The millennium is finally here, and we are pleased to report that the Y2K computer bug appears to have caused no probl99999xzqp] ]]]///http://?godfather of soul29874%77 777no controlling legal auth7777!!!!!)))*&&###! raising the serious question of accountability for creating this false alarm.
This has been a special moment for rituals and celebrations and sacred cultural traditions. The year 2000 began on an island in the Pacific nation of Kiribati, where dancers in grass skirts made a traditional call for good luck in front of the traditional international press corps. In Hong Kong, gamblers marked the millennium with midnight horse races. In Afghanistan, there was the traditional Releasing of the Hostages.
And in Russia, the traditional Bizarre and Perplexing Yeltsin Moment culminated with Yeltsin quitting outright and apologizing for spending so much of his tenure in a condition that spawned rumors that he was dead.
It is an amazing milestone in human history. We watch the world turn before our eyes. We see the images of people in lands far away, and we feel so close to them and yet so far away, since they seem to have fundamental problems understanding when it is night and when it is day. If nothing else, the millennium coverage on TV seems to add fuel to the contention that the entire planet, for all its apparent stability, is spinning on its axis. On several news networks you could see wonderful graphical representations of the spinning globe, some so detailed that if you looked closely you could see tiny little people screaming as they flew off the surface and into space due to the excessive centrifugal force.
I awoke at 5:50 a.m. EST to catch the New Zealand millennial celebration, an event that created a compelling argument for going back to sleep. We Americans feel bad for New Zealanders, living as they do at the end of the Earth, upside down, among so many sheep, with everyone confused about what day it is. To its credit, New Zealand managed this morning to leverage its tragic global position into free media coverage. "Live from New Zealand!" Four words you just never hear.
The millennium event in Auckland featured a pyrotechnic display and many dancers, and was somewhat reminiscent of an Orange Bowl halftime show. History will record that humans in special moments tend to favor noise over silence. When in doubt, add more dancers and more explosions and back it up with an orchestra and then blow up some more things and make sure there's enough booze.
Two hours later the Earth suddenly spun two notches and the millennium arrived in Sydney, where there was even more noise and light. Those of us watching on TV could reflect on one of the great wonders of modern technology: A fireworks show on the other side of the world can be transmitted to our homes and crammed into a television set where it will no longer retain any trace of its original magic and excitement. Watching fireworks on TV is about as exciting as watching the Playboy Channel scrambled.
The TV coverage featured much "anchor patter." This was not an easy thing to cover--it was a news story so prepackaged and predictable that it had been planned for about 2,000 years. At one point ABC's Peter Jennings tossed a bit of lame patter at a talking head in New Zealand, asking what kind of attitudes New Zealanders have toward the 21st century. It was one of those questions that basically said, "Why don't you emit some words now." The talking head said she couldn't hear the question, could he repeat it? Poor Jennings! He had to e-nun-ci-ate slowly the same lifeless, lame bit of what-attitudes-do-you-have patter. He was going to have a long day. Twenty-two time zones to go!
At 11:10 a.m. EST, there was live coverage on CNN of the sun coming up over the ocean east of the Chatham Islands of New Zealand. Since the sun came up here just a few hours earlier, and we are nowhere near the Chatham Islands of New Zealand, something's obviously fishy about this situation. Could there possibly be . . . two suns? Has anyone ever checked????
The year 2000 has been, in a sense, an obstacle. It was always The Future, and you weren't really permitted to imagine a future beyond it. We've all been waiting for this day our entire lives. Now we can move on and leave behind, for now, all the Top 100 lists and Person of the Century debates and the stories about Gutenberg and Galileo and all those other important characters who are extremely dead.
But this has also been a fun and interesting period. We've had a rare chance to view human history on a grander stage with the dimensions enlarged tenfold or a hundredfold. On the larger scale, we see an amazing spread of human civilization over the past thousand years. The planet shrank. We learned to speak to one another around the world, constrained only by the speed of light.
And yet we also wonder how it could be that progress is so fitful. Billions of people live in poverty. Untold millions of children have no parents to raise them. How can we marvel at our technological wizardry even as we know that so many people die every year from diseases spread in contaminated drinking water?
Most people have never made a phone call.
The world turns. The calendar changes. But a new world isn't built in a day.
Rough Draft, which appears at 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday on washingtonpost.com, wishes everyone a happy and safe new year.