Hightower: A Y2K Problem Carved in Stone

Time for another journey into the Far, Far, Far-Out Frontiers of Free Enterprise.Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you into the unchartered universe of Y2K. We're told it's a world in which computers will erroneously think that the year 2000 is really 1900, with such disastrous results as airplanes falling out of the sky and power grids failing.But Y2K is not only a high-tech computer crisis -- it's also a crisis in such low-tech places as cemeteries. Meet Jesse and Lewis Stibitz. They're not in a cemetary, not yet, but like many Americans, they like to plan ahead. So, long ago, they bought a "pre-need" funeral package that included a headstone for their graves. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Stibitzes got their stone pre-carved, complete with the first two digits of their anticipated deaths in 19-blank. But here it is 1999 already, and Jesse at 82, and Lewis at 84, are alive and well -- neither likely to die before 2000 rolls in.The Times reports that a quarter of a million headstones are out there with a Y2K problem literally carved into stone. This millennial mess has been the subject of much hand wringing in the funeral industry. First is the issue of what to do. Using epoxy to cover-over the "19" is cheap, but it won't last; clamping a bronze plaque over the stone looks like a band-aid; and refacing the whole stone is as costly as just replacing it.Which raises the second big issue: Who pays? Yes, the customers knew their stones said "19" when they bought them from local mortuaries, but back then one's lifetime expectation was shorter. Today, those mortuaries are mostly owned by faraway corporations more concerned about their bottom line than your headstone.This is Jim Hightower saying ... So the lesson here is: Always plan ahead ... but not too far.

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