Jumping the gun on the millennium

I'll tell you one more time, and that's it. From here on, you're on your own.

Three years ago I wrote that a lot of people were confused about when the next millennium starts. Not in the year 2000, which is actually the last year of the old millennium, but in 2001.

The Y2K problem, a double-zero problem that may cost our computer world about $500 billion to fix, is something else. But a lot of people were prepared to usher in the next century and a new millennium prematurely and I tried to alert them to their error.

Well, you know how it is when you give advice gratuitously, a lot of people don't listen. Caviar, champagne, and bartender shortages are expected nationwide on Dec 31. In New York preparations are in full swing for "Times Square 2000, the Global Celebration at the Crossroads of the World," a 26-hour extravaganza with a $7 million budget. A lot of religious groups are looking forward to Armageddon or the Second Coming, and some are going to Israel for the occasion.

The end may be nigh, but not that nigh. It is quite remarkable how many eyes glaze over when I patiently try to explain that in the year of our Lord there was no year 0, so 2000 is the end, not the beginning.

I note that Hillary Rodham Clinton, that newcomer to politics, has hedged on the question. In her syndicated newspaper column she wrote, "When midnight arrives on Jan. 1, 2000 or Jan. 1, 2001 - experts don't quite agree ..."

What do you mean, experts don't quite agree? Those who don't agree just aren't expert.

A well-qualified expert is Arthur C. Clarke, the author of "2001: A Space Odyssey." He was so appalled at all the hoopla about a premature millennium that he issued a statement to counter the widespread mistake.

"Some people have great difficulty grasping this," he said, but the Western calendar begins with the year 1 and "the next century and millennium do not begin until Jan. 1, 2001."

Maybe you don't believe me, but Mr. Clarke has written dozens of science-fiction books and has predicted such things as communications satellites and he should know.

I don't like to seem like a Johnny one-note. But when you see millions and millions of people about to go off half-cocked on the millennium, you have to try to save them.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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