There may not be an original joke left to make about the Y2K pandemonium to prove how ridiculous this global panic ended up being. At the stroke of midnight at the turn of the millennium, our computers were supposed to kill us all. Or something like that. Chalk it up to shortsightedness: computer programmers had long notated years with only two digits 97, 98, 99 and so forth apparently never considering what would happen in the year 2000, when the date would revert back to year 00. Would the machines recognize the new number? Would they freeze up? Would they fundamentally and irrevocably crash, taking us back to the year zero with them? Panicked prognosticators predicted airplanes would fall from the sky, electrical grids would shut down and the planet's entire information infrastructure would grind to a halt.
Countries like the U.S. and United Kingdom spent millions to patch and fix the error while others took a wait-and-see approach. There wasn't much to see. As the clock struck midnight in Asia and Sydney was still standing, the rest of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. As the festivities rolled on, there were few glitches: a row of slot machines went out in Delaware and a few dates appeared wrong on the Web, but that's indicative of the extent of it. The morning of January 1, 2000 dawned to a world now much more concerned about their hangovers than death by computer glitch.
Even today, artificial dyes are subject to some of the most bizarre fears and nastiest urban legends. Blame Red Dye No. 2. In the 1970s, Soviet scientists claimed a link between the dye used in everything from sausage casings and ice cream to makeup and cancer, and U.S. tests proved some correlation as well. Though it was never linked to any deaths or illnesses, the substance was banned from U.S. shelves in 1976. Consumer worries were enough to get the Mars candy company to pull red M&Ms from their lineup of colors, even though they never contained any Red Dye No. 2 to begin with, it would take 10 years for the collective panic to fade and for the M&M spectrum to be complete.
Health officials now suspect someone tampered with the pills on the drugstore shelves, though they've never arrested anyone in the case.(In February, the FBI reopened its investigation of tax consultant James Lewis, who had written a letter to Tylenol's manufacturer in October 1982
demanding $1 million to "stop the killings." Lewis has denied responsibility. ) The incident set off waves of copycat incidents across the country, in some cases resulting in serious illness or fatalities. Tylenol lost millions recalling pills from around the country and millions more in lost sales. The panic didn't subside until the FDA mandated new tamper-proof safety measures for food and over-the-counter drugs, dramatically improving product safety.
Mad cow disease is the sinister name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and it's deserved.
Though not contagious through person-to-person contact, mad cow disease is terrifying for its deadly effects. The disease, which manifests itself as Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease in humans, gradually destroys nervous tissue in the brain, resulting in dementia, memory loss, seizures and death. The disease is incurable and always fatal.
Humans can contract the disease by eating brain or spinal tissue from an infected cow, parts of which can be contained in ground beef or some other contaminated cuts if proper safety
measures aren't observed. The largest outbreak occurred in Britain beginning in 1984, killing more than 150 people. Infection has been kept down largely by rapid quarantines of infected herds and changes in feeding practices that prevent cows from being fed the ground remains of other cattle a common way the disease spreads
On Oct. 31, radio audiences who believed they were tuning into a concert were instead treated to
Welles' dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. The concert was interrupted frequently by Welles masquerading as a news announcer, giving frenzied updates of a Martian invasion of Earth. Though he mentioned at several points during the broadcast that it was merely a dramatization, thousands of listeners panicked tockpiling supplies and barricading their homes against aliens who existed on the airwaves alone.
If there's one panic that reoccurs like clockwork, it's salmonella in the food supply. Picking any one outbreak almost seems unfair â€” just this year companies pulled tainted peanut butter from store shelves due to salmonella fears. But it might be tough to outdo the 2008 outbreak in terms of sheer ridiculousness.
After more than a thousand were sickened by one of the worst outbreaks of salmonella in the U.S. in years, authorities pulled several varieties of tomatoes from the food supply. Electing to be overcautious, some restaurants pulled tomatoes off the menu entirely. Across the land, salad bars and Taco Bells were bleak, lycopene-free wastelands. And it very likely was all for naught. In the end, authorities said the outbreak could just as well have come from jalapeno peppers
Infections are falling in Mexico, the country hardest-hit by the flu bug, and the World Health Organization said the virus has not yet created a sustained outbreak in Europe. Though new cases are popping up around the globe each day, it appears that a widespread global pandemic isn't forthcoming. Just like SARS and the avian flu before it, H1N1 probably will cause more damage through anxiety than actual infection.