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But it was the parties that got most of the attention, since the 72% of Americans who stayed home this year needed something to watch. Australia set off some fireworks, as did Japan, where Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi tried to backpedal from weeks of warnings to stockpile food and water. He had even declared a three-day emergency holiday. A country that has been burned as badly by its faith in technology over the past decade as Japan deserves to be careful. But for China, which really doesn't have many computers and uses a different calendar anyway, to declare a holiday in fear of the Y2K bug seemed just about as silly as the manly N.F.L.'s forcing teams to fly to opposing fields a day early on Friday to avoid being in the air in the new year.
London, while offering a fireworks display of disturbing duration, had some mishaps. The much hyped fire on the Thames, which was to travel at the speed of the earth's rotation, didn't quite happen, and the giant Ferris wheel being built for the occasion was not ready. This was not because of a Y2K bug, but because they are British. The Millennium Dome, however, was ready and so big that if held upside down under Niagara Falls, it would take 12 minutes to fill. This is entirely unhelpful as to figuring out how big it is.
Paris' 11 Ferris wheels were working fine, and though its fireworks display was shorter than London's, it clearly was more impressive. This comparison is far less uninteresting than the 10 minutes of debate on ABC between Barbara Walters and Cokie Roberts over which is a better city, Paris or Rome. ABC had 25 hours of time to fill. Walters changed outfits twice, enough time for anchor Peter Jennings to report an e-mail from a viewer saying she liked Walters' first outfit better. ABC had 25 hours of time to fill.
Meanwhile, in that ironic way communist governments have of ignoring the people's will, Cuba declared that there should be no celebrations since the millennium really starts next year. Instead, they celebrated the 41st anniversary of their revolution and permitted only foreigners to attend a show at the Tropicana.
In America we couldn't quite get the mood right, with the mayor of Chicago inviting two people from every country in the world to dinner and presiding over the city's official 2,000-minute-long party. It included a new dance called the Milly, which, fortunately, few TV news organizations covered. In Washington the President had a large group of people over for dinner, including Don McLean of American Pie fame. They all then watched a movie made by Steven Spielberg that ended with an old man's hand touching a baby's hand against a backdrop of an American flag. In Los Angeles one of the Dust Brothers, a record-producing duo, was married at his house; Beck served as the wedding band. In New York, Internet millionaire Josh Harris spent $700,000 on a month-long party that culminated at midnight with his trying to coordinate six fornicating couples into simultaneous orgasm at midnight. Everyone has a dream.
Regardless of what you may think of New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, you must admit he was the right man at the right time. Two million people stood perfectly in place as the ball dropped, five helicopters circled above, and 100 confetti-dispersal engineers, trained all week by Treb Heining, the man who invented animal balloons, dropped 45-lb. boxes worth of paper on the crowd.