Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The fallback plan

This weekend (actually, at 2 AM on Sunday), most of the United States will return from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time.  My general response is, "Yippee."  (You will have to imagine my sarcastic tone, here, as I realize that it doesn't carry well in print.)

Daylight Saving Time began during World War I, and was devised both to save on the fuel required to power indoor lighting, and to allow farmers longer to work their fields during the summer.  (Why the farmers would have cared what the clock said, I have no idea -- it's not as if most farmers punch a time card.)  We spring forward by an hour in March, then fall back in November, except for Arizona, which doesn't observe Daylight Saving Time at all (which makes for serious confusion in the Mountain Time Zone, in which Arizona has the same time for half the year and is an hour different for half the year.  This is probably done to discourage illegal immigrants, who will not know how to set their watches and then will fail to show up for the interviews for all of the millions of lucrative jobs they are attempting to steal from tax-paying American citizens.).

There has recently been a push to eliminate Standard Time (i.e., to stay on Daylight Saving Time for the entire year).  I, for one, am all for it.  I live in the frozen north, where the winter days are all too short, and by December I am going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark.  If we stayed on Daylight Saving Time, at least I'd have a half-hour of light (if you can dignify the gray, washed out stuff upstate New York sees in the winter with the name "light") after I got home.  It would also eliminate the jerking around of people's sleep schedules, which plays hell with their health.  A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (here) found that the incidence of heart attacks nearly doubles in the first three days after switching the clocks; a 2008 Australian study (here) found that the three-week period following going onto Daylight Saving Time has the highest incidence of suicides; and the number of traffic accidents in northern areas jumps by 8% (Canada) to 11% (Sweden) immediately after the time change. 

Besides the hard scientific facts, there remains the much more trenchant reason to eliminate the time shifting; it's simply a stupid idea.  It may or may not have been a stupid idea when it was conceived -- I don't know enough about early 20th century economics to make an assessment.  However, it's a stupid idea now.  My mother used to get pissed off by it every year, mostly because we had about twenty clocks, all of which had to be set manually when the time shift came.  It was especially bad in fall, because several of these clocks were of the old-fashioned, pendulum clock variety, which would break if you turned the hands backwards, so instead of simply twisting the minute hand 360 degrees counterclockwise, you had to turn them eleven full circles forward.  In the case of two of them, which had a gong that rang every half hour, you had to pause while the gong chimed before you proceeded on to the next half-hour mark.

You can see why she was pissed off.

"It's such a ridiculous idea," I recall her saying.  "It's like cutting the top off a blanket, and sewing the piece onto the bottom to make it longer."

My mom and I often disagreed, but this is one case where I think she was spot on.  If you ask most people why we still have the bi-annual time shift, they'd probably say, "Because that's the way it's always been done."  I'm sorry, that's just not a good enough answer.  My wife has a poster in her office, showing a guy running away from the bulls in Pamplona.  The caption reads:  "Just because it's always been done that way doesn't mean it's not a really stupid idea."

Exactly.  So, while I'll be forced to fall back with the rest of the United States (except for Arizona; don't tell the illegals), I don't have to be happy about it.  I promise not to commit suicide, and I'll do my best not to have a heart attack or a car accident, but I rather expect that we're in for a grumpy few days next week.  Be forewarned.

1 comment:

  1. That quote from your Mom is priceless. I hereby add it to my short list of expressions, like 'pushing on a string'.
    (I came by to check for follow-up replies to comments. No way to do that, but meanwhile I'm re-entranced by the bounty of sharp observations on your site.)