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Friday, November 5, 2010

Daylight Slaving Time

When I was a kid, I always wondered why we changed the time twice a year.  I asked my dad and he said, “Because of the farmers.  They need more light in the summer to farm.”  (Okay.  I bought that, even though I was thinking that the light would be the same, regardless of what hour we called it.  My dad was omniscient then.)  This is a common thought, however incorrect.  Daylight Savings Time (DST) is a controversial subject.

It is really for the benefit of retailers, manufacturers, and the sports business.  Farmers don’t like it.  They need their paid workers to work later, rather than leave earlier.  Farmers get up at sunrise no matter what the clock says.  The entertainment industry doesn’t like it – they make their money mostly after dark.  Railroads don’t like it either, as the coordination of schedules and making sure all their employees are on the correct time can be a hassle,  especially when trains run through several different times zones, and some don't observe DST.

DST is very political.  Not standardized in the U.S. until 1966, a 1987 extension was voted for by both Idaho senators.  Studies showed that fast-food restaurants sell more French fries (made from Idaho potatoes, natch!) during DST.  The extension was funded by Clorox (owner of Kingsford Charcoal – got to have those late afternoon barbeques) and 7-Eleven.  A 1984 article in Fortune magazine stated estimates that a mere seven week extension of DST would yield $30 million more for 7-Eleven stores, and the National Golf Foundation figured that same time extension would earn the golf industry $200-300 million more. 

What?  Golf?  Yes.  If DST bugs you, it’s no wonder.  It was first proposed by an entomologist, New Zealander George Vernon Hudson (unknown if he golfed).  He presented a paper in 1895 proposing a two hour shift.  In 1905, Londoner William Willett proposed advancing the clock during the summer, and he was an avid golfer.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, also an avid golfer, was in support of it as well.  The golf industry is not the only sport who gains profits by DST.  With more daylight hours, people play more sports after school and after work in general.

Ancient civilizations adjusted daily schedules to the sun, rather than divide each day into equal hours.  So the Roman hora tertia, the third hour after sunrise, was 44 minutes at the winter solstice, but 75 minutes at the summer solstice.  The world ran for millennia without standard timekeeping.  It was only after railroads and advanced communications came into being that the need for precise schedules arose.

An early goal was to reduce evening use of incandescent lighting – a big electricity suck.  Currently there is little information on how DST affects energy use, and what does exist is contradictory.  The first use of DST began in 1916 by Germany and its allies.  Sommerzeit, as they called it, was a way to conserve coal during WWI.  A few other countries, including Russia, started it the following year, and the U.S. in 1918. 

No state in the U.S. is required to follow DST, but if a state chooses to it must adhere to the start and end times set by federal law.  Arizona (minus the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii are the only states that do not observe it.  The continents of Asia and Africa, for the most part, do not follow it.  Nor do countries along the equator, since there isn’t much of a variation of sunrise times.  Here’s a link to see how various countries in the world deal with it.

Technically, the name of local time changes when DST is observed, the word “standard” replacing “daylight”, so in my neck of the woods, PST (Pacific Standard Time) becomes PDT (Pacific Daylight Time).  During WWII President Roosevelt instituted DST yearlong, replacing the center words with “war”, so PST became PWT.

If you feel strongly that DST, called “Daylight Slaving Time” by opponents, should end, you may want to join this group.  An early dissenter against DST was Robertson Davies, who stated that he detected “the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy, and wise in spite of themselves.”

Is time to end DST?  I say we go back to the Roman way.  It’s useless to try and force light into our time systems.  We should just go with the flow.... of light.


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