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'Round Midnight: Different cultures reckon Year One from the event their traditions deem most significant.

Y2K Plus 1

Some experts say that this New Year's Eve is when the millennium really begins (if you still care)

By Andrea Perkins

WHILE A FEW fanatics might still be holed up in well-equipped bomb shelters, counting the minutes until the start of the real millennium, the rest of us are so over it.

After the utter anticlimax of waking up last Jan. 1 and finding the world still in one piece, most people don't even feign interest when the academics rant about archaic calendar systems and the concept of zero. Yet, it is our duty as the media to give this dead horse one more good thump. This is the real thing, after all. We really are embarking upon the actual, true and bona fide millennium.

"There was no zero in the Latin world, and therefore the first Christian calendars of later centuries started with 1 A.D.," explains Mark Cioc, a patient UCSC history professor. "Obviously, the centennials were therefore celebrated every 100 years thereafter in 601, 701, etc." (Of course, back then everyone used Roman numerals, so in 999 they were probably celebrating the fact that they would be able to write M instead of DCCCCLXXXXIX.)

According to Cioc, after the zero arrived on the Latin scene via India and Islam around 1200, the bewildered populace broke into two schools of thought. Common people tended to celebrate every time they saw two zeros line up, while governments officially recognized centennials on the 01 all the way up to 1901.

Obviously, the Western calendar isn't universally relevant. According to the Chinese calendar, it's the year 4698, and for Jews it's the year 5760. There are about 40 different calendars in use today and the majority of people on the planet don't start counting from the day of Jesus' birth.

"I thought all this was over," says local poet Gary Young when asked for a poetic proclamation about the "real" millennium. "Is this a recount? What is this? The dimpled, hanging millennium?"

Young seems troubled that I am endeavoring to prolong the hoopla. "Let it go," he says. "It doesn't matter at all. People like to be able to point to something and say this is where it begins and ends, this is today, this is tomorrow."

Ralph Abraham, a UCSC mathematics professor and founder of the Visual Math Institute, takes the matter more seriously. Abraham, whose emphasis is chaos theory, applies mathematics to the study of history. According to chaos theorists, history doesn't move gradually but proceeds in leaps and plateaus. Abraham thinks that it's important for people to realize that they're in the middle of such a leap right now, a period of rapid social, political and geological change.

"We're in the midst of the biggest quantum leap ever," says Abraham. "A symptom of this global uneasiness is a deep psychological unrest. That is what triggered all the Y2K hysteria."

But what's going to happen? Where are we headed? Does local favorite Psychic Susie know?

"What do you want?" Susie asks. "Some cutesy prediction about the weather? OK. It will be a cold and dry winter. January will be windy."

The bottom line is that millennium or no millennium, New Year's is always an excellent excuse to party. So get your stupid hat and your goofy paper horn and starting making plans to attend one of these fine events.

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From the December 20-27, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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