Happy New Year And New Decade

It's been quite a year, and quite a decade.

Happy New Year from all of us here at Outside The Beltway, and with it the start of a New decade. Yea, I know there are those who will argue that, because there was never a year zero in the Gregorian (or Julian) Calendar, the decade doesn’t actually begin until January 1, 2021. These are, by and large, the same people who argued that the new century and new millennium didn’t begin until January 1, 2001. As The New York Times noted back in November, though, when a decade begins and ends is at heart a cultural question:

Unlike the definition of daylight saving time, the definition of a decade is not governed by legal guidelines. But the debate got people talking. Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, a curator in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, said, “There are two different ways to designate decades.”

First, there is the modified Julian date. But, he added, “people work with language more than numbers.” The second way is to designate decades by popular convention and usage. An example? Most people would say the 1950s went from 1950 to 1959.

“People want simple answers,” Dr. Mac Low said. “But the answer is not always simple.”

Mr. Chester agreed. “There is no absolute,” he said.

Using a modified Julian date, the 2020s will begin on Jan. 1, 2021, Dr. Mac Low said.

But that is out of sync with common usage. According to Emily Brewster, a senior editor at Merriam-Webster, a decade in popular culture is not defined by scientific convention. Because of this, the 2020s will begin on Jan. 1, 2020, and end on Dec. 31, 2029, Ms. Brewster said.

“It is interesting that there is this arbitrariness,” she said. “It’s unconventional, like language.”

So, consider the new decade as beginning whenever you want it to, I guess. As a matter of culture and history, though, the consensus is likely to be that the new decade begins today and will end on December 31st, 2029. And that’s how I’m going to consider it.

As for the year that just passed, what is there to say? We’ve spent the past year watching things get worse and worse in Washington, with the perverse and destructive becoming just a normal part of the news cycle. The report prepared by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators, which confirmed yet again that a foreign power sought to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election, left open the suggestion that there may have been coordination of some kind between the Russians, Wikileaks, and the Trump campaign, and strongly suggested at the very least that the President and his Administration obstructed justice in their effort to undermine that investigation has been largely forgotten. Also forgotten is the testimony of longtime Trump attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen, currently serving time in Federal Prison, regarding the conspiracy between himself and the President to pay off two women that Trump had affairs with when his wife was pregnant. Finally, we’ve seen the fact that the President has clearly been profiting off of his Presidency in violation of the Constitution get largely ignored. It’s all been very depressing.

The year took a turn in September, though, when a whistleblower complaint from within the intelligence community seeking to bring attention to a July 25th phone call between President Trump and the newly elected President of Ukraine. In that call, the President appeared for all the world to be linking military aid and diplomatic progress with the United States to investigations of former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter as well as information regarding the discredited conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine that interfered in 2016, a conspiracy theory that American intelligence officials have demonstrated to be Kremlin propaganda. This revelation set off multiple investigations by the House of Representatives and, ultimately, the impeachment of the President shortly before Congress left for the holidays.

All of this leads us to what the new year will bring us. At some point in January, the Senate will convene for the third impeachment trial of a President in American history, the outcome of which is in no serious doubt. The other big story in the year to come, of course, will be the election. In addition to the race for the Democratic nomination for President, we’ll also be dealing with elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate that will decide who controls Congress for the next two years. In that respect, the GOP likely has more to worry about in the Senate than the Democrats do in the House, but the fact that the Democratic majority depends significantly on candidates who won in 2018 in districts that the President won in 2016 could be a big issue going forward.

In any case, Happy New Year and Happy New Decade!

FILED UNDER: History, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Blech.

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  2. Teve says:

    On social media I’m a big advocate of blocking bad people to make the experience better, and I have lately blocked a few “Well actually there was no year zero so-“ d-bags.

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    I always liked Stephen Jay Gould’s solution to the question of whether the new millennium started Jan 1, 2000 or 2001. Have a big party on the eve of both.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:
  5. Tony W says:

    I would not be so quick in predicting a January Senate trial for Trump on impeachment.

    Speaker Pelosi remembers well McConnell holding up Merrick Garland’s nomination for the better part of an election year, and I personally think Moscow Mitch is about to be gored by his own ox.

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  6. CSK says:

    @Tony W: Indeed. But I think her primary purpose is to drive Trump into a gibbering frenzy by delaying it.

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  7. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    If we numbered people’s ages the way we number years, everyone would be one on the day they were born, and nine actual years old by age ten.

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  8. @Tony W:

    The Republicans don’t care when (or if) there is a Senate trial. In fact, the longer this is dragged out the more they’ll argue that the whole impeachment was a partisan sham.

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  9. @Kathy:

    So the year from the day you were born to your first birthday is when you were 0?

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  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    As a programmer I’m happy to start counting at zero, when dealing with ordinals, anyway. This is the famous “off by one” error staring us in the face. As to claims of “there was no year zero”? Well, sure there was, we just don’t call it that.

    Happy New Year, all!

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    @CSK: While I think trolling Trump is an added benefit, I think that keeping this open allows for further testimony to be brought before the public. The Senate could have it, if it wanted it, but it doesn’t. So we wait until the litigation surrounding, say, Bolton, and also Lev Parnas’ offer to Congress has taken its course.

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  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The first century AD was the years 00-99. The 2nd Century AD was the years 100-199. And so on.

    So, the first decade of the 2nd millennium are the years 2000-2009. The 2nd decade is the years 2010-2019.

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  13. CSK says:

    @Jay L Gischer: No doubt you and Tony W. are right. But knowing how easy Trump is to goad, that has to be part of it. And Trump might get so crazed that the 25th Amendment would come into play.

    Cult45 crows that Trump “owns the libs,” but the libs actually own Trump. It’s like bear-baiting.

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  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    When Doug counts his fingers, does he decide the last pinky is actually part of someone else’s hand becuase 10 has two digits and the rest are all single digits?

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  15. CSK says:

    In the Intelligencer section of New York magazine, there’s a good article by Adam K. Raymond entitled “A Glossary of Everyday Things, According to Trump.”

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  16. I am totally fine with centuries running year 1 to year 100 (e.g., 1901-2000). That makes sense to me because (risking @Teve‘s ire) that there wasn’t a year zero, And because, usually, you start counting thing at 1 (if I am counting how many dollar in my wallet, for example, I start with “1”).

    For decades, it is clear that we culturally go 0-10 (e.g., 1990-1999). It makes no sense to say that 1990 was part of the “eighties.”

    I think the main reason we are having this debate (apart from social media given us a place to have it) is that it has been two decades since it was easy to have a call a decade by its number since we are entering the twenties.

    It is all just a grouping exercise that is all more about language, communication, and culture than it is about some hard and fast mathematical rule.

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  17. Michael Cain says:

    @CSK: But in this case the bear is reworking the American courts, rolling back environmental regulation, chasing the actual technical staff out of the agencies that do hard technical work, etc.

    I was involved in trying to rebuild that type of organization after the bean-counters cut it in half. It’s a years-long undertaking while you try to restore the culture, institutional memory, etc.

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  18. Bill says:

    @Kathy:

    If we numbered people’s ages the way we number years, everyone would be one on the day they were born, and nine actual years old by age ten.

    One of my pet peeves in my blogging days was the wrong counting of anniversaries or how long something happened. The Kraft Nabisco, a women’s golf tournament started in 1972, was saying in 1986 that it was 35th anniversary. I remember CBS also reporting some hostage situation that ran approximately 10 weeks but overlapped months (Began late in May and ended in early August or something like that) as going on for four months when it was barely two. Dumb math or saying the MSM can’t count were some of my nicer descriptions of this stupidity.

    Happy New Year everyone

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  19. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think the main reason we are having this debate (apart from social media given us a place to have it) is that it has been two decades since it was easy to have a call a decade by its number since we are entering the twenties.

    QED

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  20. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    If we numbered people’s ages the way we number years, everyone would be one on the day they were born, and nine actual years old by age ten.

    Some Asian cultures actually do that (or did, traditionally).

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  21. @Mu Yixiao: And there you go!

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  22. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: A while back I read a book on the process of how new words are coined, and it pointed out that the practice of naming decades by their last two digits began in the late 19th-century (the “Gay Nineties”)–then it promptly came to a halt in the first two decades of the 20th. Nobody talked about the ohs or the tens or anything else; 1900-1909 and 1910-1919 simply had no names at the time. Then in the 1920s, or what came to be called “the twenties,” the practice resumed again. There’s no rational explanation for this other than that the English language simply makes numbers above the teens easier to describe in groups of ten. As a general rule, when people can’t think up a new coinage that wouldn’t sound clumsy or unwieldy, most people just don’t bother. In the early 21st century people have been a bit more adventurous in trying to come up with names for these early decades–the aughties, the naughties, and so on–but nothing has caught on in a broad way. When people want to be clear about what they’re referring to, they usually just fall back on “the 2000s” or “the 2010s.” There’s no elegant solution with broad appeal.

    But now we’re out of that period and people will almost certainly start using the term “the twenties” again–though it will be interesting to see what happens to the historical term referring to the 1920s. When speaking about that earlier period, the older term might simply disappear, or the two might come to coexist and be dependent on context, sort of like the way the NRA means the National Recovery Administration whenever you’re talking about the New Deal.

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  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: In Korea, they would agree with you about that, noting that when a child is born it is already at least 9 months old.

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  24. Jay L Gischer says:

    If I’m trying to find out how many things there are, I start counting at 1. But if I’m trying to give things names – whether it’s slots in an array in some code I’m writing, or years, or perhaps a menu of options – and put them into a predefined order, I prefer to start with the name “0”. That’s the difference between cardinals and ordinals.

    I get that even so, this is idiosyncratic. I was attempting a joke, one that it is very likely that only programmers will think is funny. But I’d like you to mock me for the silly thing I am doing, not for some other dumb thing that isn’t what I’m doing at all.

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  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Also correct because what we celebrate in the Western world is the anniversary of your birth, so yes, technically you are zero years old. 😛

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  26. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is all just a grouping exercise that is all more about language, communication, and culture…

    Isn’t it all though? At some point the grouping exercise accepted some form of monarchies justified by deities, then later most agreed on some form of representational government empowered by natural rights granted by a deity.

    Sadly now the grouping exercise is a war between those who believe that capitalisms itself could be what validates group rule, versus those who believe in a form representational government.

    Representational government was never supposed to be about running at a profit, but about providing services. There is no quarterly profit in building a road for the populace.

    Sadly the “ends justify the means” folks have been winning.

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  27. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: And Rick Santorum would agree. When his wife aborted their 5-months-developed fetus, he and she badgered the hospital into writing “baby” on the death certificate. So it looked as if Mrs. S. had given birth and the child died 5 months later.*

    * Karen Santorum apparently would not have survived w/o the abortion.

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  28. Kathy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Yes, but we don’t count it that way. we say a baby is X weeks or months old, with the zero years implied.

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  29. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Kathy: I agree with you, and wish to amplify:
    When a child is 1 year old, we (in English) might describe them as “starting their second year”. This is the off-by-one problem, which is unavoidable.

    It might seem that Asian languages and cultures avoid this, but they do something that seems inaccurate to us – they describe a newborn has having age “1 year” or perhaps just “1”.

    The basic idea is this – If you look at any section of fencing, there will always be one more fencepost than fence sections. So which are you counting, fenceposts or sections of fence? And how do you reconcile things? There are a lot of different conventions for this, but they are all conventions. None of them is “truth”. I like to enumerate starting with zero, because calculating the address of something in an array (code which I have had to write lots of times) is simpler,

    address = base_address + index*element_size

    If you start at 1, the formula is

    address = base_address + (index – 1) * element_size

    That’s more keystrokes, and more instructions to execute, and more chances to get the code wrong somewhere. Interestingly, (to me, anyway), programming languages designed in the 60’s and 70’s would allow all sorts of array definitions which started not just at 1, but at 100, or 42, or 1984 or whatever.

    All of them are pretty much dead now, but C, which came a bit later and took the stance of “ignore that, arrays start at zero, and that’s that” is still around.

    I code switch on this all the time, depending on who I think the audience is. So I’m firmly of the school that says “Well, if you say ‘twenty-blah’ to describe the year, that year is part of the ‘Twenties'”. That’s the human-friendly version, and the programmer-friendly version. That’s a rare confluence, and it makes me very happy.

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  30. Mister Bluster says:

    Weed is now legal in Illinois. Happy New Year!
    In Washington State Weed is taking over!

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  31. MarkedMan says:

    Chinese ages are derived from the Chinese New Year. So a child becomes 1 when they reach their first New Year’s day and so could be anywhere from 1 to 365 days old. FWIW I think this reflects an actual cultural difference. The Chinese gauge a child by how they fit into the society while the West gauges them in reference to themselves as an individual.

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  32. EddieInCA says:

    Impeachment Trial:

    I predict it will start Feb 5th or 6th. I think Pelosi is going to hold on to it until AFTER the State of the Union on Feb. 4th. And if she does that, it will be freaking brilliant. Can you imagine the SOTU address Trump will give if he’s still under impeachment?

    Think about it. If Pelosi does it before then, he can do an address as a victory and exoneration speech. But… if he’s still not on trial, it’s just sitting there; a very large elephant in the room.

    And Trump doesn’t have the discipline or political skills of a Nixon or Clinton, who would know, instinctively and through staff, that the best way forward is to do the nation’s business. No. Trump will have a meltdown. It will be a Trump Stump Speech on Steroids.

    Pelosi is no dummy.

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  33. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: Yup–I was going to point out the traditional method by which Japanese used to count birthdays as well….

    We’ve simply got to think of decades as starting at “when a really dumb and badly-programmed computer is going to go on the fritz because of the year change”; a pseudo Year 2000 problem….

    Also since Jesus Christ has been estimated as “having been born in Year 4 BC” I don’t see why it’s going to make a difference if we shove our definition around a bit of when a decade starts….are our year numbers counting the number of years that have already occurred, or are occurring that year, or the next year in the future?

    So I vote for the 2020s decade as having started today.

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  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK:

    So it looked as if Mrs. S. had given birth and the child died 5 months later.*/* Karen Santorum apparently would not have survived w/o the abortion.

    This is the thing I don’t understand about the Rick Santorums of the world. Who are you fooling? You know you lied, and so does your LORD. Any actual human being who cares about the issue at all is going to respond “Wow! What a horrible decision to have to make. I’m sure glad that I didn’t have to decide between those choices.” And anyone who would criticize your decision isn’t a actual human being, so nobody cares what they think. Why bother with the deception? Why add coward to it?

    As Martin Luther said, “sin boldly…”

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  35. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: The best I can figure is that Santorum doesn’t like the word “fetus” because to him it implies that a fetus is a disposable commodity. Not human. This is true of all anti-abortion people.
    I learned the word when I was about 10 or 11. There was no stigma attached to it then.

    Santorum was the guy who said that if he were elected president, his first act would be to tell married Christian couples that birth control wasn’t okay for them to practice.

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