Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Newsflash! 2020 Is NOT The Start Of A "New Decade"

Let's accept as a proposition there are some claims, especially to do with the calendar and astronomy, which are facts and beyond contention, or "polarization".  I bring this up because once again the bugbear over when a decade commences has come into focus with the new year tomorrow. Is the first day of the new year then also the first day of the new decade?  No, it is not, hence you will not catch me saying "Happy New Decade".   But you can be sure the media's scatterbrains will in unison be hailing the "start of a new decade" on the a.m. shows tomorrow. If not before, i.e. at the Big Apple's New Year's eve celebration - broadcast on ABC, NBC..

So it was hilarious when I spotted an NPR  story to the effect "this country is so polarized that people can't even agree on when the next decade begins."  Which is not true, because the issue is not one that is subjective (requiring any opining)  or which can be "polarizing".  Either then one goes by the logic of our calendar or one goes off on an irrational tangent.

The central fact pertinent to the issue is our accepted calendar has no year 'zero'.    The absence of any year '0' means that the only consistent way to measure decades (or centuries, or millennia) is to start or index them in years ending in '1'.   Thus, for reference, the new century did not commence on January 1, 2000 but on January 1, 2001. Similarly the new millenium did not begin on Jan. 1, 2000 but on Jan. 1, 2001.  In like manner, the new decade will not commence until January 1, 2021.  Can you dig it?

A decade then is defined as a ten year interval, with the terminal year ending in '0'.. We can extrapolate the above to bracket the assorted decades of the 20th century. Some examples:

The 1920s spanned from 1921 to 1930.  Ten years, count 'em off on your fingers if you must.

The last date of the 1920s decades then, was December 31, 1930.

Likewise, the 1930s spanned from 1931 to 1940.

The 1950s from 1951 to 1960.

The 1960s from 1961 to 1970.

And so on, so the 2000 -oughts went from 2001 to 2010.

The 2010s from 2011 to 2020.

An analogous case is made by Alan Mcintire  on Quora, focusing on the transition from B.C. (or B.C.E.) to  A.D.  (or C.E.):

"Based on our current calendar, the day after December 31, 1 BC was January 1, 1 AD.  There was no year zero.  Zero was just the point at midnight between 1 BC and 1 AD,

One year AD did not go by until midnight of December 31, 1 AD/Jaauary 1, 2 AD.  Carrying that reasoning forward, 20 centuries AD did not go by until the calendar reached midnight, December 31, 2000 AD/January 1, 2001 AD.  Based on that system, 202 decades will have passed after the BC/AD point at midnight, December 31, 2020/January 1, 2021"

I wrote my own exhaustive skewering of this calendrical counting nonsense in a Baltimore Sun letter, before we left Charm City  for Colorado Springs in December, 2000.  It read as follows:

"It is mind-boggling that in the most technologically advanced nation on Earth people are too innumerate to figure out that the 'new millennium' will not occur until January 1, 2001. All the premature hubbub of the past year has merely been fed to a naive public in order to bolster an impatient media hype and sell newspapers, magazines and other special  'pictorials of the past century' .

Indeed, any first grader able to count on two hands would be able to deduce that ninety-nine times one (year) yields 99 years, not 100. And certainly not a 'century' and not - in context-  a turnover to the 'new millennium'! Since there's no year 'zero',  years commenced with 1. 

That means 1-100 is one (first) century elapsed, and  1901-2000 is the most recent.

All this is apart from historical speculations and specious arguments to do with the year of Christ's birth (which some of us -atheists- do not believe occurred anyway.)  Point is, you either adhere to the existing standard or throw everything out and say 'anything goes'.  In which case we (older folk) can even resort to giving our age in 'Martian years' thereby cutting them in half.

Have we somehow become more stupid and innumerate than our predecessors? Recall they  recognized  that the year 1900 was the last year of the nineteenth century- not the first year of the twentieth? (Cf. The Baltimore  Sun, Editorial, Jan. 1, 1900) :

'The year 1900 enjoys special attention because it is the last year of the nineteenth century.'

 Is this  the extent to which our brains have been hijacked?  That we can no longer even tell what a century is?   When it begins and when it ends? No, I think it is more a case of the power of 'PR' and marketing to convert even basic facts into gibberish . Which reaches a nadir when a breathless network news anchor (like Katie Couric)  sputters this a.m. about twins likely to be born minutes apart over New Year's "being born 'millennia apart'.  So wait, one twin is going to be  a thousand years older than the other?

Where is the truth in  advertising? Where is the truth, period? Or accountability? What will it be next? If some media wonk asserts 2 + 2 = 5, is that going to be adopted? If it is asserted that henceforth all centuries will be measured as 99 years - as seems the case now, is this to be blithely accepted without question?  Is a millennium henceforth going to be reckoned as 999 years, not 1000?   We could as well toss out the whole school curriculum- especially math, and teach kids 'PR' instead. Or  that 'PR always trumps mathematical truths'.

The bottom line is that the whole baloney about 2000 being the first year of the 'new millennium' arises from a counting error that should be evident to a bright kindergartner. For some reason, at the cusp of this particular new century, etc. reason (and numeracy) seem to have been tossed to the four winds. It's so bad that every manjack - just about, now believes this year is the new millennium. And most newspapers, journalists, instead of setting their public right, merely jump on the bandwagon of ignorance.. 

Finally, don't even think of describing anyone who corrects this nonsense as a 'pedant'.  Demanding simple accuracy in math is not the same as pedantry."

I stand by everything I wrote then, in terms now of defining when a new decade begins. It does not begin at midnight but one year from then.

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