Vodka, Jesus and a new Millennium

Last week an interesting email story titled "Scientific Resolution" has landed in my mailbox. Here it is, translated from Russian:

Any scientist who can't explain to an eight-year old what he is doing is a charlatan.
Kurt Vonnegut

At the end of the 1990s, hot discussions have been puffing all around the world on whether the new millennium should be celebrated on January 1st 2000 or January 1st 2001. Everyone argued everywhere, occasionally with screams and fights. So did we, in the editorial department of our news channel. Arguments varied. One lady even pencilled 2000 check marks on the paper to support her position.

When we ran out of arguments we continued with insults. At that moment one of the camera operators stuck his nose inside our room and told us that there is a distinguished professor being interviewed in the next studio over for some scientific program. Perhaps he can serve as a judge in our by now boiling discussion. Let's grab him, and force him to resolve this troubling millennium question. And let's agree that whatever he says we'll have to accept and get back to work.

The scientists looked very authoritative:
Around 100 years old, member of various world science academies.
Physicists, mathematician etc. First class!

He spent the last 40 years in the US, so he spoke Russian with a American accent.

We grabbed him and asked! In a second he smiled and pronounced:
"My friends, imagine you are having a picnic and drinking vodka. You have
3 crates. Each crate has 10 bottles. Now, you answer me: "twentieths bottle will be in the 2nd crate or the 3rd?"

This is a real scientist! I have hard time imagining a fool that THIS professor can't teach.

End of the story.

I loved the story but was doubting that this professor is indeed right. He may be Professor, Lord, Duke, or a President - I thought annoyingly - but while the 20th bottle belongs to the 2nd crate and the 40th bottle belongs to the 4th crate, I knew very well that on my 40th birthday I will be starting my 5th decade. Does Jesus's life and birth, defining our AD, have more in common with my life count or with the vodka arrangement?

Millennium window at St Peter & St Paul, Shoreham, Kent. Image from Flickr, distributed under CCL

By the time we are 1 year old, we already lived 1 full year.
So, the first decade of our life is from birth until we turn 10.
From the day after our 10th birthday until our 20th birthday is the second decade of your life. Therefore, the year when we are 10 belongs to the 2nd decade of our life. While 10th vodka bottle obviously belongs to the 1st crate.

We all know that our AD count is associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. It must have started with zero at the time of the Jesus's birth and is therefore similar to count of our age. Then, similarly to your every tenth birthday opening a new decade, January 1st of 2000 will be opening a new Millennium.

Turns out I was wrong. According to Wikipedia, "Most historians agree that Dionysius nominated Christ's birth as December 25 of the year before AD 1. Therefore, there is no year zero in this scheme, so the year AD 1 immediately follows the year 1 BC." This means that our AD year count is more similar to the vodka bottles count, starting with 1. And like the 10th bottle is the last one we drink from the first crate, year 2000 is the last year of the old Millennium and the new Millennium is starting on January 1st 2001.

The authoritative professor was absolutely right and brilliant in the simplicity of his explanation!


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