Calendar Reform - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity



Off-the-Wall Stuff

Calendar Reform


I would like to suggest a major modification to our calendar. Of course I don't think the world is going to rush out tomorrow to revise the calendar that has been in use for centuries just because some yokel from Xenia Ohio says he thinks it's a good idea. But hey, the only way to get something like that going is to start talking about it. Who knows, maybe momentum will build.

Let me begin by pointing out what's wrong with our current calendar, and then I will offer what I believe to be a superior alternative. (By the way, rather than interrupt the flow of thought in the following article with tangential details, I've put some notes about our present calendar at the end.)

Computer Error?

A few years ago I read an article in a computer magazine which explained that the time- and date-keeping systems on all major computer systems are seriously flawed. Some systems fail to provide for daylight savings time. Some don't provide for leap years. But the author's key objection was that even the most elaborate time-keeping systems, like Unix, fail to provide for the leap seconds which are occasionally inserted into the calendar to keep it in sync with the inevitable minor variations in the earth's movements. Thus, he explained, it is not valid to try to determine how much time elapsed between two events by simply subtracting the start time from the end time, unless one then checks against a table of leap seconds and adjusts the result accordingly. (It would not, of course, be possible to calculate these leap seconds, because they are added precisely because of their unpredictability. Oh, okay, I suppose in theory you could develop a very elaborate and accurate model of the solar system which could correctly calculate when such leap seconds would be needed, but no one has succeeded in doing such a thing, and even if they did, it would surely be more trouble than just keeping a table.)

A Mental Leap

All of this brought to my mind the question: Why do we need these leap seconds anyway? I bet 99% of the world's population never even notice them. (Perhaps you weren't even aware that there was such a thing as "leap seconds" before you read this article.) Who decided that adjusting our clocks in essentially unpredictable ways like this was a good idea, and why?

This leads naturally to a bigger question, Why do we need leap years?

At this point I'm sure many people will begin to patiently explain to me that we need leap years to keep the calendar in sync with the actual movement of the earth. It takes the earth slightly more than 365 days to go around the sun, but not 366, so we have to accumulate those fractional days until they add up to a whole day, which we then add on to the current year. If we didn't have leap years, then our calendar would not quite match the true solar year.

To which I reply: So what? In what sacred text is it written that our calendar year must match the solar year?

Suppose we just abandoned leap years. The seasons would start about one day sooner every four years. If we did this tomorrow, then someone born today would find that if he lives to be 70 or so, over the course of his life the beginning of winter would move from late December to early December. In real life the weather we associate with a season does not begin suddenly at the exact date and time defined to be the first day of the season. That is, just because winter officially begins at 4:33 pm on December 23 in a certain year doesn't mean that before that time temperatures will be moderate and weather calm but at exactly that moment the temperature will plummet to 40 below and a blizzard will begin. So if the beginning of the season moves by a few days few people will notice. As the movement would be gradual over one's lifetime, it would have no noticable impact on the lives of most people.

About the only time the average person would be likely to notice would be when reading history. It might well become the sort of trivia that people quote to show off to their friends and family, like: "George," she said, nodding her had sadly, "Of course it was winter when the Germans invaded Russia. Don't you know that winter started in December back then? I thought you went to college ..."

Presumably people whose lives are intricately tied up with the seasons would notice. Most obviously this would mean farmers, to a lesser degree ranchers and loggers, maybe some others. But even at that, I don't know a lot about farming, but I doubt that farmers slavishly plant crops on a certain day of the year -- I'm sure they take the current weather conditions and other factors into account. To add one tiny extra step to a farmer's calculation of when to plant seems a small price to pay.

Saving the Day

Likewise, what good is daylight savings time? It's a major nuisance twice a year when we switch back and forth. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has moments of confusion for weeks after each change when I look at a clock that has not been re-set. And what is gained? Most Americans today work indoors, and my careful scientific study reveals that the majority of buildings in America have electric lights. Gaining or losing an hour of sunlight makes very little difference.

When I bring this subject up in conversation now and then, someone will inevitably say, "It's for the farmers. They need an extra hour each day of daylight to plant and harvest their crops." To which I reply, Excuse me? Surely if there is any occupational group which is not tied to a timeclock, it is farmers. I really have difficulty imagining a farmer out there in his tractor working the fields, saying, "Wow, I've got so much more work to do today if I'm going to get this crop in, so we have it harvested in time to bring to market so we don't go broke and lose the farm and the house and our life savings, but ... it's five o'clock, quitting time, I've got to call it a day."

If an extra hour of daylight after school or work is good in the summer, why isn't is also good (or at least harmless) in the winter? Why not just set the clocks one way or the other and leave them there?

Or if people find it convenient to change their schedules over the course of the year, why not just let them do it? If I want to get up at 6:00 some morning instead of 7:00, I don't reset my clock, I just reset the alarm.

My Modest Proposal

Maybe at one time, when people's lives were more closely tied to sun and the seasons, a calendar which was kept carefully in tune with astronomy made more sense. But today all the complexity of it is just a nuisance. What we really need today is a calendar which is simple and elegant. Thus, I propose the following:

Each day is 24 hours. Each week is seven days. (No change there.) Each month is exactly four weeks, or 28 days. Each year is 13 months, or 52 weeks, or 364 days. The first day of the year is Sunday, January 1. Period.

Note the simplicity. Every day is exactly the same length. (Daylight savings time results in one day each year being 23 hours and one being 25.) We never have to worry about setting clocks backwards or forwards, or being early or late because we or someone else forget to fix the clock.

Every month is exactly the same length. No more need to waste brain cells remembering little rhymes like "30 days hath September ...". Bills which come monthly are always for the same amount of time. People who are paid monthly or twice a month no longer have to juggle just when the next payday falls and how it is affected by weekends. People who are paid weekly or biweekly no longer have to worry about the mismatch between their pay schedule and their monthly bills. (Most big bills -- mortgage, loan payments, utilities -- come monthly.)

Every year is exactly the same length. No more worrying about leapyears.

As every month is exactly four weeks, a week is never split between months. The first is always a Sunday. Indeed, Sunday always falls on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd; Monday is always the 2nd, 9th, 16th, and 23rd; etc. If you have a meeting on the third Tuesday of each month, for example, that is always the 17th. If election day is the day after the first Monday in November (not the first Tuesday, mind you, the difference being if the first is a Tuesday), that is always November 3.

Computations with dates are dramatically simpler. How many days from January 12 and April 24? It's three months and twelve days, three times twenty-eight plus twelve equals 96 days. Okay, multiplying by 28 may be hard to do in your head but it's a lot easier than adding up how many days in each month in between and rembering to consider whether or not February is a leapyear. For people who work with dates constantly, like people who do loan amortizations, managers who plan schedules, and computer programmers, it would save substantial effort.

By the way, for those who fret over such a radical departure from tradition, perhaps I can throw them one concession: I'm proposing we have 13 months. I suggest we call the new month "Meridinus". This was the old Roman 13th month, before Julius Ceasar abolished it when he created his own calendar. So see, we wouldn't be abandoning tradition, we'd be restoring it!

Religious objections

One final objection: Perhaps some will say that by altering the calendar, we would change the dates of religious holidays, and wouldn't this be sacrilegious? I reply that it is not at all clear that there is anything sacred about the position of the earth or the weather on the day of the holiday; rather, it is the event celebrated which is sacred, and annual celebrations just happen to be convenient. For example, there is no reason to believe that Jesus was really born on December 25. That date was chosen to coincide with pagan celebrations, so early Christians could celebrate Christmas while the pagans celebrated Saturnalia. Then the Christians wouldn't stand out as much when the soliders came around looking for people to throw to the lions. In any case, to the best of my knowledge, no Christian holidays were decreed by God. They weren't established in the Bible. They were all invented later.

The situation is different for Jews. All Jewish holidays except Hannukah do come straight from the Torah, and God gave specific dates for them. Whether God considers this important or not is an open question. But then, we don't generally use the Jewish calendar today anyway, so the issue is largely moot. If Jews felt it appropriate to continue to celebrate their holidays by the Jewish calendar rather than the "new" calendar, they would simply have a different set of translations. Indeed, I might point out that the Torah does not explicitly link these holidays to any particular calendar. In most cases it doesn't even mention the names of months. Rather, most dates are given as "the tenth day of the seventh month" and the like. I don't find anything that says how long these months should be. Yes, God did say that the month in which the Israelis escaped from Egypt -- the month of Abib -- was to be the first month in their calendar. Maybe we could make the first month of this new calendar coincide with Abib, and everybody would be happy.

I confess ignorance regarding other religion's holidays.

Note that the one time period which is specifically established by God in the Bible is the seven-day week, and in my proposal I retain this. I don't know if God would insist on keeping this or not, but there's no point in asking for trouble!

Conclusions

I suppose there are bigger issues in the world, and I don't expect to build a great following of people ready to riot in the streets clamoring over calendar reform. But if you're interested in making large financial contributions to get this movement started, Contact me.


Notes on our present calendar

Leap Year

It is a common misconception that leap year comes every four years. In reality, the rule is slightly more complicated. Any year which is divisible by 4 is a leap year, except that a year which is divisible by 100 is not, unless it is also divisible by 400, in which case it is a leap year. For example, 1880 was a leap year, as were 1884, 1888, 1892, and 1896. But 1900 was not a leap year, because it was divisible by 100. 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996 are leap years. 2000 will also be a leap year, because it is divisible by 400. All clear?

This leads to an interesting historical anecdote. Under the calendar invented by Julius Caeser, called the "Julian calendar", the rule was the simple every-fourth-year. But Pope Gregory later modified the calendar to the more complex rule described above, called the "Gregorian calendar". Most of Europe adopted the new Gregorian calendar, but England did not. Over time the calendar in England became more and more different from that of the rest of Europe. (I suppose the situation was analogous to America's present wrestling with our measurements versus the metric system.) Eventually the English decided to switch over. They decided that September 2, 1752 in England and the colonies (which was September 13, 1752 in most of the rest of the world), would be followed by September 14. This prompted Ben Fraklin to write, "It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14."

By the way, I once read (I can't find the reference so I don't stand behind this, but it sounds believable), that even though September 1752 was only 19 days long, landlords calmly charged a full month's rent.

Start of Seasons

Seasons are defined to begin at the extremes of the angle of the earth's axis to the sun and the mid-points between these extremes. That is, when the earth's axis is pointed most directly toward the sun (whichever hemisphere you live in), you receive the most direct rays from the sun, and the temperature tends to increase. This is defined as the first day of summer, called the "summer solstice". It is also the longest day of the year. At the opposite extreme is when the earth's axis is pointed most directly away from the sun. You receive the least direct rays and the temperature tends to decrease. This is defined as the first day of winter, called the "winter solstice". It is also the longest night of the year. In between are the two points when the earth's axis points parallel to the sun. On the days when this occurs the day and night are very nearly the same length, so they are called "equinoxes" (equi=equal, nox=night). The "fall equinox" or "autumnal equinox" is heralded as the start of fall (cleverly enough), while the "vernal equinox" marks the start of spring.

© 1995 by Jay Johansen


Comments

Jazmin Jul 23, 2014

On the outside, I used bldoulg clips to attach a calendar (you can find plenty of lovely free ones like this one online). Since then I've added another bldoulg clip on the side to attach my ever-growing

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