Dear friends

  • READY FOR Y2K: Ron Rowell

    Cindy Wehling photo


Congratulations to Ed and Martha Quillen, who will mark the fifth anniversary of their monthly magazine, Colorado Central, on Feb. 13, at Daylight Donuts, at Third and F in downtown Salida. Everyone who has written for the magazine in the last year or so, the Quillens say, is invited. They also say that less than half the magazines started in the U.S. last even two years, so they, and the readers and writers, have something to celebrate.

Denzel Ferguson

We were sorry to hear of the death of Denzel Ferguson on Dec. 13. He was the author, with Nancy Ferguson, of Sacred Cows at the Public Trough, a lively book that took on the West's cattle culture. The 1983 book was based on their experience managing a field station in southeastern Oregon near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Y2K, oh, my

America will come through Dec. 31, 1999, without a scratch. We will go into the year 2000 with our cities, airlines, utilities and households in the shippest shape ever. When hurricanes hit, when rivers overflow, when the inevitable power failures occur, emergency responses will be fast and effective.

Evidence of this was on display at a town meeting here in Paonia, Colo., organized by resident Joy MacNulty. The centerpiece of the meeting, which attracted over 100 people out of a town of 1,700, was a video, titled The Millennium Bug's Deadliest Secret, that told the audience everything that could happen: your car will stop dead at midnight because of an embedded chip; a moment later a plane will plummet out of the sky and strike it; no one will come to help because all power and communications will be out; the banking system will already have succumbed as panicked citizens around the nation take their money out of the banks; and so on.

That's an exaggeration - the video protected itself with numerous "could happen" phrases and some of its examples of possible mishaps were conceivable. But its unrelenting theme was that we had already been done in by the impossibility of correcting billions of lines of computer codes just waiting to crash the big computers, and tens of millions of tiny chips embedded in everything from our VCRs to our power plants just waiting to go berserk at the turn of the millennium. These bugs are going to turn us all into Cinderellas at midnight, bereft of everything from our pacemakers to our coffeemakers.

The theme was echoed after the video by a few in the audience. "Clinton says the Social Security system is sound. We know what his word is worth." "I wish they'd tell us the truth, but they won't." "It's an excuse to declare martial law." "Maybe we shouldn't plow the pass so that the people fleeing Denver won't be able to get here."

Paonia should be fertile ground for such fears. Small Western towns are filled with people who don't trust bigness and complexity, and we like to think that we're insulated from what looks like the fragility of metropolitan areas.

Nevertheless, the audience, which arrived with concerns, left believing the nation would endure. Pleas for trust and cooperation and resistance to panic welled up out of the audience, but they were most strongly voiced by two of the speakers: Paonia town councilman Ron Rowell, who owns a dry-cleaning store and laundry with his wife, Deb, and by Ken Mitchell, the president of one of the town's two banks.

Ron led off, marching the audience verbally through Paonia's water system (gravity fed), its sewage system, the backup power plans for the police department, the fire department, and the rest. The biggest concern, he said, lay with sewage. The present emergency generator can handle the sewage pond aerator, or it can handle the pumps that lift the sewage into the aeration pond. But it can't do both. So the town might have to buy an additional generator. Otherwise, Paonia was ready. And if it wasn't totally ready today, it would be totally ready in 11 months.

Then came Ken Mitchell of First National Bank. "I couldn't face you if I didn't take care of your money. We've been working on this since 1997. We made our first report (on readiness) in July 1997. On Feb. 8, we'll have our sixth examination."

What did the examiners look at? The new computers and software the bank had bought to escape any possible bugs, evidence that the employees had searched for embedded chips that are date sensitive, the bank's backup power supply, and its plan to print out all records in late December just in case something happens at the turn of the year.

The examiners also checked First National's contingency plans, such as its ability to manually process checks in case the sorting computers go down and its readiness to fly those checks to Denver in a bank director's small plane (no chips here).

As for Social Security checks, which many in Paonia live on, Ken said the Social Security Administration has been working on Y2K for 15 years, and it's ready. "Do you believe them?" someone asked from the crowd. "Why shouldn't I?" he asked. "They've never lied to me before."

What came over was the opposite of the bungling, corrupt government and business establishment that the video and some audience members tried to establish. The picture that emerged was of everyone from small-town government to the federal regulators of the financial system to the local power supplier doing everything possible to prepare for almost any conceivable eventuality. It almost looked like overkill.

People didn't leave unconcerned. But the general mood was of cooperation and trust. The most sustained applause went to a man from Lubbock, Texas, with an accent to prove his provenance, who recalled the nuclear war panics of the 1950s, and the money citizens spent building bomb shelters and stocking them with food that was eventually to rot.

People filed into Paonia town hall wondering about their society, and the technological systems it depends on. Some in the meeting room told them that the system was rotten, not just technologically, but also politically and socially. The audience was urged by a few speakers to distrust the system and the people who run it.

Those arguments were listened to, weighed and rejected. Many problems afflict the nation, but if Paonia is an example, we are safe from Y2K disasters, whether they are visited on us by computers or by panic and distrust.

Say no, no, no ...

In the last Dear Friends, we treated the suggestions for thwarting direct mailers somewhat lightly - too lightly, according to Al and Betty Schneider ([email protected]), who sent the ideas to us. We were light in part because we are major offenders: We will send over 350,000 pieces of junk mail in 1999 and for us to vilify direct mail is hypocritical.

Nevertheless, we apologize if the tone was mocking rather than light; here are the Schneiders' suggestions:

"The basic idea is to put a note in bill payments, organization renewals, credit card payments, etc., about once a year and certainly when you first join an organization or purchase from a company. Indicate:

* Do not sell or give our names and address to anyone; do not solicit us by mail, phone, or e-mail for anything else from your company.

* Do not send us catalogs or any form of advertisements; and, our correct name and address is. Further steps:

* If you fill out a post office change of address form when you move, check the "temporary" box and indicate that the move is for 364 days, not 365. Your name then will not go into the National Change of Address System, which is made available to mass marketers.

* Call 1-888/567-8688 and request credit bureaus to stop giving out your name to mass marketers. This will stop solicitations for new credit cards.

* Write the Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008 to have your name removed from mass market mailers' lists.

* Write the Telephone Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014 and request that your name be removed from all telephone lists.

* Do not fill out warranty cards. If you do, put down the minimum amount of information.

* Do not register on line with your name, address, e-mail address.

* Tell telephone solicitors to remove your name from all of their lists. They must. It's a law. When you receive junk mail, send it back in the postage paid envelope.

* Write your state and federal representatives urging legislation to curb junk mail and telephone solicitations."

* Ed Marston for the staff

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