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Guns, Butter and Inner Preparedness

Mendoland is gearing up for Y2K, stockpiling rice right along with apocalyptic homilies in a sort of mounting purplish frenzy. KZYX is abuzz with end-of-the-world speculations and even the normally well-grounded Ukiah Chamber of Commerce sponsored a day-long seminar chock full of advice for the Big Day. We, meaning the secure middleclass, need not be discombobulated by the ultimate computer glitch if we stockpile a little food and get our Oms, as in group Oms, synchronized.

The first day of the millennium, unfortunately, is a Saturday. For the world to end with catastrophes commensurate with the event, commute hours on work days are of course best, but even so the Utne Reader, KZYX, Mendocino County’s purple brigades, and the Idaho militias all seem to expect that life as we know it will go bye-bye less than a year from now. Implicit in all the wild talk is the loss of a large majority of the American population — the people who barely get from pay check to pay check in the present chaos and who do not have the resources to stockpile a case of beer let alone a year’s supply of rice and beans.

But for those of us with the means to prepare for the end of the world, not only should we have up to a year’s worth of food on hand, but the bargain rate mystics among us suggest that we also develop “Inner Preparedness” along with laying up hens and shotguns.

In the 1970s mental preparedness, Nice People Division, was called Inner Peace, then in the 80s it was updated to “nurturing your inner child.” For the turbulent 90s the psychic peddlers have updated their loss cliches and applied them to Y2K: First, they say, most of us will react to Y2K via denial (Bill Gates will fix it; it won’t affect me.); then anger (blaming corporations and government for letting it get this bad); followed by fear: (of running out for supplies); depression & panic (supplies alone won’t be enough, what will we do?); and finally the ultimate state of acceptance & cooperation (it’s inevitable, be realistic, be prepared, realize you’re probably not being told everything because they never tell us everything, do they?) At the point of acceptance — when you’ve reconciled yourself to housing and feeding every unprepared ignoramus and deadbeat in your neighborhood — you’ve achieved Inner Preparedness.

But what about the state of Who Cares? If Y2K is as serious as some people say it is, will a few buckets of rice and several crates of oat bran energy loafs be enough to weather life off the grid? Heck, couldn’t KZYX listeners and Utne readers save themselves a lot of inner preparedness prep time by simply getting to know their neighborhood farm worker and his family? The entire Third World after all lives off the grid but its residents have got their coping mechanisms — including inner preparedness — up and functioning all the time. Really, who do you want with you when Safeway closes, Dr. Gary Null or the guy who’s made his way on foot all the way from Guatemala to the vineyards of Anderson Valley?

According to the Utne Reader, the Reader’s Digest of the New Age, Y2K has “transformational potential.” In other words, the collapse of Western Civ can be an opportunity for personal growth. Utne’s website advocates “dialoging and visioning processes” where people can “mobilize their personal resources” and “feel more confident and empowered” to survive Y2K.

“Over 100 community preparedness groups” have formed, according to the website set up by Utne. And sure enough, Mendocino is massing behind Eric Utne, who seems to have made a pretty penny already marketing a warm fuzzy survival guide to the more credulous warm fuzzies.

One Y2K booklet you can get by mail-order, “You and the Year 2000” suggests that you not only stockpile months worth of food, but that you practice eating only out of your stockpile for a week as a test. “Did you forget the spices?” You could settle the pivotal condiments question by testing your stockpile.

Utne’s booklet gives this advice if your heat is cut off: “If you have children, have them sleep together, between you and your spouse, and/or with the family pet. Dogs, in particular, are great sources of heat.”

(We wondered when dogs would be brought into the Great Crash equation, but how about some dog meat recipes just in case this thing outlasts your supplies of lentils and inner preparedness?)

The Red Cross’s booklet emphasizes making sure your smoke alarms work, and being ready to move to a shelter when the power goes out. The idea of moving into a shelter is horror beyond horror for the typical Utne person.

An even nuttier book, “What Will Become of Us? Counting Down to Y2K” edited by Julian Gregori goes even further, advocating the purchase of gold coins: “People who have enough spendable gold should be able to survive Y2K and maintain their financial dignity.”

The government has set up a toll-free “consumer hotline” to “deal with worries about the millennium bug ranging from financial record snafus to VCR timers run amuck” (probably the real gamut of likely problems — what if Debbie Does Dallas pops up on screen when you’ve promised the kids Little Mermaid?): 1-888-USA-4-Y2K.

A recent Time magazine article describes the Y2K phenomenon as “the prospect of apocalypse now also offers the promise of escape to millions of people alienated from a civilization of intimidating global corporations, boundless personal gratification and unnerving manipulations of nature, like cloning.”

Professional Alarmist Gary North (who’s early paranoia appeared in the AVA a few months back) offers his newsletter for $225 a year, which includes North’s “report on 15 stocks which stand to benefit from this crisis.”

Helen Caldicott is a perennial hysteric on a range of issues who herself lives in palatial, self-sufficient splendor in New Zealand’s outback, emerging just often enough to market the apocalypse to NPR listeners. Ms. Caldicott has fueled the Y2K willy nillys with a recent prediction of a likely reactor meltdown in France, apparently because (she says) the French are not taking the problem seriously.

The wildly worst-case scenarios play into the fears of already alienated people: The Domino theory has been reborn into dire warnings of mass power blackouts, hospital equipment failures, factory breakdowns, fire equipment malfunctions, banking system collapses, food shortages, riots. KZYXers and hard-core Christians have been speculating on martial law and totalitarian measures being imposed. (Although it’s hard to tell if they’re for or against. Frankly, we wouldn’t mind Deputy Squires being placed in temporary charge of Anderson Valley provided he didn’t have power of summary execution.)

Many Mendo liberals seem to be all too willing to drop their other major concerns and replace them with Y2K, which doesn’t say much for them or their vaunted commitments to social harmony and environmental sanity.

According to a recent Time/CNN poll 59% of Americans are somewhat or very concerned about Y2K and most of them say they are doing things like (in descending order): carrying extra cash, stockpiling food and water, avoiding airplanes, staying home, stockpiling fuel, buying guns and moving to rural areas. A majority of Americans believe some computers will fail and banking will be disrupted. 38% expect riots and social unrest. And 9% (representing maybe 15-20 million adults?) answered yes to the proposition: “The world as we know it will end.” This is becoming a serious market for the Y2K peddlers although Hale Bopp isn’t due back in time for efficient mass exit of this particular solar system.

The difference between Y2K and the other popular doomsday scenarios (The Big Earthquake, The Ozone Hole, Ecosystem Collapse, Meteors, Aliens, Terri Gross, etc.) is that we know exactly when when it will occur.

What will the alarmists say if they turn out to have been badly wrong? Nothing. Their credibility will have been ruined, of course, but most of them didn’t have much going in.

The County’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Rick Page, presumably not much of an Utne type, held a Y2K Awareness Meeting at Ukiah Civic Center last week brought to us courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce and Mesa. There were presentations on “the implications of Y2K and how it will affect everybody even if you don’t own a computer.” Pacific Bell, PG&E, and small businesses were among the “presenters.” “They will explain what they are doing and what you should do to prepare, and answer any questions that might come up,” says Page. Page, who is normally a level-headed if rule-bound, bureaucrat, is probably thinking that a few Y2K Awareness meetings may be all Mendo needs to prevent what might otherwise be a widespread panic, which would make his job harder because he can only hold so many nervous hands at once.

Page explains that “Grocery stores don’t warehouse anymore; they order on demand. If their computers go down, they can’t maintain inventory. Or the transportation system itself: it relies heavily on computers for scheduling and routing trucks. That may slow things down for a while.” Mendolanders dependent on Cheetos and other bottled, boxed, cellophaned, and tinned negative food value items might be reduced to dipping carrots in great vats of bubbling lard brought to a boil over wood fires out in the front yard. There’s no reason why affinity groups of the sugar- and grease-addicted can’t be formed in every community of the county to swap recipes and help each other devise homegrown alternatives to potato chips.

The County has already looked at its computers and declared itself “Y2K compliant.” But according to Page, “We’re still looking into a few embedded microchips. Hopefully we’ll be as ready as we can be. But there are no guarantees. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Apart from law enforcement and road maintenance, if county government disappeared altogether it might be years before the average oblivious resident of Mendocino County knew a whole level of government was no longer with us.

Y2K provides some nice job security for a guy in Page’s position: “I can’t fix the computer problem, but I can keep everyone informed so we can minimize any impact it may have on us and monitor what’s going on. If special support is necessary we can bring it to bear.”

If Page is, like, a little too straight for you, there’s Mendocino Village resident Minucha Colburn who held a meeting last week at the Mendocino Art Center. “A friend has found a lot stuff on the Internet,” Ms. Colburn says, “a lot of truth. We have not been given the truth about this. So we have all this information to share with the community so they can make the best choices possible.” Ms. Colburn, clearly a person who knows a lot of truth when she sees it on the internet, the motherlode of misinformation, anticipates a nuclear disaster. “We foresee some problems with the beginning of the meltdown in 1999,” she says before switching abruptly from nuclear holocaust to the family check book. “As people prepare their finances for next year, some who are starting their fiscal year 2000 in June or October — we expect they will be experiencing some problems. It is incumbent on us to share this. Some are not concerned. Some are interested. We want to see if there’s enough interest, and find a way to help ourselves and each other.”

Colburn cites Medford, Oregon as an example of preparedness, the first time that sprawling bastion of reaction astride I-5 has ever been singled out for anything beyond its well-known bigotry. “The entire town has its own plan if there’s a problem. Other places have come together, and since we’re so small, we should too,” Ms. Colburn suggests.

A Y2K meeting is scheduled in Laytonville with former Supervisor Cowboy John Pinches as the featured speaker. Pinches is not known for his cyber-savvy — he’s the one Supervisor who declined the free computers the County was handing out to Supervisors a couple of years ago. However, Pinches may be a pretty good authority on rural preparedness since he could hold out indefinitely on his well-stocked ranch deep in the Spy Rock outback.

More meetings are planned in Mendocino County (meetings are what Mendoland does best), but if the meager turnout at the Mendocino Art Center is any indication, the Y2Kists aren’t likely to be satisfied with Mendo’s preparedness levels.

But discouraging turnouts and all, you must be feeling slightly more empowered, and perhaps even relieved that more meetings are scheduled. Mendocino County’s Inner Preparedness Community is on the case!

Eric Utne goes beyond the “meltdown” metaphor, calling the Y2K bug “the equivalent of a worldwide earthquake” with the extra added “benefit” that the exact date and time of the global last day is known. Utne insists he’s not just another survivalist and acknowledges that the whole thing may fizzle and we not only may not achieve Inner Preparedness, we may not even achieve Togetherness. “We hope the experts are wrong and that we look foolish when Y2K passes,” sighs Utne as he promotes his Y2K preparedness booklets by the bucketful.

What about how foolish the experts look now?

No less an authority than the New York Times reports that 10% of the nation’s top execs have gotten the Y2K bug (pardon the pun) and are stockpiling canned goods, buying generators and handguns. “As we prepare for Y2K, something surprising and unexpected and quite wonderful is going to happen,” says Utne’s website. “We're going to get to know our neighbors.” Depends on the neighbors, I’d say, which may account for the rush on hand guns in case the Y2K welcome wagon doesn’t pan out.

Utne, speaking for the leisure class most of his readers represent, looks forward to rubbing elbows with regular working people who have little time for Y2K concerns. Normally, “we pay trained service personnel to handle things for us,” Utne says, “so we can get on with our careers and our personal growth.” But now, thanks to Y2K, Yups will be forced get to know the help to survive.

“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” adds Utne, as he and his staff unfurl the lengthy list of supplies you’ll need to stock up on. It’s sort of a FEMA meets KZYX meets Hale-Bopp meets Neiman-Marcus.

To put together their recommended Y2K shopping list, Utne commissioned Paloma O’Riley of the Cassandra Project in Louisville, Colorado to jot down some preparedness guidelines. Her qualifications? “O'Riley spent part of her life homesteading in the Alaskan bush; has been head of computing security for Boeing's human resources division in Seattle, Wa.; served as a Division of Emergency Management volunteer. Most recently she was a year 2000 project manager for Rover Group, Ltd., in England.”

O’Riley begins by referring to the FEMA list of non-perishable emergency foods (canned and dried, in bulk, stored in metal containers). You’ll need at least a two-week to one month supply, according to Utne. Why you only need 2-4 week’s worth isn’t specified.

But then Paloma gets completely carried away.

“Don’t forget the comfort/stress foods: cookies, hard candy, sweetened cereals, lollipops, instant coffee, tea bags, cocoa, chocolate bars, canned nuts.” Also consider C-rations from military surplus stores.

Among the other items you’ll need to supplement the survival basics, the representative Utne reader will want to spend a good chunk of discretionary income on deodorant, a kerosene/propane campstove, or maybe a fondue pot if you prefer. Don’t forget chew toys for your dog and non-prescription drugs, including antidiarrheals and laxatives.

Then there are the miscellaneous non-food tips that only a former Boeing computer security consultant would think of. Here’s a sampling::

Consider using your old water bed for (non-potable) water storage. Buy stuff by the case-lot. Take first-aid and CPR classes. Get hard copies of your medical records. Have plenty of toys and games available for the kids heretofore raised by television sets. Install residential steel doors with deadbolts. Get one or two month’s supply of cash out of the bank. If you buy guns, make sure you know how to handle them. If your car won’t run due to a software glitch: walk. Or if you’re in a rural area, get a horse…

Walk? This is gonna get rough.

Let’s get serious here. All of this nonsense has been a major boon for local bulk food stores and other doomsday businesses but nothing as exciting (and as desirable) as the end of industrial civilization is going to happen. The machine will grind on, thousands of sillies will go on buying the Utne Reader, the Mendocino Art Center will continue to produce moving renditions of chipmunk lives, KZYX will drone unintelligibly on, and Mendocino County’s weekly consignments of potato chips will arrive on schedule.

Ross Murray offered the first sensible Y2K advice heard on KZYX. When a woman called in to his monthly afternoon talk show last week worried about Y2K Social Security and Medicare problems, Ross advised her, “Social Security is OK… Don’t let ’em scare ya, hon.”

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