By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
|Illustration by Charise Mericle|
That's Y2K as in Year 2000 Bug, the global computer glitch that's either been (take your pick) understated or overhyped, depending on whether you think it will bring the world to its collective knees or pass as a minor data hiccup.
Stewart, a securities analyst and Y2K pundit whose home, business and yacht are anchored in Dana Point, is banking on the world-to-its-collective-knees scenario. And despite the obvious trauma that his forecast presupposes -- the fall of governments, the urban rioting, the economic depression -- he can't help but be a bit gleeful. "This is going to be the greatest transference of wealth in the history of mankind, period!" he likes to say.
In other words, in the true spirit of American enterprise, Stewart has discovered an "upside," as they say on Wall Street, to the end of the world as we know it.
That someone would come up with an investment angle on the techno-Apocalypse was inevitable. The big question, of course, is whether the worst will actually happen when the computers of the world roll over to 2000, a date that many of the world's mainframe computers -- because much of the complex tangle of code that runs them represents dates in just two digits -- are likely to read as 1900. The end result, according to Stewart and a handful of other quotemeister Y2K gurus, could be a spectacular digital crash and burn.
Up until recently, those warnings had been falling on deaf, or at least underwhelmed, ears. Stewart, along with Y2K doomsday consultants Kevin Schick and Peter de Jager, has been criticized for exaggerating the probable outcome of the crisis, fanning the flames of panic even. As early as 1996, Fortunemagazine condescendingly dubbed him "the one most responsible for unleashing the Year 2000 problem on the investing public."
Still, an unmistakable tone of, shall we say, heightened concern has crept into recent government updates on the Y2K fix. Last week, for instance, Representative Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, released his seventh quarterly report card on the efforts of federal agencies to fix the problem. Overall, Horn gave the 24 agencies a grade of C-plus, up from last quarter's D. The bad news was that a number of critical federal agencies are still far behind in their Y2K repair efforts. Bringing down the curve were the Departments of State and Transportation (home of the Federal Aviation Administration), which each got an F. The Department of Defense scored a C-minus.
And earlier last month, the state of California attempted to put the best face on its own mixed news. The good news, according to the Governor's Office, was that state agencies had completed 65 percent of their Y2K repairs on computer systems that have "some direct effect on life, health and safety." The not-as-good news, as Governor Gray Davis delicately put it: "Not all of our mission-critical functions are currently up to speed" and fixing everything "will not be easy." The Governor's Office declined to specify exactly what still needed repair (or precisely what "mission-critical" means), but mentioned traffic signals, fire engines and water pumps as technologies subject to Y2K dysfunction.
So it seems that Stewart -- who has been warning that the government and business are woefully underprepared for Y2K -- is at least somewhat closer to the mark than his critics have given him credit for.
NOT THAT VINDICATION BY AUTHORITY FIGURES seems to matter much to Stewart. He seems content as the classic outsider. Sun-bleached Dana Point is a long haul from Wall and Broad streets, and Stewart -- who favors a ponytail, goatee and extremely amplified classic rock from the '70s -- cuts an unlikely figure as a high-financier. His idols include pioneering mavericks from the world of high finance and sex, Warren Buffet and Hugh Hefner, respectively. (A near-life-size limited-edition Cibachrome print of the Marilyn Monroe centerfold from issue No. 1 of Playboymagazine, signed by Hef himself, adorns the wall in his office.)
Still, a well-heeled elite of Wall Street fund managers, stockbrokers and accountants (2,000 of them, of course) subscribe to his investment newsletter, which specializes in picking investment hedges against a potential Y2K meltdown. And no lesser an authoritative light in the Y2K world than Representative Constance Morella (R-Md.), chairperson of the Technology Subcommittee of the House Science Committee, takes Stewart's newsletter. (A number of erstwhile celebrities eager to hang on to their capital gains come what may are also subscribers, including Henry "The Fonz" Winkler, Chad "Medical Center" Everett and Tommy "not Cheech but the other guy" Chong.)
Stewart recently compressed his two and a half years of Y2K research into a book-length special report for his subscribers (and visitors to his Web site -- www.stewartreport.com -- who have $30 they haven't yet converted to bottled water and stockpiles of Spam). Rather luridly titled Date Rape 2000: Investing in the Crime of the Century, the book paints a spooky picture of the post-Y2K world, part Chuck Heston Omega Man, part Oliver Stone Wall Street.