The 2019 legislative season is shaping up to be the busiest ever in the fight to #LockTheClock and fix Daylight Saving Time for good.
So busy and so hot, in fact, that it’s making me lose sleep.
Do you have a trick when you can’t sleep? I do. I listen to an audio book. The trick for me is to find one that is boring enough that it lulls you to sleep, but not so boring that your mind wanders instead of listening.
I was trying to fall back asleep in the wee hours this morning, so I listened to a book about the Middle Ages. I came in at a section about Magellan.
He was, of course, the Portuguese sailor who was the first to sail from the old world around the new world, and then back home going west the whole way. He was the first to circumnavigate the planet, importantly around the bottom of South America where the straits are now named for him.
(Well, his expedition made it around the world, anyway. He didn’t personally make it, having run afoul of some native chiefs on a Pacific island unhappy with how the sailors were taking advantage of the native women.)
He set out with five ships and 270 men. One ship and 18 men made it back to Europe, and when they got home they had lots to tell about things that had never been seen by Europeans before, including penguins and bananas.
And they also noticed something strange: Although they had kept meticulous logs of their days away, their calendar was off by one day from the calendars kept in Europe.
This was the first group to circumnavigate the planet, proving that it was round, something that had been theorized by people going back to the ancient Greeks.
But none of those theories, and none of the astronomers or big thinkers of the day had figured out the need for an International Date Line. It took actually sailing around the world to make clear the need for that.
No Date Line?
Just to be clear, the planet spun on its axis for eons with no need for an International Date Line. That line was only needed so that as people who kept calendars traveled around the world, they could all keep in synch. The idea of the calendar, and the need to keep it in synch with other calendars, is entirely a human invention.
So it is with time zones. I’ve written about this before, and the history is clear on this. We have time zones because as the trains started zipping across the land, we had a need for uniform times. No longer could the time be set by the one guy in town who set the town clock and looked up at the sun to decide when it was noon.
That’s why time zones are controlled in the U.S. by the Department of Transportation.
Time Zones Kill
With all that in mind, I’m now volunteering to help legislators from around the country (when I can spare the time from my day job of fixing fake news.)
With all of them, I share the research. I talk about the politics (including the story of the legislator in Arizona who tried to start changing the clock twice a year and was so overwhelmed with angry constituent response that he held a press conference to announce he was killing his own bill.)
And the bigger message that I try to share with all of them is just this: The very notion of “time” is just an agreement among people. Shouldn’t we strive to live in a world where such an agreement does not kill people?
I mean, imagine this scenario:
Bob: Hey, Ralph, want to get lunch? Say 1 p.m.?
Ralph: Well, I’d love to get lunch, but if we do it at 1, there’s a chance I’ll have a heart attack and die. Can we do it at 12:30 instead?
Bob: No way.
Ralph: Why not?
Bob: The farmers.
People who have looked into the issue (and fans of John Oliver) know that the farmers have nothing to do with Daylight Saving Time, and never have, except as a giant PR stunt and a scapegoat.
No, the reason we are forced to change clocks twice a year is, well, inertia. We do it because that’s what we do.
All the science, all of it, says that changing clocks is a bad idea, and yet we keep doing it.
But with the flurry of activity in the state legislatures here in the U.S., and in the European Parliament, and the vote by the people of California, it is becoming clear that the clock is ticking for mindless clock-changing.
And it can’t come soon enough. It will be too late for Magellan, but it’s not too late for us.