Journalists and most of their readers know that the last days of the year produce little in the way of hard news. Governments, which originate most of the news, gradually shut off their faucets of information. The media consequently gets so thirsty for stories that it will print information and discussion of less than top drawer significance and soundness.
The St. Thomas Source is just short of its first birthday. It is a mark of this paper's new maturity that the Source feels it can indulge in some of this end-of-the-year frivolity.
Case in point: Where does the Millennium start?
This is not as simple a question as it might appear.
There actually are three questions. Prepare to see a lot of stories about them between now and Dec. 31. Ignore all those stories in other publications; you are getting the authoritative word here. We're mature enough to know we're right.
The first question is not where, but when? Five years ago this became a controversial question when the bean counters insisted—not without some justification—that a millennium of 1,000 years begins with the first of those 1,000 years; in other words, in 2001, not 2000. With rare unanimity, world opinion ignored that hidebound approach and decided that if we're advancing all four dials on the odometer of years, that's a new millennium.
The second question is where in the world will the new Millennium first display itself? There's a raging argument about this; a lot of tourist money is involved.
Way out in the Western Pacific, there's something called the International Dateline. All you need to know about it is that it's a line on the map of the world that separates today from tomorrow. If you step across the line in a westward direction at, say, 11 p.m. on Dec. 30, the time of the day doesn't change but the date sure does. For you, it is now 11 p.m. on Dec 31 and the new year is only one hour away.
Some nice countries just to the west of the Dateline, such as New Zealand and Australia, are proudly asserting their belief that the new Millennium is coming first to them. Cruise ships have marketed packages that promise passengers they will be the first in the world to usher in the Millennium from their floating pleasure palaces just a mile west of the Dateline.
Television personality Geraldo Rivera will be on one of those cruise ships and thinks he will be the first to broadcast live in the new Millennium.
Not so fast there, Geraldo.
Half a world away from Geraldo, on the south bank of the Thames River, in the middle of a verdant park in the town of Greenwich, is the Royal Observatory of Great Britain and through this charming building runs another line far more important than that dippy International Dateline. It is the zero line of Longitude running from the North Pole to the South Pole. We call it the Prime Meridian. By worldwide agreement, official time is measured from the Prime Meridian; the time on the line itself is the reassuring worldwide standard, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). (Our Atlantic Standard Time, or AST, is four hours behind GMT.)
The Brits are old hands at this sort of pomp and circumstance. So with hardly a nod to their former colonies in the Southwest Pacific and no gesture of any kind toward Geraldo and the milling thousands on the cruise ships, Her Majesty's government observes that by international agreement they were commissioned to keep the world's official time, and to do so not at any old place but on the Prime Meridian at Greenwich.
Therefore, declare the British, the world's new Millennium officially will arrive at one second after midnight on Saturday, January 1, on the Prime Meridian at Greenwich.
It's hard to disagree with Great Britain's stand. After all, they've got the meridian. And they've already spent all that money on their giant Millennium Dome and other tourist attractions.
Support for the British position was swift in coming from an old adversary. The city of Boston will kick off its Millennium celebration at 7 p.m., five hours early, because that's when the new age will dawn at the Prime Meridian five hours away across the Atlantic.
Now, the third question is really interesting. Forget about the world. Where in the United States will the Millennium make its first appearance?
Readers of the Source know a strong claim has been put forth by our own island of St. Croix on behalf of Point Udall, the eastern tip of the big island, as the first location in the United States to herald the Millennium.
Not so fast, writes Bob Pedersen of Florida in an e-mail to the St. Croix Source. He points out the state of Alaska straddles the 180 degree line of longtitude, location of the International Dateline and exactly half way around the globe from Britain's Prime Meridian. Mr. Pedersen's point presumably is that parts of Alaska are going to get that crucial 24-hour jump on the Millennium.
Not so fast, Mr. Pedersen. The Dateline is out there, sure, but it zigs and zags like crazy to avoid carving up any country or state. And Alaska, Mr. Pedersen, is entirely on the eastern side, our side, of the Dateline.
In addition, Alaska doesn't meet the standard of the Prime Meridian Principle (PMP) which we will explain shortly. Furthermore, it's too cold up there. You don't see Geraldo Rivera heading up toward the Arctic Circle, do you?
Then there is the island of Guam, whose most vocal supporter is, oddly enough, a resident of St. Croix, Herb Schoenbohm. He isn't so much in favor of Guam, as he is against bestowing the honor on his own island. Schoenbohm doesn't think much of the festivities scheduled for Point Udall that night.
With or without Schoenbohm, Guam has a strong case. It meets all the qualifications except one. Guam is part of the United States and is on the correct side, the west side, of the Dateline. Its slogan is "Where the Nation's Day Begins." The people of Guam are proclaiming that if the nation's day begins there, the nation's Millennium begins there, too. A powerful argument and it almost carries the day—until you apply the PMP.
This principle states that the Millennium must arrive first at Greenwich and then sweep in a stately manner westward, hour by hour, time zone by time zone, until it encircles the earth. In other words, it matters not which side of the dateline you're on, but how many time zones west of Greenwich you are. Rome, the eternal city—one hour east of GMT, thus will be the last major city to welcome the Millennium, according to the PMP.
Bad news for Guam, Alaska and Schoenbohm. Good news for St. Croix. It took the application of the Prime Meridian Principle to do it, but Point Udall is going to be the first location in the United States to welcome the Millennium.
We must, however, stand firm with the British on the Prime Meridian Principle. If the Brits fall, the Geraldo Rivera cruise ship fleet heading for the International Dateline will take over. That means Guam will snatch away the distinction that is truly St. Croix's.
If that happens, don't blame the Source. In line with the sound journalism so typical at this time of the year, we've given you a tightly reasoned case for St. Croix's ascendancy.
Editor's Note: When he isn't consulting maps, charts and globes, Frank Jordan is an editor for The Source, a local radio commentator, and former journalism professor at UVI.