Why oh Why2K?
or, Ponderings on the New Millennium
"I would like to take you seriously, but to do so would affront your intelligence." --William F. Buckley, conservative newspaper columnist.
It all started as a bit of musing in my author's note in the first issue of the year 2000. Then, the more comments from readers I published, the more they streamed in. Let's recap. In the issue published 7 January 00, I pondered:
Have you gotten used to writing "2000" yet? I wrote a check yesterday, and only then realized that the check's date area was not Y2Kompliant -- the blank says "_______ 19__". Sheesh: I got those checks less than a year ago, and the bozos didn't know that format wouldn't work for very long?! As I go through my web site and update pages, it looks VERY weird to me to see the "Copyright 2000" at the bottom.
Weekly Weird News
I haven't seen too dang many Y2K bugs, but the ones I have seen are fairly comical. Some people, and computers, really have a hard time believing the 1900s are over! My FTP program shows this year as "19100", I've seen web sites that claim the year is "192000", and the computer in a video store in New York claimed a rented tape was 100 years overdue and calculated a late charge of $91,250. (And speaking of comical, a letter from a reader of my other online publication -- http://www.HeroicStories.com -- in response to me saying the 1900s were over, told me that "I'm sure you are going to get a zillion posts on this, but this is NOT the end of the 1900s! We've got the rest of this year to go through before we really get to the 2000s." Um, yeah, right. I wonder what SHE's writing on HER checks? (And yes, don't write and tell me she's half right: *I* know the third *millennium* -- and the 21st century -- don't start until next January. But the 1900s are decidedly over!)
Well. I obviously knew that some people consider what date the new millennium starts a controversial subject. I think it's pretty obvious and clear -- I had no idea that there was more than one person in the world who didn't think "the 1900s" are over! But a couple of people took exception to the concept, and wrote to argue. I ran their letters in the next issue (published 14 January 00):
This, rather unfortunately, is True: Last week in this space, I mentioned that one reader had tried to correct me, that in addition to it not being the 21st century (nor third millennium) yet, "this is not the end of the 1900s! We've got the rest of this year to go through before we really get to the 2000s." I of course got a lot of mail agreeing with me, but I *hardly* expected a couple of people to disagree, and insist that she was right! Terry in Georgia retorted "Please! The 1900s are not over. Why? Do this: count to ten on your fingers. See? 10 is part of the group. Don't feel bad, even rocket scientists do math wrong sometimes." Uh huh. One's a fluke. Two is a trend:
Frankly, I don't really care if someone wants to believe that the year 2000 is "the last year of the 1900s". I'll think they're pretty dumb, but so what? What I do care about is someone demanding that I think that too, especially when they threaten blackmail to silence me. While a lot of mail came in discussing when the millennium "really" starts, that is not the issue here. The issue is that someone saw fit to threaten me for not swallowing their beliefs. As an American, and a professional publisher in a system of a Free Press, I cannot, and will not, stand for that kind of threat. That is why it's "worth it" to argue this issue. Well, that and it's all really quite entertaining. (This page is long, but I think it's worth reading just for the sheer entertainment value!)
In a private e-mail message in reply to Michael's message (to immediately contradict him to show I would not be cowed by his threat), I told him that the year 2000 does not include the numerals "19" in it so it cannot, by definition, be part of the 1900s. I further told him he is "a world class idiot", and that I will never submit to blackmail, and believe my advertisers won't participate in it either "(but will rather ALSO laugh at you)".
His reply was
I published this all in True on 14 January, concluding, after his reply, that "I feel pretty confident about the 'idiot' part."
I then published a couple of letters from people who did "get it" -- that the issue was not about what year begins the new millennium, but rather when "the 1900s" ended -- not at all the same thing (remember, I was writing about the "19__" date blank on my checks!)
The last letter was from Bruce in Ohio:
Since True is, after all, an entertaining (I hope!) publication, I declared the "Fiscal Millennium" an excellent concept (and one that my governmental readers can really get into), and agreed that the "Fiscal NM (New Millennium)" began on 1/1/2000.
A lot of people didn't take much time to read it all, and the letters started coming in. Lots and lots and lots of them. Hundreds. I of course will not include them all here, but if you do read all of this page, you should come out of this understanding why the year 2000 is not the first year of the third millennium, but rather the last year of the second millennium (and, similarly, it is not the first year of the 21st century). Even if you do understand that, though, I trust you'll find the rest of this entertaining -- which is, after all, the first goal of This is True. But: I consider this the last word on the subject, so please don't write to argue either side -- I don't intend to add to this page.
The Bottom Line -- Comfortably Near the Top of the Page
By definition, the year 2000 is not the start of "the third millennium", nor is it the start of "the 21st century". Says who? Says the calendar we use, which is called the Gregorian calendar, after the man who commissioned it in the year 1582, Pope Gregory. It's based on the birth of Christ, first calculated -- incorrectly -- by Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century. (That's the sixth century of the Gregorian calendar, of course! There are certainly other calendars, but most modern people keep track by using the Gregorian calendar. It's very probably the one you use.)
A millennium is any arbitrary stretch of 1000 years; the "third millennium" is the arbitrary stretch of 1000 years that started when the second millennium was over, which started when the first millennium was over. So why isn't "1999" the last year of the second millennium? Because humans like to count starting with "1". When you start with "1", to get a full thousand years you must get to the end of "1000" -- and that's exactly how the Gregorian calendar works. It was designed to start with year 1. We, here in the 2000s, might think it's more logical to start with a year "0", but that's not the way the calendar was designed. Why? Because when Dionysius did his work, there was no such thing as a zero. That seems nonsensical today -- of course there was always a zero, right? Nope: it wasn't invented until about the fifth century (controversial: many say it was first mentioned in a Syria text in AD 662, others say the Mayans invented it). Before then, it was thought ridiculous to need something which stood for nothing. We now know how useful zero is.
Since there was not a year "0", and the first year of the Gregorian calendar was year 1, to get 1000 years -- a full millennium according to the calendar which we still use today -- one must get to the end of the year 1000. That leaves the second millennium starting with the beginning of year 1001, and the third millennium starting with the year 2001. Thus, the year this was written -- 2000 -- is not part of the third millennium, and not part of the 21st century. Those start next year, in 2001.
But what about "the 1900s"? Remember (above) that a "millennium" is defined as an "arbitrary stretch of 1000 years". The stretch from 1951 through 2950 is 1000 years, and "a" millennium. Obviously, it's not "the" millennium according to the Gregorian calendar -- it's just an arbitrary stretch of 1000 years that I pulled out of my hat. Just like humans like to start counting with "1", even though it makes more mathematical sense to start with "0", we humans like to group things in ways that aren't particularly mathematical. So we end up with "the 1900s", for instance -- the arbitrary century of years starting with "19". The concept of "the 1900s" is a different thing from the concept of "the 20th century" -- the 1900s stretch from 1900 through 1999, while the 20th century (as discussed above) stretch from 1901 through 2000. Therefore, of course (and obviously, once you understand the definition), "the 1900s" do not include the year 2000, even though "the 20th century" does. If you still don't get it, think of it this way: when you turned 20, were you still in your "teens"? Of course not, since 20 is not part of the definition of "the teens", just as 2000 is not part of the definition of "the 1900s". Again, "the century" and "the millennium" are different concepts and, again, this discussion started with me mentioning my checks bearing the pre-printed "19__" for the year.
As an aside, the Gregorian calendar was meant to count the years after the birth of Jesus Christ. Meant to -- it doesn't. In addition to not starting with "0", other errors were made. Christ was not born in Gregorian year "0" (since that didn't exist), and it turns out he was not born in year 1 -- since he was already running around by that time. Most now think Christ was born in around 6 BC, but certainly by 4 BC. Thus, the religious argument that "it has been 2000 years since the birth of Christ, therefore it's the millennium already" doesn't wash either, since it doesn't even measure that milestone correctly.
The Confused, the Proud
Despite my saying quite clearly in True that "I know the third *millennium* -- and the 21st century -- don't start until next January" and "in addition to it not being the 21st century (nor third millennium) yet...", I got quite a few letters either congratulating me for having the courage (?) to say the third millennium had already started or, conversely, arguing with me, saying that of course it has not. It really would help if people read what I said before writing in (hence my plea above), but I don't actually expect that to happen in my lifetime.
A lot of online publishers run like pack wolves, and we enjoy sharing the real gems of e-mails with each other. Vince Sabio of HumourNet, seeing the slew of ranting I got, wrote me to say, "My readers are smarter than your readers. I accidentally refer to 2000 as the new millennium, and have to apologize in the next Collage. You go to the trouble of not only explaining why 2000 is not the new millennium, but also why it isn't the 1900s, and they still can't figure it out." I don't think you have smarter readers, Vinnie. I actually think I do. After all, it's HumourNet readers who continuously fall for your "Unsubscribe Fee" gag, even though you ridicule the clueless about it in HumourNet at least once a year, and on your web site!
In any case, confusion reigned among many readers:
Ashley in Yugoslavia:
Ashley, you seem rather confused, and not just about "manners" or how to spell. Except the letters and ads, This is True is all my writing, my opinion runs throughout, and I make fun of people every week. That's why people like it. Isn't that why you subscribed?
Andrew in Georgia (bold from the original):
You know Terry in Georgia, don't you, Andrew?
Travis in California:
I wasn't mad before, and I'm not mad now. Why the heck should anyone be mad? My business is indeed publishing. I published some stuff that made people think and/or laugh. What's the problem with that? Cool down, Travis. Life is too short to get upset at your entertainment.
Andrew in Australia:
As you now have hopefully learned, the calendar is completely arbitrary. Years that are not included in the Gregorian calendar Common Era didn't cease to exist. And why stop at 10 millennia? The planet, and humanity, have certainly been around much longer than that!
Amie in Washington:
I'm not sure how you're coming off Amie, but I guarantee it's not preachy.
Sandy (no location given):
Hm. Maybe that Sabio guy was right after all.
Much More Clear on the Concept
John (no location given):
Mark in California:
Eugenio in Mexico:
Your English is one heck of a lot better than my Spanish, Eugenio -- no problem!
Igor in Ukraine:
Dave in New York:
Exactly right, Dave! And thanks for working to counter The Idiot.
But Chuck in Florida wonders:
Now that you mention it, so am I. Thankfully, Michael lives 1500 miles from me....
Kevin in New York:
Daniel in New York:
Phil in Kentucky:
*grin* As the issue with Michael's letter was circulating on 14 January, I was, at that moment, in New Mexico, where I was attending a funeral -- right outside Roswell. Really. You've got the power, Phil!!
William in Beirut:
That's how wars start, William! Sad, ain't it?
Oliver in Indonesia:
Look at this page, Oliver. Do you really think I need another controversy to help fill space? ;-)
Phil in Pennsylvania:
And talking to each other. In English.
Alex in Wisconsin:
Alex, "truth is stranger than fiction", but one can only go so far!
Nigel in New Zealand:
You got that right!
Andrew in Missouri:
Elizabeth in Montana:
Actually, I'm leaning toward one I haven't heard from anyone else, but I'd be surprised if no one else has thought of it so I'm not going to claim credit: The Zeds!)
Web Sites with More Information
If you don't believe me, how about reading what scientists who deal with measuring time have to say about this issue? The U.S. Naval Observatory and the U.K.'s Royal Observatory should be egg-headed enough for anyone. There's a lot of material available, so obviously I have not read it all -- I present these sites for the curious who want more education on the subject. All the links worked as of the "update" date at the bottom of this page. Of course, many of the sites have links to other sites with even more info. All links listed on this page will pop up in a new browser window (assuming your browser supports that).
Kenneth in Pennsylvania sent the first clip, and Daniel in New York sent the second, which make it clear this is no new issue:
"We have uniformly rejected all letters and declined all discussion upon the question of when the present century ends, as it is one of the most absurd that can engage the public attention, and we are astonished to find it has been the subject of so much dispute, since it appears plain. The present century will not terminate till January 1, 1801, unless it can be made out that 99 are 100... It is a silly, childish discussion, and only exposes the want of brains of those who maintain a contrary opinion to that we have stated." --The London Times, 26 December 1799