Renaissance Online Magazine Column

NOVEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 11



KEVIN RIDOLFI

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KEVIN RIDOLFI, a graphic designer and Web programmer from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine.

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A Millennium Mess A confused public celebrates too early

KEVIN RIDOLFI

Here's a news flash for all the drooling optimists and armageddon pessimists alike: the new Millennium will not be arriving this January after all. This build-up and hype is for nothing because pretend as we may, the Millennium won't change after December 31.

Rather it will arrive perfectly on time and unheralded on January 1, 2001. On that glorious Sunday morning (or quite possibly early afternoon) I will crawl out of bed after a night of Millennium Partying. That's right Artist Formerly Known as a Sane Being, I'm going to party like it's 2-0-0-0.

Now before you question my sanity, let me explain this rampant case of the "Misidentified Millennium". First do me - and my pet peeve - a favor, disregard every special event advertisement and announcement you hear for the rest of this year. You know, the one's proclaimed in that deep, proud, defiant, we're standing up to Father Time, voice.

"And now for the last time this Millennium the local PTA will hold its holiday bake sale. Come one and all to help close out the Millennium in style with M&M brownies and Tollhouse cookies."

It particularly bothers me that the powers that be passed some unnoticed law that the word "Millennium" or the number "2000" must be used as often as possible over the course of this year. During the Super Bowl: "well John, we're going to see a great matchup in this, the last Super Bowl of the Millennium." Politics make obvious and Don King-esque promotions (you'll have to imagine the ominous music): "Election 2000, paving the way for a new Millennium." The World Series: "Joe, this is it, The Yankees - the team that has won 25 titles - close out the Millennium with yet another championship. Amazing."

Amazing is right. Amazing that the majority of the population is so eager to fabricate change and wish their lives away that they can blindly ignore the calendar. After all, a little chronological history paints the true picture - the third Millennium doesn't start until 2001. Along those lines, the 21st century doesn't start until that year either.

The reason is quite simple. A long time ago, back when Romans rode in chariots and Dick Clark was in grade school, some bright scholars, with the hopes of creating confusion 1999 years later, started the calendar. Now the first Julian calendar, which most likely did not include Sports Illustrated's Roman swim suit models, would have been marked with a giant "one" on the front given our present numbering system.

The Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to correct astronomical errors in the Roman Empire's Julian calendar, used the year 1 as its baseline. Julius Caesar's old calendar had become so outdated (no pun intended) that ten full days were dropped from the calendar in October 1582 on the advice of astronomers. And so, then there was a one. Let me repeat that: the modern Gregorian calendar began with year 1, not year zero. This is an important distinction because counting also begins with 1 so this should be an easy task.

Now, there are 100 years in a century which means - counting up from one - that the second grouping of 100 years (2nd century, which was not a Fox registered trademark) began at the start of the 101st year. To carry that concept forward: there are 1000 years in a millennium so the end of the first Millennium would have occurred on the last day of year 1000. The end of the second Millennium will therefore occur on the last day of the year 2000. This means, and allow this to serve as my preliminary Millennium party announcement, that January 1, 2001 marks the first day of the third Millennium.

So if the concept and resulting second grade math is so simple, why is everyone confused? I count a few reasons: birthdays, the evil precursor of doom and joyous zeroes.

Society is accustomed to marking time by birthdays. When you turn 21 - allowing you to legally imbibe at these farcical Millennium parties - you have been alive for exactly 21 years. So naturally people see the year 2000 as the planet's 2000th birthday - which is exactly one year older than Estelle Getty will be on the same day. But it isn't a birthday - as much as Hallmark would love that opportunity. Remember the important distinction, the calendar started at 1 not zero; when a baby is born, we begin counting up in days, weeks etc. from zero.

Everyone's favorite armageddon bug, with it's cute moniker "Y2K" wrecks havoc here as well. That software flaw, which stops some machines from properly registering a date ending in two zeroes, was misappropriately nicknamed "The Millennium Bug." The confusion becomes tied into the fact that people think the computers are having trouble recognizing the new Millennium when in fact the problem lies with a two-digit date system.

Of course those two digits are "00", two crazy little round fellows who have everyone excited. "Oh my God, some class is going to be the class of zero (or '00), that's so cool." Graphic designers and visual artists are practically foaming at the mouths with the possibilities abound for all those adorable circles. Believe me, we'll all be tired of seeing zeroes turned into little eyeballs staring at us from advertisements. And to add to the thrill, there's even a third zero thrown into the mix for good measure. As an added benefit, we get to spend the rest of our lives looking at it. No wonder the world is ready to label this arrival of zeroes a Millennium coronation of sorts.

But while everyone is attending their countless parties celebrating the appearance of some zeroes, I'll be making plans for a real party. A Millennium party. On New Millennium's Eve. December 31, 2000.

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