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Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 1999 /17 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Walter Williams

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Stupidity, sickness or ignorance? --
DURING MY UNDERGRADUATE YEARS, I majored in sociology -- that's until I saw the light. But I took a few psychology classes. Thus, I am just as qualified as any Ph.D. psychologist to psychoanalyze the American people. This expertise will be applied to the new millennium issue.

Americans can't wait for this New Year's Eve; after all the stroke of midnight starts the first day of the third millennium. People are booking hotels and cruises, and making airplane reservations just to be at their favorite place when the new millennium dawns. Champagne sales, along with champagne prices, are skyrocketing. Cities are spending billions of dollars to celebrate. Even the White House has a web site with a clock counting down the remaining hours, minutes and seconds to the start of the 21st century at 12:01 a.m. 2000.

The only problem is the new millennium does not begin 12:01 a.m. 2000. The stroke of 12 only signals the last year of the millennium that we've been living in for the past 999 years. The new millennium starts 12:01 a.m. 2001.

The U.S. Naval Observatory has a site that you might consult ( which reads: "Years of the Gregorian calendar, which is currently in use today, are counted from 1. Thus, the first century comprised the years 1 through 100. The second century began with 101 and continued through 200. By extrapolation, we find that the 20th century comprises the years 1901-2000. Therefore, the 21st century will begin with 1 January 2001 and continue through 31 December 2100."

Before my psychoanalysis, let's do some millennium math. The U.S. Naval Observatory's explanation may be too challenging for public-school graduates. Pretend I owe you $3,000. I'm paying you one dollar at a time.

When I've paid you zero dollars, has any part of my debt been discharged? I recommend a "no" answer. After I've paid you one dollar, how many more must be paid to take care of the first $1,000? You'd like $999 more. When does payment begin on the next $1,000? It's when I've plunked down $1,001.

Here's our crucial millennium-related question: When I get to $1,999, am I finished paying you the second thousand dollars? No, I don't finish the second thousand dollars until I've given you one more dollar, making it $2,000. When does the third thousand dollars (millennium) in payment begin?

It starts with the next dollar, or fraction thereof, namely $2001. The same reasoning applies to the third millennium; 2001 marks its beginning.

I explained all this in an earlier column and received quite a few angry letters of denial. People have gotten peeved at my suggestion that celebrations of the new millennium this New Year's Eve will be exercises in tomfoolery. I know of no political leader, news media person or academic who has come forward to alert the American people of their pending folly.

Now the psychoanalysis. Americans feel as though the new millennium starts next year. Feelings and emotions, rather than facts and standards, have become the criteria for assessing things in modern America. The popularity of our daytime television sleaze shows amply demonstrates that. In government schools, there's "inventive" spelling, how one feels words are spelled. Politicians feel our pain. So naturally it follows that the millennium starts when we feel it starts.

Abundant evidence also demonstrates that government schools, along with the news media, are immunizing Americans to facts and standards. I know that teachers and news media people read this column. They are now supplied with millennium facts. Will teachers tell their students, and news media people tell their viewers, that the nation is about to commit unforgivable stupidity on New Year's Eve?

Wait and watch.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate