Sunday, November 19, 2006

9-11 and a parable of Y2K.

Entry for September 11, 2006


Five years ago today, I slept late. The phone rang. A friend of mine told me turn on the TV. There, on the screen, was the world trade center. One of the towers was burning. My friend was telling me what had happened so far. I was in the front room - the room which would later be our bedroom after our foster son moved in, but at that time it was being used as a TV room. I was standing in the middle of the floor, talking on the phone and halfway listening to the TV, my eyes fixed on the burning figure of the first tower.

And then, there was a plane on the screen.

And my mind went in two different directions at that point. One part said, "Oh, this must be an instant replay." The other said, "Wait a minute, the first tower is still burning."

It seemed like an eternity before my brain could process this information. I could no longer hear what they were saying on the TV, because my mind was furiously trying to make 2 and 2 not equal four. But no, I had just personally witnessed a second tragedy. Another plane. Another burning tower. Now there were two.

I think I said, "Oh, my God." I can't remember what my friend said. Now I began trying to hear what they were saying on the TV. They were, of course, realizing what I was realizing. No accident. No possible accident. On purpose. Terrorism.

I probably mentally arrived at this conclusion before they did, because I follow the news from Israel. Buses and cafes full of kids and old ladies were blowing up on a regular basis there, and always that wonder in the back of your mind: when will terror come to these shores? It's only a matter of time, we always said.

That time was here.

The rest of the day, and for the next several days, I was glued to the television - as were millions of other people. And in the next weeks and months, I waiting to hear what target was hit next - the Sears tower? The Golden Gate Bridge? The Arch of St. Louis? The Space Needle of Seattle? The Statue of Liberty? The Washington Monument? Much of the nation waited with me.

And were were shown pictures on tv, also, of entire Kurdish villages in Iraq where Saddam had lobbed his missiles, test firing them onto his long time ethnic enemies. There were bloated dead bodies of women, children, the elderly, even cattle. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, obviously, and was trying to develop a missile that would fire all the way to Israel, and to Europe, and even farther. Maybe even to our shores, he hoped. And, he was hosting terrorist training camps on his land, and giving money to terrorist groups - when he wasn't busy slaughtering his own political enemies and firing more deadly chemical and biological weapons at the Kurds. A nasty guy. We should get rid of him.

So we did.

And then things went back to normal.

Now, let me tell you a parable of Y2K. Remember Y2K? A few years before the turn of the century, unix and dos programmers noticed that there was no way to enter the year 2000 into programs that had only a two digit way of calculating the year. When you put in zero-zero for the year, and tried to do basic calculations such as "how much interest has your account earned since last month," and "what amount of electricity needs to be generated today based on the average use for last month," and so on and so on, that the computers malfunctioned. After all, you can't take away 99 from 00. That's an illegal mathematical operation. The programmers were concerned. Just how many banks, utilities, stock brokerages, communications, and business computers out there only used two digits in their year calculations?

Well, class, the answer was, almost all of them.

Oops. So the programmers worked furiously for almost four years to update, rewrite, recompile, and re-test nearly every computer program running every major computer in the entire United States. The deadline was looming. But guess what?

They did it! Every major system was updated on time. And as a result, there was no major malfunctions in the computer backbone of our country's life. And you know what happened then?

People said there was never a problem in the first place. It was just hype.

"WHAT?" The programmers said. "We worked our butts off for years to make sure the problem was fixed and no major disruptions occurred - how can you say the problem never existed?"

For the record, there was one program of mine that I didn't replace. It was my favorite fax-modem program. In it was saved all my important faxes. And sure enough, when I tried to use it after January 1st, 2000, it kept saying I was sending a fax from the year 1739. Why that year, I'll never know. But since faxes need an accurate date/time stamp, I had to reluctantly part with my favorite program. That was my experience with Y2K, because hundreds of programmers had worked themselves countless hours to make sure nothing worse than that happened.

Fast forward to 2006. Now, we have people saying that Saddam was never a problem, terrorism isn't really a threat to us, and this whole thing is a lot of hype. They want to stop all of the hundreds and thousands of people from doing their jobs who are working their butts off to make sure the problem is fixed and no major disruptions occur.

And of course, the people who are doing this job are saying, "WHAT?"

Have we really already forgotten the bloated bodies of people gassed to death in Iraq by chemical and biological weapons? Are we not grateful that the people doing their jobs have stopped plot after plot here in the US, making sure that nothing worse happens here? Do we really think that if those people stop working, we will still be safe?

I hope not, class, because that would be incredibly stupid.

I was wrong about one thing. The time for buses and cafes full of children and old ladies blowing up here on these shores is not yet. It is not yet because of the diligence of the people working countless hours night and day to make sure it doesn't happen. Make no mistake, class, the Muslims want to blow them up. They want America to fall to pieces. They say so ever day in their news, in their children's shows, in their movies, on their radios. And the second we relax our vigilance, we are doomed.

I, being a realist, believe this will in fact happen. It's only a matter of time before bombs start going off in public places here. Even here in our town, our Temple and our Synagogue will most likely be blown to kingdom come. Why? Americans are selfish, lazy, and incredibly short-sighted. Americans think if they just be nice, everyone else will be, too. Americans have no sense of history or reality. They are stupid. So the day will come. And there will be no satisfaction when I say, "I told you so." Your stupidity endangers my children, too.

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