By Michael J. Katin, MD
I am going out of my way to generate this month's column as soon as possible for two reasons. The first is that the subject of this article is so profound that I cannot take a chance that unexpected intervention (hurricanes, fires, lethargy) will prevent this concept from being made available to the public. The second is that I am still desperately trying to be recognized and offered a high-paying contract to do this at another level and time is running out.
Those of us in the oncology field are by now well-acquainted with the concept of apoptosis. This is now even recognized by the non-professional educated public (e.g., "Scientific American" readers). Apoptosis could be defined as "the loss of one or more sounds or letters at the end of a word," although this would be totally incorrect, since this is the definition of "apocope." The more generalized usage of the term "apoptosis" is in referring to programmed cell death. In other words, all the things we use to treat cancer can set into motion this terminal cascade. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hyperthermia, and speaking harshly to the cancer cells all add up and finally start the apoptotic process in motion.
What does this have to do with the urgency of this column? Y2K.
Yes, the famous year 2000 computer glitch may be the mechanism of our society's destruction. Consider that if the cell may be a microcosm of the body and the body may be a microcosm of the population group as a whole, then Y2K could be the trigger for apoptosis for life as we know it. The general public already is having trouble understanding what's going on (I've already heard people talking about everything breaking down at the end of this year) but many people are already anticipating problems with programming VCRs, catering, and direct deposit, but the main danger is from archaic programs that are so deeply buried that they can't be detected in time.
Presumably the world can survive despite computers rejecting food supplies as having expired 99 years ago, and without the use of three-dimensional conformal planning, but what is the chance that the Y2K bug will set off some default system in pacemakers, airliner navigation systems, or even ICBM launch programs? Dr. Hayflick theorized that the human cell can multiply a maximum of 50 times and then is programmed to self-destruction. Can it be that the maxi-organism, the entirety of mankind, is coming up to that same event, having itself created the mechanism?
Next month: 3 easy ways to put off paying bills until January, 2000.