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Swatting the Millennium Bug

By Walter Lindsay
February 01, 1998

Editor's Introduction: Below is a sane, responsible, balanced treatment of the so-called Year-2000 computer bug problem.

Abstract
The so-called "year-2000" software bugs provide an extraordinary opportunity for Christian Reconstruction. Few problems are both clearly visible ahead of time and inexorably threaten the lifestyles of a billion people. Obedience to Biblical law and a healthy dose of postmillennialism equip Christian Reconstructionists to add sanity before the crisis. The fullness of the Faith will allow Christian Reconstructionists to survive and minister through the consequences. God has given us the Spirit and the tools of godly life and thought. Year-2000 software problems will create opportunities for us to use them. The upcoming crisis will reveal many heroes of the Faith, and this author's prayer is that those who have been given much will shine brightly.

The Fear
Many computer programs and pieces of electronic equipment around the globe have problems handling dates after December 31, 1999. It is as if they assume that every year begins with "19" so that they treat January 1, 2000 as if it were January 1, 1900. Let it suffice to say that bizarre behaviors can result and that rooting out these problems can be exceedingly difficult. The year-2000 software and hardware bugs do have the potential to bring the modern world around you to its knees for hours to years. What would happen if your city's telephones failed for a month? What if your city's power supply failed for January and February 2000? These are just some of the complications the year-2000 bugs might create.

This author has observed several responses to these frightening possibilities. First is disbelief. And yet, these are possible and realistic outcomes—if the underlying problems are not addressed. Second, many hearers feel they can't do anything about the problem, so thinking about other things for now is a more profitable use of time. Third, some decide that moving to the country and preparing to grow one's own food is best. But a fourth response, and one highly consistent with the spirit of reconstructing society in the name of Christ, is almost universally missing: What can our families, churches and businesses do to reduce the year-2000 problems in our communities? If the consequences are harsh, how can we prepare to minister in the name of Christ? What are the works of practical Christian Reconstruction we can perform?

The issue has become for some a great sucking sound, a drain and a mental black hole. Fear, uncertainty and doubt pervade the topic and destroy clear thought. In the computer industry, the general term for this is "FUD"—fear, uncertainty and doubt. IBM a decade or two ago was accused of sowing FUD in customers against competitors (why buy that other little company's product when you could get the reliability of IBM products, services and business might?). Some today accuse Microsoft of announcing planned products early in order to create an almost magnetic force causing business to swerve aside from competitors and wait in limbo for Microsoft to (eventually) release its product. FUD is highly effective. It delays action. It creates a "wait and see" attitude. Unfortunately, on the year-2000 issue, the clock is ticking. Waiting and seeing for too long kills the effectiveness of any response.

We can assume that the unregenerate will respond inappropriately to the year-2000 issues. Some ignore the issue. Some will seek only personal profit. Many will clamor for relief from their problems. Others will address those problems with the power of the state. God will prepare his covenant people to provide viable answers. Part of our preparation now is to learn about our options. Another part is to recognize that FUD tends to draw our attention to one issue and make us ignore everything else. One thing we cannot ignore is obedience to what we are already called to do. Another is looking at the world and movements around us in the clear light of Scripture. This author cannot tell you what the consequences of the year-2000 problems will be (nor can anybody else). I also cannot tell you what your response must be. All I can do is suggest ways to think about the issue, prevent problems, and reduce the consequences.

A Taxonomy of Problems
Edward and Jennifer Yourdon's new book Time Bomb 2000: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You! provides a taxonomy for thinking about the personal consequences of year-2000 software problems. From the Preface: "We personally believe that a majority of the Y2000 problems will be of the minor variety, though there could well be some 'minor' problems that render such critical systems as banking, telecommunications, and utilities inoperable for a few days.

"We also believe that a significant minority of the Y2000 problems—perhaps as great as 25-35%—will be of the 'moderate' variety, causing failures that take a month to solve; invoicing and billing systems within business organizations are a prime example of this category.

"Unfortunately, we also think a small percentage—perhaps in the range of 5-10%—of the Y2000 problems could be of the 'serious' variety, i.e., requiring a year to repair. . . . A hurricane usually lasts for only a day, but the hurricane recovery can easily take a year if the damage is extensive. . . .

"Finally, we think that a very small percentage of Y2000 problems could be sufficiently devastating that it could take a decade to recover. . . . Our primary concern in this area, by the way, is the massive government agencies and systems that are in shaky condition already. The two that come to mind are the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Agency (SSA). . . . [W]e think it's possible the political fallout of the Y2000 problem could lead to both the IRS and SSA being abolished in their present form, and being replaced by something fundamentally different."]

Preparing for Disruption
Your preparation for the year-2000 problems depends on the level of disruption you expect in your occupation and area. For example, in a particular town, some families may experience the consequences of many minor and some moderate problems, but the breadwinner of one of the families may be out of work due to a severe year-2000 problem. That one family would experience a severe disruption.

Preparing for minor year-2000 disruptions, those lasting up to two or three days, is relatively straightforward. For example, you might have non-perishable food, water, and blankets handy, as if a severe winter storm were coming. For those of us living in California, this is similar to basic earthquake preparedness. In addition, avoid such things as scheduling major surgery around January 1, 2000 in case a hospital instrument has a year-2000 malfunction or the power fails, and avoid driving during the hours when the clocks roll over in case a computer in a car in front of you fails. And for those living in urban areas where power outages might lead to riots, consider scheduling a vacation with out of town relatives or friends.

Preparing for moderate disruptions, those lasting up to a month, is more difficult. If a critical service, such as the telephone system, fails for a month, the consequences may be long-lasting. Businesses without cash reserves may fail. Workplaces may temporarily shut down and people may need to access their savings. Diabetics may run short of insulin. Food may be temporarily unavailable. Church communities may have to help each other when serious problems affect some individuals and areas and not others. In short, "Godliness is great gain." Saving instead of incurring debt, tithing so that the church can help those in need, building up a local community of the Faith that ministers to its members and those around them, and high levels of self-discipline and personal conduct so that families can live in close quarters all help in times like these. "As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation" (Pr. 10:25).

Anyone expecting severe disruptions, those lasting up to a year, should take strong action. If your employer or occupation will likely have severe problems, you may want to find a new line of work. If major employers in your area depend on critical suppliers that will have severe year-2000 problems, your area may suffer severe consequences. You might choose to relocate your family. If you rely on social security income, you may experience severe disruption. Families and churches should prepare to care for their own.

Those who can explain why their lives will be crippled by devastating year-2000 disruptions, which might last a decade, may consider moving to a farm in a Third World country. No one has yet suggested that year-2000 glitches will disrupt the weather.

A Biblical Mindset
Scripture contains many general statements about the righteous overcoming problems. For example:

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion (Pr. 28:1).

And running from problems can be slothful:

The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets (Pr. 22:13). The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets (Pr. 26:13).

Scripture contains a general bias that Christian Reconstructionists self-consciously adopt: The righteous will overcome problems. In general, fleeing is a sign of God's judgment (e.g., Dt. 28:25). At the same time, Scripture indicates that God does bring times of destructive judgment when he expects the righteous to flee (e.g., Gen. 19:15; 2 Sam. 15:14; Jer. 6:1; Mt. 24:15, 16). Some situations such as famine caused Israelites to justifiably move temporarily (Ruth 1:1; 2 Kings 8:1, 2; Mt. 2:13, 14; 10:23). But the general tenor in Scripture is more like Jeremiah's instruction to Israelites in Babylon:

Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (Jer. 29:5-7)

Assuming that year-2000 software problems require a defensive move to the country is contrary to the spirit of Christian Reconstruction. Relocating has serious downsides. Families must disrupt established relationships. They must incur considerable expense. Fathers with less marketable skills may have lower incomes, reducing church tithe income and increasing the strain on large families. Christian groups that flee because of potential year-2000 problems might find themselves targets of persecution. And in all cases, moving removes Christian witness. If all Christian Reconstructionists leave cities, important Christian witness in major centers of power has been removed. While God will almost certainly call a few Christian Reconstructionists to relocate because of year-2000 issues, advocating a Christian Reconstructionist migration requires a high burden of proof.

Working to reduce or eliminate local year-2000 problems is more consistent with the spirit of Christian Reconstruction. Perhaps your church can distribute copies of the Yourdons' book to local newspapers, civil magistrates, and critical local businesses. Perhaps churches will train home schoolers who have technical aptitude in order to start a ministry solving PC year-2000 problems. Several families could band together to market year-2000 services to local businesses. The service might include identifying a local business's vulnerability by contacting its suppliers, vehicle manufacturers, cellular phone suppliers, bank, etc. for year-2000 compliance. It might also include using test tools and test systems to verify the business's software.2 Year-2000 compliance is likely to become a major competitive advantage as Dec. 31, 1999 approaches, and compliant businesses will avoid devastating lawsuits. Moving forward boldly in the name of Christ to eliminate problems in your local area is a valid and powerful Reformed witness. There is a lion in the street.

Perhaps you can tame it.

Some Things to Watch
At the time of writing, the Yourdons' book Time Bomb 2000: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You! is being printed and only the manuscript Preface is available. By all indications, however, it is excellent and FUD-less, and will earn the authors enough money to purchase their own small country should they need to relocate and ride out year-2000 woes. If you decide to read a book to learn how year-2000 issues will affect you, it is probably an excellent choice.

Governments and corporations will spend an estimated $300 to $600 billion to address year-2000 software bugs.3 Problems in electronic chips, such as in cellular phones, railroad control systems and water supply flow meters might cause great additional cost and create the same sorts of disruptions as their software cousins. Since year-2000 problems can affect most parts of life, identify the services critical to you. Do not settle for general statements that a critical service will not have problems, since programmers are notoriously incapable of delivering working systems on time. Ask for evidence such as a report that your phone company ran large-scale tests on systems with clocks set to dates in 2000 changes.

In 1999 twenty-five European countries will begin uniting their currencies. European monetary union (EMU) will affect 370 million people in an area with a gross national product ten percent higher than the U. S. This requires that banks, employers, and other organizations modify software similar to the year-2000 changes. This increases competition for many of the same people needed to solve the year-2000 software bugs. In one sense, it provides a "dry run." If EMU creates many serious or disastrous consequences, take note.

The "big bang" of Japanese banking deregulation in 2001 creates even more demand for programmers. Recent currency bailouts in Asia are creating international pressure for national governments to give up some power while at the same time those governments are buying arms because they fear the U. S. will not protect them from China. North Korea is desperate with famine and recent reports suggest it may invade South Korea this winter. China has devastated its land with industrial pollution, its people and government crave profit, and its civil government shows little respect for law or human life. Japanese and other Asian bad debt may cause major bank failures in the near future. Local strongmen may become desperate when they realize their country and military are not year-2000 compliant. Any war or major economic disturbance may make the world less capable of preparing for year-2000 problems.

Possible Iraqi biological weapons are news at the time of writing. Influenza experts anticipate that another pandemic will strike soon (the 1918 pandemic killed tens of millions of people, but the '57 and '68 pandemics were less severe).4 Ebola Reston spreads by aerosol—a sick monkey's exhalation can infect a healthy monkey.5 Antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis is on the rise: "In the early nineteenth century tuberculosis was probably the biggest single killer. . . . In the United States, up to the Civil War, it was the commonest cause of death, especially among young people and the middle-aged."6 While a serious pandemic might overshadow the year-2000 issues, any pandemic will probably detract from year-2000 preparedness.

A nuclear detonation in the upper atmosphere creates a ferocious electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that can produce electric arcs of thousands of volts inside "nearby" computers and electronic equipment. A single detonation 300 miles above Kansas would permanently destroy almost every computer and electronic circuit in the continental United States. China supposedly has nuclear capability and missiles that can reach the West Coast of the U. S. Large-scale information warfare would make the year-2000 issues academic, but more realistically, EMP and other weapons exist that would let terrorists, for example, hurt the computers around Wall Street.7 Any information warfare would hurt the ability of organizations to prepare for the year-2000, especially an attack in late 1999.

Conclusion
We know that year-2000 software and hardware glitches will cripple our technological base unless we address the problem beforehand. We are not the first people to face this challenge. Long ago, the ruler of a sensuous and decadent world power with a state-controlled economy realized that his nation's technology base would dry up in a few years. It had taken a while for the ruler to locate a man able to identify the upcoming catastrophe. The ruler created a prime ministerial role for the man, and titled him, "Man of food during famine." You know the story. The man's name was Joseph (Gen. 41). A large region of the earth faced drought, and this drought crippled Egyptian irrigation and farming technology.

Christian Reconstruction is as much a way of life as it is a theological position. Repent of any fear, uncertainty and doubt about the year-2000 bugs you have indulged or spread and recognize that in the challenges are God-given opportunities. Living a godly life is the first step towards preparing for year-2000 issues. Educate yourself on the consequences of year-2000 and other issues in the world around you. Look for the opportunities God places within your reach for evangelism and practical reconstruction. You may be required to move your family. But whether or not you move, seek out opportunities to minister.

This author cannot tell you what the year-2000 bug consequences will be—and no one can predict that. He can only provide ways to think and learn more. What you do is up to you. Therein lies the great burden of the Faith, and the great strength that flows from a self-motivated people eagerly serving the King they love.

Notes

1. Edward Yourdon and Jennifer Yourdon, Time Bomb 2000: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You!, estimated to be published January 1, 1998. This quote is from the preface as available under http://www.yourdon.com/index.htm as of 26 Nov. 1997. Jennifer is Edward's daughter. Note that each level is an increase of an order of magnitude.

2. Alternatively, replacing the software may be easier. This may explain the current great demand for applications from SAP, Oracle and other vendors that, incidentally, sell year-2000 compliant software that can replace "legacy" systems that are difficult to make compliant.

3. Christopher Simon, "Lawyers See Dollars in Computer 2000 Ills," Wall Street Journal (Nov. 6, 1997), B6, quoting the Gartner Group, a highly respected information technology consulting group. Also note that software tools that help automate the conversion process are becoming more powerful and may alter the costs of conversion.

4. Frank Ryan, Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues—Out of the Present And into the Future (New York, 1997), 379, 381.

5. Ibid., 373.

6. Paul Johnson, The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830 (New York, 1991), 741.

7. Winn Schwartau, Information Warfare: Cyberterrorism: Protecting Your Personal Security in the Electronic Age (New York, 1996, 2nd ed.), 292.


Topics: Business, Culture

Walter Lindsay

In addition to Walter's software engineering career and Megan's housewifing career, the Lindsays are assistant editors for the Chalcedon Report. They recently moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and are members of Emmanuel Covenant Church. They so far have been blessed with one daughter, Maggie, and another due to come in May.

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