This Week

Issue: "The Dutch culture of death," May 23, 1998

More than Vietnam

The Millennium Bug is eating away at the American economy. That was the word at a Silicon Valley powwow at Stanford's Center for Economic Policy Research. Fixing computers that will malfunction because they don't understand four-digit dates will cost America more than fighting the Vietnam War, estimated William Miller, a co-founder of Stanford's computer science department. Mr. Miller says time is short. It takes two years to fully repair expensive equipment. But there are fewer than 600 days left until January 1, 2000. That means triage. The most important systems must be fixed now and the rest must wait. American small business will start to feel the pinch in six to nine months, predicted economist Michael Boskin. Another speaker, IBM VP Michael Burns, said only about half of these companies have begun looking for bugs-and the rest of the world is in even worse shape. And unfixed millennium bugs will feast on the banking industry, according to the Federal Reserve's Gordon Werkeman. He said broken computers will drain away $2 billion a day after 1999. (Fed officials have announced they will start testing their own computers next month.) So what is the Clinton administration proposing as a solution? Information Technology Town Meetings. Department of Commerce personnel are holding awareness seminars around the country about the bug. Meanwhile, information technology industry honchos are starting to squirm. High-tech insiders are concerned about how bugs will be fixed after computers crash, says Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "As a society, we are on the point of conceding failure," he told the House Ways and Means Committee. "It's frustrating. It cannot be happening. But it is." He called on the government to provide "leadership" to help stave off a catastrophe. "Congress does not want to be placed in the position of wishing it had taken this issue more seriously while there was time left to address the challenges," Mr. Miller said.

Getting political

Congressional Republicans last week promised swift action on legislation aimed at limiting teenage abortions. Senate leader Trent Lott predicted the bill would be on the president's desk by summertime. The measure would make it a crime for someone to take a girl under 18 to another state for an abortion to avoid parental notification laws in her home state. It would not apply if the abortion was necessary to save the girl's life. "I would think that virtually every member of the House and Senate should find it possible to protect 13-year-olds and should find it possible to protect the parents' right to know and give consent by voting for this legislation," House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a news conference last week. Given that the legislation is a month or more away from passage, the news was the news conference itself, called just days after social conservatives won commitments from GOP leaders that they would take their concerns more seriously. Also last week, the leader of that effort, James Dobson, personally endorsed the congressional campaign of pro-life activist and political neophyte Randall Terry, who is seeking a seat in Congress from New York state. "I rarely do political endorsements," Mr. Dobson said in a letter, "but I'm making an exception now to personally endorse Randall Terry because I believe in this man." Mr. Terry is competing for the Republican nomination for the seat. He faces a GOP primary contest on Sept. 15. And it was announced last week Mr. Dobson will make his first campaign appearance in June, speaking at a rally for a pro-life challenger to pro-abortion Republican Gov. Bill Graves of Kansas. David Miller, formerly the head of the state party, this month announced his bid to unseat the popular governor. In 1996, Mr. Graves appointed a pro-abortion legislator, Sheila Frahm, to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Bob Dole, who stepped down in order to concentrate on his presidential campaign. Pro-life Republicans rallied around Sam Brownback and defeated Ms. Frahm handily in a GOP primary. Mr. Miller hopes to tap that same Republican discontent in his primary race against Mr. Graves.

Statecraft, witchcraft

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Atheists aren't the only ones who have it rough. A Maryland witch last week was denied permission by a Virginia judge to perform a wedding ceremony for two of her followers in that state. Rosemary Kooiman, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee, said the decision amounted to "religious discrimination," while the intended bride called it "a slap in the face to our religion, to our priestess, and to all pagans." Ms. Kooiman claims to be a self-ordained minister of Wicca, a type of witchcraft that worships nature using rites from pre-Christian Europe. About 50 adherents worship in the basement of her home. Ms. Kooiman has already performed three weddings in Maryland, which requires only that ministers be authorized by their sect or religious order. In Virginia, however, religious marriages must be performed by court-authorized ministers from recognized denominations. A county court judge ruled that Wicca is not such a denomination, a decision that Ms. Kooiman criticized as exhibiting "the basic cultural bias: If the religion is not Christian, it is not valid." Not surprisingly, Ms. Kooiman is now considering whether to bring a religious discrimination suit against the state of Virginia.

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