Today's Papers

Y2K Computer Shrug

The New York Times   leads with new Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to troops fighting in Chechnya, a story run above the fold in the Los Angeles Times   and on Page A17 in the Washington Post. The Post and LAT lead with pieces on Y2K computer glitches–or rather the lack thereof–a story fronted by the NYT (technically, the Post story is part of a Y2K package serving as the top non-local lead).

While the LAT labels Vladimir Putin’s visit to Chechnya a presidential “campaign-style tour” and the NYT calls it “unexpected,” the Post relates that the new president had planned the trip months ago, long before Boris Yeltsin decided to step down (this important detail probably pushed the story off the Post’s front page). As proof of this prior scheduling, the Post notes that the engravings on the souvenir hunting knives given by Putin to soldiers near Grozny bore the title “prime minister” but not “president.” With not much else to report about the presidential visit, the three stories wander in different directions: The NYT gives behind-the-scenes details of Yeltsin’s resignation announcement and analyzes the legality of his immunity deal; the LAT speculates on the March 23 presidential election; and the Post reports on the status of the Grozny siege. A think-tank expert tells the LAT that Russia’s casualty rate exceeds that of both its 1994-’96 Chechen campaign and the Soviet Union’s ill-fated war in Afghanistan.

The headline of the Post’s piece on the Y2K computer glitch asks, “How Did It All Go Right?” The answer: Good preparation in the developed world and a low reliance on technology in the developing world. The LAT (“U.S., Firms, Overreacted to Y2K Fix, Critics Say”) and NYT (“Vast Efforts to Fix Computers Defended [and It’s Not Over]”) take a more provocative angle–that the U.S. spent too much to fix the problem. But the two papers can dig up only three sources between them–two corporate PR men and an anonymous Internet newsgroup participant–willing to argue this. However, the LAT does lay out some plausible reasons why America may have overprepared: fear of litigation and the bureaucratic imperative to simply upgrade software rather than fix it. The only major computer foul-up in the U.S., the papers report, was the temporary malfunction of a Pentagon spy satellite.

The Post abandons Y2K sobriety by devoting much of its Sunday “Style” section  to the lighter side of millennial madness. There is an amusing dispatch from Las Vegas  and a report on several memorable midnight kisses. Miss Manners  announces, with tongue in cheek, that she will begin to employ the phrase, “Oh, that’s soooo 20th century.” A computer consultant says of the anti-climactic changeover, “It’s like coitus interruptus. You know: Is that all there is?” Another Post article begins, “We realize that you are almost certainly reading this article by candlelight … and we regret that our experiments with glow-in-the-dark ink have failed.” The NYT and LAT both pan the millennial celebration in Los Angeles, blaming the city’s lack of a geographic center, of signature iconography, and of community spirit. (To read Slate’s dispatch from Times Square by policeman Lucas Miller, click here.)

The  NYT and LAT run fascinating accounts of last week’s hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet, as told by several of the passengers. (The terrorists, who identified themselves as Muslims fighting for Pakistani control of Kashmir, escaped on Dec. 31 after negotiating a deal with Indian authorities; to read Slate’s briefing on the Kashmir conflict, click here.) The first few days saw repeated emergency landings–one in Pakistan was made without runway lights and with only a minute and a half of fuel left. Although the hijackers slit the throat of one passenger in private, they did not disclose this murder to the other passengers, who at times joked and conversed with their captors. Near the end of the eight-day odyssey the toilets were overflowing, and on the seventh day the gunmen announced that in 30 minutes every passenger would be shot. One hijacker, who called himself “Burger,” recited Urdu poetry, gave a passenger a birthday gift, and before escaping ordered all passengers to say they had forgiven him.

A NYT “Week in Review” article details the apparent failure of “boot-camp” rehabilitation for juvenile delinquents. Launched in the early ‘90s with much fanfare, these paramilitary prisons for youths had expanded to 27 states by 1997. But inmates are routinely beaten and suffer recidivism rates higher than those of juveniles in adult prisons. Colorado, Arizona, and North Dakota have dropped their programs, and Maryland will likely follow.

An article in the NYT describes the surrender in Pakistan last week of a man whom authorities believe has murdered 100 boys there in the past six months. Question: Why does the Times repeatedly call the man a “mass murderer” when he has yet to be tried? Are accusations against a defendant qualified with words like “allegedly” only when the crime is prosecuted in the United States?

In his inaugural NYT column, Paul Krugman–recently poached from that renowned repository of writing talent, Slate–notes that the much-heralded global economy of the late 20th (and now 21st) century is really the second of its kind. The First Global Economy, as he dubs it, occurred in the late 19th century, when companies started laying telegraph cables beneath the ocean, blasting railroad tunnels through mountains, and linking the seas with canals. A combination of jingoism among political elites and insularity among the business elites who spearheaded this new international commerce provoked a near-50-year reaction against free trade and global communications. “The big economic question for the next century,” Krugman concludes,

is really political: Can the Second Global Economy build a constituency that reaches beyond the sort of people who congregate at Davos? If not, it will eventually go the way of the first.

(To read Krugman’s defense of the World Trade Organization in Slate, click here.)

Dueling NYT headlines (from the Internet edition):

“A Trying Time For Many Net Retailers”

“A Very Big E-Commerce Christmas”

This Just In–Nuclear War Averted

A lede from Saturday’s NYT:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Dec. 31–The new decade arrived well before dawn here today at Peterson Air Force Base, but there was more relief than celebration as the world’s 24 time zones began passing from the 20th century without nuclear conflagration.