Thursday, September 23, 1999

The Millennium

There has been way too much flap about the “end of the millennium”: is it the bridge between 1999 and 200, or between 2000 and 2001?

First, that’s “millennium”.  Two “n”s.  Most misspelled word of 1999.  (And 2000.)

Second, a millennium ends December 31, 2000.  Another one ends tonight.  A somewhat different millennium begins on June 3, 2004.

Third, it’s all post-dated crap anyway.  “There was no Year Zero” tout the millenniumists.  “Big whoop,” I say.  “There was no Year One, either.”

In about 532 AD of our current counting, some monk backdated events and declared a numbering system which would start with Christ being born at the start of Year One (which equated to something like Roman year 750 — look it up if you want it exact).  Alas, he got it wrong.  (Does anyone still believe that other religious figure who determined that the world was created in 4004 BC?  If not, why do we weight this guy’s figures so strongly?)  Based on historical records, Christ would have been born no later than 4 BC (by that calendar) — which means the “millennium” happened in 1996, and we all missed it!

Further, we celebrate Christ’s birthday a week before the first day of the new year, which twigs the calendar off by another week.  But shepherds watched their flocks by night — to protect the lambs — which means Christ would have been born in, say, April.  (April 15: now there’s a good day to celebrate!)  And a couple hundred years ago, they “fixed” the calendar and shifted it by a couple weeks to account for proper leap year differences (causing the late-to-adopt Russians to have their October Revolution in November).

(Side Note: Christmas is situated in December because every other religion in the area had a winter solstice celebration, so the early Christians could hide their big one by doing it when others did theirs.  The “reason for the season” isn’t Jesus, it’s to avoid persecution!)

So, as you can see, December 31, 2000 is approximately 2000 years after absolutely nothing of significance.

At the end of December 31, 1999, however, we saw a whole bunch of digits flip over.  We concluded all years starting with “1” and started all years starting with “2”.  We held our collective breath about Y2K (and wasn’t that a yawner?).  In comparison, what is interesting about the cusp of the 2000/2001 switch?  Other than ushering in the Arthur C. Clarke year, will there be anything non-(faked up-)religious to “wow” about?  We’ll have concluded what is termed the 20th century (and whether the year numbers are “right” or not, the number of years that have passed will be fairly firm and consistent) at least, but the number switch a year before will have taken so much of the wind out of the sails that it will be rather a denouement.

Your best bet: celebrate both dates — hedge your bets — and heck, celebrate for the entire year!  Just don’t play that damn Prince song any more.

(For the record: if the “second millennium” — if you want to call it that — doesn’t end until the conclusion of the year 2000, neither does the “twentieth century.”  We haven’t hit the 21st Century quite yet, folks!)

Updated on October 10, 2000

Dr. Laura

Okay, I don’t outright hate Dr. Laura.  When she limits herself to dealing with family and marriage issues — the stuff she is licensed for — her advice is generally pretty good.  But she gets on my nerves.  (And those of a lot of people.  She got parodied in a Stephanie Brush humor column, and a version of her even got used as a patsy by the super-villain The Kingpin in the “Spider-Man” comic strip.  And try this short bit for fun.)

She has a tendency to weigh the importance of kids in the family too strongly for my tastes, coming off more or less as “If you have kids, they are your entire life until they are 18 years old.  To have any pleasure of your own that does not both include and focus around the kids is wrong.”  I don’t have kids, myself, and I have little expectation of ever doing so, but this seems a bit heavy handed.  Not completely wrong, but not completely right, either.  Just “over the top.”

(My favorite — not — example of this was when a male caller talked about how he had come to terms with being gay, and how he and his wife were considering getting a divorce.  Dr. Laura’s response?  Since he and his wife had a child, divorce was not an option.  The couple must stick it out until the daughter grew up; they were not allowed to develop other relationships or otherwise have lives of their own.  Another decade of misery and stress for both parents was the only solution Dr. Laura would consider.  Never mind what that situation might do to the child.)

She also has a tendency to be abrasive with her callers, jumping on side issues (especially kid-related ones) rather than letting the caller speak through their problem.  Sometimes this is the right thing to do, as many callers are rather unfocused and/or unwilling to self-analyze.   Most of the time for the audience, though, it just comes off as abuse from the advisor.

The biggest problem with Dr. Laura is when she moralizes.  She goes outside the bounds of being an advice show and into the realm of preaching about what is wrong with society.  (Two of her favorite topics in 1999 were (a) homosexuality and (b) libraries and the Internet.)  She also has a tendency to quote from news stories and letters, giving minimal context, using those phrases which support her or deride those she is opposed to.  To someone used to reading between the lines and being suspicious of such “opinion journalism,” it is evident what she is doing, but does her average listener have the skills and skepticism to sift around her statements?  And then there is her use of hot-button words like “pedophilia,” words which evoke a reaction stronger than is warranted by whatever story (usually kids and the Internet) she is dealing with.

Further, she gives no opportunity for people with differing opinions to express them to her.  Callers to her show are apparently carefully screened in order to prevent confrontation on issues.  Dr. Laura explicitly avoids having an e-mail address, and there is not even an obvious way to contact her (or her people) on her web site (there is a chat forum of sorts, but it is subject to editting and enforced “politeness”; it is easy to guess what is apt to happen to anti-Dr. Laura opinions there).  [This may have changed some in the years since this post was originally written.]  The end result of this is that Dr. Laura has a “bully pulpit” from which she is allowed to speak her mind without fear of contradiciton.

This also means that the only recourse for people who oppose her views is to express themselves via the press, or to attempt to have radio stations (and now, television stations) drop/limit her show.  And that just gives more grist for her mill, allowing her to say that she (innocent, good-hearted little her) is being attacked.   (And then she quotes only the extreme bits of such articles, of course.)  Her favorite claim on being attacked seems be that it comes from “gay activists,” without detailing who they are or what their agendas might be, tarring all gay and lesbian people with the same brush.

So what can or should be done about Dr. Laura and her shows?  With neither the ability nor the hope of getting her to moderate her opinions and moralizing, and without trying to outright stop (i.e., censor) her, the best suggestion is to try and limit her instead.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, the 1999 popularity of her radio show was such that its carrier, KGO, expanded her show to about double the previous amount of weekly time, even going so far as to bump the schedules of their local talk radio hosts into later slots and removing their female host from weekdays altogether, relegating her to reduced hours on weekends, plus fill-in slots for the other hosts.  Dr. Laura’s annoyance factor and the amount of time spent moralizing went up dramatically as a result (although I can’t be sure whether there was a percentage increase for such as well as a total time increase).  Fortunately, in July 2000, backlash and negative reaction to Dr. Laura (and her then-upcoming televison program) had increased to the point that she was bumped completely off KGO and onto its conservative sister station, KSFO. Ask your local radio or television station that carries her show to cut her show back to a smaller time slot.  In addition to limiting her time in the “pulpit,” it will encourage her to focus on advising individuals — the ostensible purpose of her show — and it will enable your radio station to give more variety to the listeners by using more hosts, hopefully even local ones rather than someone with a national focus like Dr. Laura.  Everyone will win.

For more info on Dr. Laura and the fight to moderate her bully pulpit, visit the Stop Dr. Laura website.  (Note: I am not associated with this website in any way.)

Updated on October 10, 2000

E-Mail Petitions

You’ve probably received one or more of these in the past.  You know the sort: some social evil is occurring (like the Religious Right trying to crack down on an airline that sponsored a gay event at some point, or Congress about to let the Post Office charge you for sending e-mail, or something like that), so someone starts an “e-mail petition.”  You are then to add your name (and sometimes your city) and then send it to everyone you know via e-mail.

What purpose does this serve, beyond sending lots of e-mail?

The early versions of these didn’t even give any way for the petition to get to the people it ostensibly needed to.  The petition would just somehow magically “appear” on the desk of the president of the airline, perhaps?  More recent versions have had provisions for every 25th or 50th signer to send the petition to some e-mail address, from which they will presumably be distilled and delivered to the right person.

Let’s think about this a moment.  Imagine that you get the petition and are #19 on the list.  You send it to 10 people.  They are all #20, and they send it to 10 people.  That’s 100 as #21, 1000 as #22,… and 1 million people each listed as #25, all of them dutifully mailing a copy of the petition to the requisite e-mail address (and to ten more friends).  I imagine that the receiving e-mail address would get rather swamped quite quickly.  (And indeed, if you’ve ever tried sending such an item in, you probably found that the e-mail address listed was defunct.)

Now imagine someone — even a computer program — trying to process hundreds of thousands of these e-mailed petitions, trying to extract names from which to compile a master list, in order to find out just how many people really did “sign”.  The way e-mailers warp these human-readable messages, with line wraps and “>” quoting and such, heck, a human would need to look at many of the items just to find the names.  Yeah. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of them.  I don’t think so.

Suppose, though, that a list of names was able to be extracted and the duplicates (more than 99% of the names, probably) removed.  What good does a list of names with no addresses attached do?  Anyone could have loaded the petition up with names pulled from a phone book; there is no way to check that any person on the list ever even saw the petition, much less wanted their name attached.  (Or heck, that they even exist!)  No, even if any of these petitions ever do get to a corporation, they are of no use to anyone there, and they will only get tossed out as unsolicited e-mail.

Do you really want to have an effect?  Trying visiting the company’s corporate website, find a contact address (e-mail or regular mail), and write an individual, original letter — even just a two-line note.  This is much more likely to have someone read it, and pay attention to it, than some alleged “petition” to which you can just blindly add your name, send on, and pretend that you have tried to make a difference.

Also consider visiting  Started in late 1998 as a reaction to the Clinton impeachment trial, this is a web site intended specifically for the electronic gathering of petitions.  It allows you to enter your name, e-mail address, and zip code, and an optional individual comment, and then a compiled petition with your name included only once (and thus effectively) can be sent to the right people and have an actual effect.

Updated on October 10, 2000

Blurry Hearing (definition)

The talent for hearing a conversation incorrectly.

Related to “selective hearing,” which is tuning in on particular words (names or sexual terms, especially), but with “blurry hearing,” what you thought you heard wasn’t even actually said.

Updated on Ocotber 10, 2000
Updated on December 10, 2009

Metro Redneck (definition)

Someone who lives in the city and drives a pickup, but isn’t a contractor.
Back in 1999, I switched jobs and started working in downtown Menlo Park, CA (an upscale part of the Bay Area).  One day, as I walked from the office to Starbucks — across the street, maybe 100 feet — I counted on the order of 28 SUVs and pickup trucks, and thus created this phrase.

Today, I see an increasing number of Cadillac Escalade EXT — Cadillac pickups!  If there was ever a pickup truck whose bed will never ever be used for hauling lumber back from Home Depot, this would be it.  Über Metro Redneck: the pickup truck as a status symbol.

Updated on October 10, 2000

Updated on July 7, 2004

Merged duplicate items on May 11, 2011

Stealth Blonde (definition)

A seemingly non-blonde who still manages to have “blonde moments.”

Updated on October 10, 2000


“You don’t break boots in.  Boots break you in.”