It’s about time

Posted on November 6, 2015. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , |

We officially stopped saving daylight on Sunday.

Which made Monday doubly dreary: the overcast day delivered no sunshine for many in Arkansas, and what little cloud-diffused daylight there was (some of it masked in mist) evaporated around five o’clock.

By 7 p.m. it seemed like the gloomy middle of the night.

Longer autumn and winter nights have nothing to do with the clock, of course, and are only functions of the Earth’s axis and rotation.

Changing the clocks to match the sun, and maximize sunlit activities, was the whole idea behind our annual Daylight Saving Time practice.

It wasn’t Benjamin Franklin’s idea, by the way, despite how many times you may have heard that legend.

It doesn’t make sense, when you think about it, that Franklin could possibly have suggested a deviation from Standard Time during an era when there was no standardization of clocks at all.

What Franklin can be credited with is an ingenious sense of satire, poking fun at nocturnal Parisians to the point that he proposed rationing candles and firing cannons at sunrise in an anonymous letter to the Journal of Paris while ambassador to France.

In his essay, he calculated the savings the city would save by changing sleep habits in a manual worksheet of sorts (oh, what the founders could have done with Excel).

His assumptions utilized the equinoxes for time-frames, starting with March 20 and ending with September 20, but he never suggested changing the clock. He just jokingly observed “as a lover of economy” that substituting sunshine for candlelight would create an “immense” windfall for heavily taxed dwellers in La Ville Lumière (the City of Light).

Americans don’t do well on history quizzes, and I doubt one in 10,000 could name the man behind adjusting standard time to save daylight (I couldn’t, but I looked it up).

It’s a trick question of sorts. A New Zealander named G.V. Hudson first proposed a two-hour shift in time to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1895. But it was an Englishman, William Willett, whose proposal in 1905 (without knowledge of Hudson’s efforts down under) led to Parliamentary consideration in 1908.

The idea was never adopted in peace time, however. In April 1916 Germany became the first country to move clocks forward, as a measure to conserve electricity, and other nations followed suit, including the U.S. in 1918.

The practice was generally unpopular in America and abolished immediately after Versailles, and although implemented again in World War II, was quickly discontinued after hostilities ended in 1945.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) as we know it today was enacted in 1966 to settle what had become a national melee of municipally enacted clock shifting.

Left to localities, confusion predictably prevailed with ridiculous results, especially in some multistate boundary areas.

Bus passengers traversing the 35-mile route from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, W.Va., in 1965, for example, sat through seven time changes.

The federal law didn’t require every state to adopt DST—Hawaii and Arizona still choose not to—but did require uniformity within states.

The law was last amended in 2005 as part of the Energy Policy Act, which expanded DST by four or five more weeks by setting the start and end dates to the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November, respectively.

That act also required a federal study to calculate the energy savings created by extending DST. It turns out that Franklin’s facetious math was spot on. The resulting U.S. Department of Energy report declared a nationwide savings of electricity of 0.03 percent.

The earliest DST can end is on November 1, as it did this year, and grumblings biannually arise in unison with the clock changes.

Polls vary in support and opposition of whether to end Daylight Saving Time altogether, or extend it through the whole year. Most arguments pro or con are subjective, corresponding to the idea’s origins.

Golfers, like England’s Willett, like the extra hours in the summer evenings.

Early risers often prefer more sunlight before work.

Though many people are bummed by sunsets before 5 p.m., few parents cotton to the idea of kids going to school, with buses in mass transit, in the pre-dawn dark.

Back in March a bill to end DST in Arkansas only mustered 11 votes in the House.

A bill to make DST year-round might not fare any better.

Like most social-political things, the compromise seems to work satisfactorily.

The spring and fall mnemonic makes clock-setting easy to remember. The longer summer days tilt leisure time later in the day. The brief winter sunlight is canted toward the morning.

The tradeoffs seem balanced enough. After all, the entire exercise is technically smoke and mirrors. There is no daylight truly saved, no hour actually lost or gained. We simply alter our scheduling device in order to change our habits.

The sun gives light as soon as he rises, as Franklin proclaimed in discovery to the French.

*A grammatical FYI: the technically correct term is “Daylight Saving Time” with no “s” on Saving, which joins Daylight as an adjective modifying Time.

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One Response to “It’s about time”

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Good . . . interesting . . . well-written . . . as always. Ken


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