsday@y2000.com), December 23, 1999.


Thank you for posting this information. I can see that I've either missed some things or I've forgotten a lot. I suspect its a case of both. It is great to have so many fellow team researchers who can pull up this kind of material from archives and personal files.

I can see Dr. Gordon's point. I've seen that type of "beltway syndrome" before. Like yourself and others though, how is it that we managed to get it, and get it so easily even though we're not techno geeks. I'm not sure if we'll get the questions answered here on this forum anytime real soon regarding who knew what when.

To me and any lurkers...

We are all a team of seekers here. We're trying to seek out the truth and the facts. None of us can do it by ourselves. As a team we can help each other out. This forum has such a team orientation. I know certain things about and in certain areas. Others know about areas and aspects that I don't. I hope and encourage all of you to not be bashful about posting your thoughts. Pollies and Doomers do battle here in verbal dialogue but the only ones who really get in the way are the trolls. We need all of you to contribute. Especially on aspects that you know about. Don't be bashful and don't be shy. Good or bad news or information, we sure would like to hear from you. (not you 'trolls' though.)

-- R.C. (racambab@mailcity.com), December 23, 1999.

Link to the original thread: What did our government know and when did it know it? [oil embedded chips problem]-- R.C. (racambab@mailcity.com), December 20, 1999

and Q/A exchange -- R.C. and Dr. Paula Gordon -- Embeddeds/Gov U gotta see this

(note new posts on both threads today Dec. 23rd, inc. by R.C. and Paula Gordon)

For my 2 cents... I think we have enough evidence from the above conference and elsewhere that they KNEW enough EARLY ENOUGH to be aware there was great risk. Like us they may not be able to predict with great specificity just where the "chips may fall/fail", but they knew there was way too much to fix in too short a time. What to do?

1. Mount a "war effort" to get national and global "contingency plans" in place to minimize the effects of any breakdown in the infrastructure or JIT supply lines. Problem with this plan is that it carries its own risk... the risk that the people will panic and cause the problem you are trying to mitigate against (most especially a banking shutdown, but also a risk to JIT supply lines that couldn't keep up with demand)... only much earlier. If that happened even less remediation could happen. Thus we got plan B:

2. Deny the problem for as long as possible, to allow as much time as possible for remediation to happen... and hope against hope that enough gets done to avoid TEOTWAWKI. Manage the PERCEPTION of the problem as a way to manage the problem itself... thus the involvement of the Rendon Group. Of course this "plan B" has its own risks: First of all, they did their job a little too well. They did such a good job of minimizing the problem that millions of businesses have put off until the last minute doing ANYTHING. There was no way to give 2 contradictory messages at the same time - that it was hype, and that it was an emergency - (though Koskinen tried.. thus you have him saying that maybe a little bit of panic would be a good thing). The other problem with this plan of course is that if there IS a major breakdown, the people are more likely to be unprepared, and THEN you really do have panic. The contingency plan for that? Unprecedented "urban warfare" training over the last 12 to 18 months, "bunkers" (for a 3-day storm?) in 40? locations, a $50 million "communications center" to "manage" the information (and keep the press OUT), joint training by FEMA, the FBI, and the Red Cross of State and local law enforcement agencies, huge "militarization" buildup of local sheriffs etc. with riot gear, tanks, apache helicopters etc., and of course a slew of Executive Orders by our supposedly clueless Commander in Chief.

I think it's obvious from their ACTIONS which plan they chose. It WAS a PLAN... based on an early assessment of the risk. The Navy "Pentagon Papers" report was the result of knowledge of the risk of failure. The "bunkers" (including the ICC) were the result of a plan based on assessments of great risk. Likewise the Executive Orders, the "urban warfare" training, the training and equipping of local law enforcement agencies, and perhaps most importantly ... THE CONTROL OF THE MEDIA. Remember back in ?March? the quite scary Senate report... remember how Dodd made scary noises on ? Friday ? and then the report was held up for a couple of days and when it finally came out there was virtually NO coverage by major media? Remember the "sermon" by the ABA? Remember all the hundreds/thousands of cookie-cutter articles focusing on crazy survivalists instead of the real technology problem? That was NO accident... it was part of the PLAN. We heard it repeatedly... "the only thing to fear is fear itself"... the motto of "Plan B".

The risk was known... early. There was a CHOICE of how to attack the problem. We got "Plan B". There's no way to know with certainty if it was a worse choice than "Plan A" (full disclosure and a "war effort" to get people prepared). Personally I think it was the wrong choice... I don't think mass panic 12 - 24 months in advance is possible. I think the choice was driven in large measure by the risk to the banking industry (witness their frequent announcement starting in Aug. '98 of the printing of extra cash).

Think folks of all the ACTIONS we have seen that took months or years to plan. There is just NO POSSIBILITY that the people in power didn't know and know EARLY of the great risk we all face. Its just that the plan they chose is perhaps not the one we would have chosen.

-- Linda (lwmb@psln.com), December 23, 1999.


You make some very interesting points. Except I think that "PLAN B" is far, far worse. Why?

It entails lies.

As the lies are discovered, our leadership's credibility approaches zero with more and more people. And the consequences of that alone are obviously disastrous.

-- eve (123@4567.com), December 23, 1999.

"Note the specificity of Fox's prediction: "three of five refineries will fail". Again, this guy is not guessing."

I want to correct what has been a very misleading assumption since at least last January based on Fox's remark.

Someone else may be able to cough up the numbers, but almost all of the oil we receive from Venezuela is crude, and the amount of refined that we import from Venezuela does not allow us to directly extrapolate that a shutdown of 60% of Venezuela's refineries necessarily translates into a shortfall of 60% of the oil we would have imported from Venezuela.

There may be other reasons, however, just not that one. And it does raise the question of the ability to remediate refineries in general.

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), December 23, 1999.

eve - contingency plan for THAT is stricter control of the media.. thus the ICC. And it assumes (1) our leaders have any credibility to lose anyway, and (2) people will be focusing on the who-knew-what-when discussion after rollover. I think they will be busy just trying to survive.

But I agree with you that the EFFECTS of plan B will be worse than those of plan A. But if you started with an assumption that the real risk was in panic by the people, esp. if you have many times in the past taken the point of view that the people must be "protected" from the truth, then it is easy to see how Plan B was chosen.

It could have been so much different.


-- Linda (lwmb@psln.com), December 23, 1999.

There is a difference between knowing and knowing. Politicians are concerned about power. They live in a gray world of definitions which are used to fend off accountability. To 'know' something is to be accountable for that knowledge. To prove that someone knew something at a particualr place and time so as to nail them for neglect or malice is very, very hard to do these days. They knew and they did not know all for their various purposes. In the end they know (though they will never be convicted for knowing) that their misdeeds will never be remembered because of the convulsive hell that will grip this earth for the next few years. After that people will just want to move on with rebuilding a world and will forget about these people just as no one now remembers people like JF Dulles, D Acheson or R MacNamara.

-- ..- (dit@dot.dash), December 23, 1999.

Thanks, Me. That's pretty cogent. Also remember that Dr. Barnett of the U.S. Naval War College stated that he went to the administration and advised transparency, which is not what we have gotten.

I, too, think it was a wrong decision, although there are postivies involved--hey, no panic. But on the other side, we will get mass psychosis when the bell rings. I personally don't like the cover-up, which orginates in the assumption that "father knows best."

I hate this back-room decision making by the elite. I also think they are delusional in imagining that they are running things--since we are here according to God's grace, and that alone. "Man proposes; God disposes."

-- Mara (MaraWayne@aol.com), December 23, 1999.

My December Comments and Rating may help to clear up some of the conflicting points of view expressed here. The November Comments may help as well. These can both be found on the "Comments, Essays,& Op-Ed Pieces" page of the following website: http://www.gwu.edu/~y2k/keypeople/gordon

Some key points, not necessarily discussed there, that I would share here:

~ The President has been far, far more concerned with cyberterrorism and terrorism, including biological warfare threats than he has with Y2K. This was told to me at the end of October in no uncertain terms by someone who communicates with the President and is in a position to know.

~ I have similarly been assured by someone who has the technical credentials to know that the President does not understand the seriousness of the embedded systems aspect of Y2K.

~ The kinds of military preparations that are mentioned are identical to some of the preparations that Richard Clarke mentioned publicly on the Charlie Rose show in the last few weeks. Clarke heads up a Federal council charged with addressing infrastructure protection issues. The preparations have to do with being in the state of readiness in the event of terrorist actions. So do the Executive Orders. I spoke very briefly about a year ago with Clarke and the head of Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) and neither exhibited ANY interest in Y2K and did not see it as fitting into their areas of responsibility. Cyberterrorism is one of CIAO's chief areas of concern.

~ Briefings can and do fall on deaf ears. The seriousness of Y2K and embedded systems challenges have eluded many people, including at times those whose fields focus on IT or embedded systems. It is not surprising that the President and others who have no technical background do not have a firm grasp of the nature and scope of these challenges. Being brilliant is not enough if one has no affinity for technology. In fact when it comes to understanding Y2K, the person who places great value on commonsense may "get it" fastest. Having the capacity to analyze complex societal issues can also be a great asset. Many attributes and skills are helpful, including an affinity for envisioning alternative scenarios and futures. It also helps to be undaunted when it comes to dealing with a morasse of disconnected information. I am not aware of instances in which the President has demonstrated an abundance of these particular attributes. His strengths may simply not include these attributes. I am therefore not surprised that he does not "get" Y2K. He also may not have taken the twenty minutes to have it explained to him in terms that he can readily grasp. In his situation the person or persons doing the explaining would also need to trace out what the policy implications were as well as what the options for actions were. I don't know very many people who would be able to provide him that kind of briefing. The intelligence community is constrained from helping spell out policy options.

~ Pure and simply, the President has delegated Y2K to Mr. Koskinen. People who want to talk with the President about Y2K are referred to Mr. Koskinen. This is true of one of the best known names in the field. This is even true of a person I know who talks to the President concerning other somewhat related issues.

~ The President has a long track record of delegating challenging issues to others. I don't think he has realizes how challenging this one is and what is in the balance.

~ I was an invited participant to one of the Naval War College Workshops in January of 1999. I have followed what they are doing there. I see little indication that Mr. Koskinen has been paying much, if any attention to the NWC scenarios or any similar scenarios being generated by thinktank organizations. I am aware of what his reaction has been to aother similar set of scenarios. He was quite dismissive of it. There is some interest in the NWC work on the part of few people that I know of in DOD, but I would very much doubt that the work will end up being used for any practical purpose. It is a common error to assume that because something was produced by a government-related institution or agency that somehow others in government, including those at the highest levels of government,

~ know about it,

~ have taken the time to study it,

~ have found it of value,

~ have allowed themselves to be influenced by it, and/or

~ have changed their way of defining Y2K and embedded systems challenges as a result.

People in high powered positions are often on perpetual information overload; they may be "running" on adrenalin. There is not a lot of time in the day for calmly considering new ways of looking at complex matters and acquiring new technical understanding. Such "overwhelmed" persons have to filter out things that they find irrelevant to their current concerns or perspective or perceived "mandate". They are challenged to constantly prioritize and reprioritize where they direct their attention and energies. The bottom line is that just because someone seemed to have understood something a year ago, does not mean that they retain that understanding today. They may even have been forced by "peer" pressure to change their views. They may have been persuaded to change their views by persons whose opinion they respect, but whose views, unbenounced to them, are not well founded. I have seen it happen many more times than once that a persons who seemed to "get" embedded systems, have modified their views. They have sometimes allowed their views to be changed by people who should have a sufficient grasp of the subject matter, but don't.

I will be addressing some of these concerns in the final installment of Part 6 of my White Paper, which I hope to be able to complete and get posted soon.

I have tracked these matters practically fulltime since May of 1998, I have made a point of trying to figure out where practically all of the key players mentioned in this thread are coming from. I have communicated directly with many of them, many still on an ongoing basis. My purpose in writing my White Paper has been to try to clarify what has gone wrong with Federal efforts and suggest what actions are still needed if we are to prevent and minimize, and deal with the impacts that can be anticipated.

I hope these thoughts prove to be of some help.

-- Paula Gordon (pgordon@erols.com), December 23, 1999.

For everyone's interest and information, several videos taken at the World Future Society's Conference on Y2K in December of 1998 can be seen at http://www.y2kapproaches.com/real/pgordon.htm

One of these is of a panel on embedded systems. Participants are Stuart Umpleby, Michael Harden, Mark Frautschi, and Jim Lord. I moderate the panel. The other video is of a presentation that Michael Nolan gave. Michael Nolan is the City Administrator for Norfolk, Nebraska. He took a proactive stance to Y2K early on. As a result, Norfolk has been looked to many as an outstanding example of Y2K community preparedness.

The same website includes a video of a press briefing that Ed Yourdon and I gave at George Washington University in March of 1999. The briefing focuses on what the Federal government should be doing to address Y2K.

-- Paula Gordon (pgordon@erols.com), December 23, 1999.

Thanks Paula. I can see that the preps that are being and have been taken are in line with the goals of anti-cyber-terrorism. Of course another interpretation (which came out early.. esp. by Gary North) is that CIAO, by focusing on cyberterrorism managed to deflect blame for any breakdowns onto terrorists, much as creating a Y2K Czar deflected blame from the Whitehouse. It gets all the players in place without triggering bank withdrawals and "hoarding". And of course it lets CEO's and CIO's and CFO's off the hook. Not that cyberterrorism isn't a REAL risk, but it is also a clever "transference"* of concern from Y2K (a problem that SHOULD have been solved, so lots of someones are to blame) to terrorists.

*"transference" - interesting term used in a new CNN reported Gallup poll (who pays for these polls? Rendon Group? CNN?), and referred to by reporter Harris in questioning Bill Richardson recently (search on CNN for "Richardson". This was the interview where Richardson said that there is plenty of gas/oil, no need for worry, so if you fill up your tank before rollover just get half a tank. "Transference" - interesting term, me thinks.

-- Linda (lwmb@psln.com), December 24, 1999.

snippet from the transcript:

HARRIS: You know, earlier this morning, we saw the results of a new CNN Gallup poll that showed a transference among the American public of concerns from Y2K to terrorism. Now, that -- with the headlines that we've seen of late, is that -- is there a transference of like -- like minds, if you will, happening as well in your department? Are you concerned more now about terrorism and possible acts around the globe more so than Y2K? RICHARDSON: Well, we're concerned about terrorism, too. We have a terrorism unit that is active on these issues. But we want to send the message, Leon, is that the American people should not panic on the Y2K rollover. They should stay cool, prepare as if it's going to be a winter storm, have flashlights, batteries.

This morning, I'm going to join AAA in urging motorists -- just recommending that they not fill up their gasoline tanks, leave it half full; that's sufficient. There's plenty of gasoline. So we're just sending the message to stay cool as a nation. Our systems, electricity, oil and gas, natural gas, fuel pumps -- we're going to be fine.

HARRIS: All right, Secretary Richardson. Have a happy holiday, and we hope you can stay cool -- you and all the rest of us, too.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.


What I find "interesting" about this...

First - the poll and the way it was done. Who pays for these polls anyway? And I saw the poll results announced on CNN. He used the word "transference" also. It was not a poll designed to find out "things people were worried about", but was designed to show a SHIFT or TRANSFERENCE from worries about Y2K to worries about terrorism. Sure had the feel of a marketing survey - good job Rendon Group - it worked, they bought the terrorism thingy.

Second - Harris was clearly leading Richardson to make a comment REINFORCING the Gallup poll. But Richardson didn't quite take get it and give an appropriate answer. He talked about Y2K instead. The interview ended quickly after that.

-- Linda (lwmb@psln.com), December 24, 1999.

There may be a simpler explanation why so many seem to be focusing on terrorism and shying away from Y2K, if not consciously avoiding thinking about Y2K altogether.

~ Terrorist threats can focus the mind, just as the cold war tended to focus our collective minds.

~ The unknowns associated with Y2K and embedded systems can easily overwhelm the mind and usher in uncertainties in all aspects of one's life.

~ Terrorist threats and isolated terrorist actions may, in a way, be easier psychologically for some people to deal with.

"Transference" does not strike me as being the appropriate word here. It is not as if a majority of public officials or the public had already fully confronted the mindboggling implications of the potential disruptions that could occur as a result of a convergency of Y2K and embedded systems-related problems. People who have never consciously confronted such concerns may simply find it easier to focus their attention on threats that are far more tangible and easier in a way to define; threats that both merit as well as capture their attention.

There are some terms in existential psychiatry and psychoanalysis that might be useful here. These terms, "ontological guilt" and "rigid moralism", have been defined in a book entitled "Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology" (Rollo May, et al, eds., Basic Books: New York, 1958). I don't have the book any more, but I think that Ernst Binswanger, an existential psychoanalyst, may have been the contributor to the book who offered these concepts. The concepts were introduced in a discussion of some of the possible root causes and manifestations of schizophrenia.

The behavior of a person who fails to come to terms with a sense of meaning and purpose in life can be said to be characterized by "ontological guilt". Such an individual may throw him or herself into activity (e.g, a "workacoholic" or a zealot) as a means of avoiding coming to terms with fundamental questions of meaning and purpose in life. The actions of such a person can be said to be characterized by "rigid moralism". Avoidance and denial can, of course, have a major role in such a pattern of behavior.

I have always thought it interesting that those whom I know who have tended to "get" Y2K the quickest are those who appear to have grappled with questions of meaning and purpose in life; indeed most of these individuals have confronted issues involving loss and death over the course of their lives. In other words, they have dealt with major existential issues. Those who have not addressed basic questions involving the meaning of life or their sense of purpose in life, can be thrown into an absolute tailspin when circumstances conspire to force them to face such questions.

Focusing concerns on terrorist threats, while daunting, is at least more tangible than focusing on Y2K related concerns. The options for action can be much clearer regarding terrorism.

While it is quite true that there is a chance that one's personal life will be disrupted in some way, either directly or indirectly by terrorist threats or actions; it is not typically the case that everyone perceives that their life will necessarily be affected or affected in an all encompassing way by such threats or actions.

The threats and challenges associated with Y2K and embedded systems are in important way much farther reaching than terrorist threats and actions. These farther reaching impacts can be regional, national, and global. They can include infrastructure disruptions, technological disasters, complex emergencies similar to wartime, faltering economies, civil unrest and the potential for the unravelling of the social fabric. (I discuss these in Part 1 of my White Paper at http://www.gwu.edu/~keypeople/gordon .)

With the Y2K and embedded systems crisis, there is the unsettling chance that everyone throughout the world could be affected by such impacts to a greater or lesser degree. They could be affected in ways that would be disruptive, injurious, and destructive.

This message might not seem at all appropriate for the date and season. I am sending it along in the hope that it might perhaps help people understand why so many of their loved ones, friends, and associates ~ indeed, their public officials and political leaders ~ may be having such difficulty in acknowledging the situation that we are all in.

-- Paula Gordon (pgordon@erols.com), December 25, 1999.

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