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A Millennium Miscellany


by Borgna Brunner

The Just-in-Time-for-the-Millennium Department

In Dec. 1999, Pope John Paul II publicly apologized for the Catholic Church's execution of Czech reform leader Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake for heresy some 584 years ago, in 1415.

In Oct. 1999, Alabama rescinded the nation's last remaining ban on interracial marriages among the 50 states. Alabama's 1901 constitution prohibited a black person, or any descendant of a black person, from marrying a white person.

South Carolina (which only rescinded its miscegenation laws 8 months before Alabama) will be the only state entering the millennium with the Confederate flag flying over its statehouse (Alabama abandoned its Confederate flag in 1993).

In Italy, more than 100 misdemeanors were decriminalized in 1999. It is finally legal for Italians to insult a public official, duel, get drunk in public, or beg "in a repugnant or tormenting manner." Blasphemy and exhibiting "insulting behavior" toward the dead are now also among the civil rights of every Italian citizen. Free at last.

For years, New Hampshire was the only state without a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and one of only two states outlawing gays from adopting. In 1999 it not only instituted Martin Luther King Day but changed its adoption laws, leaving Florida the only state prohibiting adoption by gays.

Kuwait's ruler, Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a decree in 1999 giving Kuwaiti women the right to vote for the first time. An incensed Kuwaiti parliament, however, rescinded the decree. So there are still a few pockets of the world that could do with enlightenment in the new millennium.

Millennium Central

Spelling Era

Time Magazine reported that millennium is not only one of the most overused words of the year, but one of the most frequently misspelled. In 1999, newspapers and magazines left out the second n in the word at least 4,709 times.

Millennium Over-Chil

Sick to death of the word millennium? Be the first in your crowd to switch to the little used synonym, chiliad, (pronounced kill-ee-ad) as in, "all this crass chiliastic hype is getting to me," or "technically, this chiliad doesn't end until 2001." That's chiliad with one l.

Wherefore Art Thou Y2K?

The second most overused word of the year was virtually unheard of before 1999. The term Y2K was actually coined more than five years ago, according to Slate magazine. In fact, Slate identifies the exact moment of its creation: an email sent on Monday, June 12, 1995, at 11:31 p.m. The inventor was not some high-strung teen-age computer geek as some of us might assume, but a distinguished looking 52-year-old computer consultant from Massachusetts. As Y2K's creator David Eddy told Slate, "People were calling it Year 2000, CDC [Century Date Change], Faddle [Faulty Date Logic]. There were other contenders. [Y2K] just came off my fingertips." See the Slate article, which offers an exhaustive exegesis of the term.

First NASA Loses the Mars Lander, Now It Delays the Millennium

According to the physics magazine CERN Courier, in order to launch Cassini-Huygens space vehicle on its seven-year journey to Saturn, NASA had to perform a slingshot maneuver last August that caused the Earth's orbit to slow by about one-millionth of one-millionth of a second. As a consequence, there will a corresponding delay in the arrival of the new year. Reset your atomic clocks accordingly.

Millennium Meretriciousness

Amid the spangled Y2K tee-shirts and other millennium novelties, two creations have distinguished themselves as the very best examples of shameless marketing and worthless gimmickry:

  • The Cheap and Cheesy Award: The Friskies® Millennium Memories Scrapbook, "Complete with colorful growth charts, special sections for important milestones, and dedicated space for tracking visits to the veterinarian." The scrapbook is free with just six UPCs (bar codes) from any Friskies dry, canned, or treat cat or dog food product plus $1.99 for shipping and handling. Don't kid yourselves, cat lovers. It is the rare cat who will deign to recognize the millennium—few are slaves to the Gregorian calendar.
  • A Fool and His or Her Money Award: The $10 Million Millennium Bra by Victoria's Secret is made up of 3,024 diamonds and sapphires. Diamonds that spell out "2000" adorn the left strap, in case you were wondering what was millennial about it besides the price. A matching string bikini is thrown in for free and an armored car will deliver it in time for the big night. If you wake up the next morning hung over and bankrupt, don't even think of bringing it back—a Victoria's Secret spokesperson explains that it is "not returnable because it's custom made."

Twentieth Century Dinosaurs

The term twentieth century has stood for progress, modernity, and the state-of-the-art, but it will soon become synonymous with the previous century. To dissociate themselves with such passé mustiness, a number of innovative companies will be keeping up with the times by having a name change. Twentieth Century Industries in Woodland Hills, Calif., for example, will change its name on Jan. 1 to the Twenty-first Century Insurance Group. According to the New York Times, however, at least one company is insisting that its temporal name has a timelessness about it: Twentieth Century-Fox film and TV studios has announced, "there is no chance of our changing such a well-known and respected name. If it was good enough for the 20th century, it is good enough for the 21st."




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