How high is up?

I am terribly confused. It seems to me that 2010 is the beginning of the new decade but a friend insists it is actually the end of a decade. So who is right?

No pressure, but your answer will decide who is buying lunch, unless you come up with something really dumb that both of us find nonsensical.

— J. B., Grants Pass

It seems to us that if we come up with a "sensical" answer, then both of you should buy us lunch, J.B.

But, even without the prospect of a free lunch, we will endeavor to answer your rather dangerous question.

The problem is there are two schools of thought, both of which get equally angry with the dunces who disagree with their particular perspective. Indeed, our SYA historians tell us that several wars have started over the decades-old argument.

But we hold duck-and-cover exercises daily at the SYA Center for Decadal Peace & Tranquility. We sneer at the abuse periodically heaped upon us.

Let's start out by agreeing that a decade is 10 years long. Agreed? That means you can start a 10-year period — a decade — anytime you want to launch one.

It would be best if we stopped right there. But we will push fearlessly ahead with no concern for our safety.

So let's step into the first school of thought. These folks figure the first year begins at zero and ends at one. By their reckoning, the first decade of the 21st century ended on Jan. 31, 2009. They were the same ones who ended the 20th century on Jan. 31, 1999.

But the second school of thought argues just as adamantly that there was no year zero. They insist that the first decade of every century started with the year one. For them, the new decade begins on Jan. 1, 2011.

Our problem is that we have angry graduates of both schools here at SYA. Our suggestion is that you buy each other lunch and talk about important things such as whether the Ducks will win the national football title, J.B.

We are going to duck under our desks now because the SYA chairs are starting to fly, thank you very much.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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