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Opinion

The Brownsville States-Graphic page

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Matter of Time By 28th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Clayburn Peeples

I’ve gotten quite a few comments about a column I wrote a couple of weeks ago about daylight-saving time. Most of them were from people who are opposed to it, people who think we should just leave the clock alone. “We don’t need to be messing around with God’s time,” someone said, a sentiment I’ve heard expressed many, many times. The fact is, however, Standard Time, whether Central, Eastern, Pacific or whatever, is not God’s time. It is railroad time, and it has only been in effect since 1883. Before that, “God’s time” was in effect, which meant that solar time, or sun time, was the standard all over America. That meant that noon, everywhere in America, was when the sun was at its zenith, directly overhead at that location. And since the earth is constantly rotating, “solar noon” is different in every town as you go from east to west or west to east, and so was the town’s “standard” time. Boy, what confusion! Smaller towns often set their clocks and watches according to the “official” time of larger nearby cities, but that still left myriad opportunities for confusion, especially if you were traveling across the country. A single state might have had several time zones, and most did. Wisconsin, for example, had 38; Illinois had 27. Most cities had their own official times. When it was noon in Chicago, it was 12:31 in Pittsburgh, 11:50 in St Louis and 12:09 in Louisville. That made trip planning a nightmare. The railroads of America, which led the fight to standardize time, had at least 68 different times on its schedules. A coast to coast traveler in the 1870’s would have had to change his watch at least 20 times during the trip. And how was official local time arrived at? In some cities jewelers would furnish “standard” time for their cus-

tomers, but they usually differed among themselves as to just what time it was. To avoid time confusion within a given town, many cities adopted a “time ball” system that consisted of a large, three to four-foot wide ball being dropped from a very high position at “official noon.” That way, people from all over town could set their watches to the same time. At least, those who could see the ball drop could. But from one town to another there was no uniformity, and as railroad travel became more and more common, the problem of multiple time zones became a greater and greater burden on commerce and travel. Most railroads coped within their own systems by creating their own company wide “time zones”. They required all stations on their lines to adopt the time of the city where they were headquartered, and towns served by the railroad lines usually followed suit. Thus, Louisville time, because the L&N Railroad was headquartered there, became the “standard time” for Nashville and a host of Tennessee towns on its right of way. But there were a lot of different railroads in America back then, and travel involving more than one of them was still confusing. England had adopted Greenwich Mean Time as the standard time of England, Scotland and Wales, in 1848, and many prominent scholars and business leaders suggested that America do something similar. Congress talked and talked, but did nothing about standardizing time. Fearing they never would, railroad leaders took matters into their own hands. They divided the United States into four time zones, of one hour increments, to be known as Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific times. These zones were based upon mean suntime on the 75th, 90th,

Brownsville

STATES-GRAPHIC Scott Whaley,

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Editor & Publisher

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105th and 120th meridians west of Greenwich. They ordered that all railroad clocks within a time zone would uniformly reflect that time and that they be changed over, all across the nation, on November 18, 1883. In Nashville, which was running on L&N time, that meant setting the clock back 18 minutes. Following the changeover, every railroad station had an official “standard time clock”, updated as to accuracy each noon by telegraph from the National Naval Observatory. Of course, the change was not without controversy. Some saw it as a conspiracy between railroads and watchmakers. The attorney general issued an edict that government departments had no right to adopt railroad time until authorized by Congress. But they did, of course. Most towns welcomed a standard time and adopted “railroad” time as their own official time, but some refused “to change one of the immutable laws of God.” Others welcomed standardized time, but felt the entire nation should be in the same time zone. (Some pretty smart people continue to argue for this.) Still others argued that we should go to 24-hour time. But before long, Standard Time became the time standard all across the country, and it soon spread around the world as well. Congress, however, refused to adopt it until 1918, some 35 years after the nation’s railroads imposed it on all America. And thank goodness they did. Otherwise, when it is noon in Brownsville, it would be12:02 p.m. in Humboldt but only 11:57 a.m. in Memphis. And Nashville? It would be 12:10 in Nashville. What a mess that would be. Clearly, modern life would be impossible without Standard Time. But daylight-saving time? That we could do without. Or not.

Calvin's Corner

By Calvin Carter, Staff Writer

Is this what our scientists are doing?

It happens very often, during the small hours of TV I’m actually able to watch. In between my chosen show, or the commercials for Proactive face solution—which yes, it does work eventually, after breaking out your face even more—there will be some sort of commercial for a wacky device that makes me wonder exactly what are scientists and engineers really doing? My offensive aim isn’t really meant at them, but rather the leaders and creators of these useless devices that will only have a successful marriage with dust bunnies. Exactly what am I talking about you ask? Well, for example, let’s talk about this piece of exercise equipment (using the term loosely) the Ab Circle. It’s a device that has you spinning from side to side on your knees, working all sorts of ab muscles your physical trainer didn’t “tell you about.” To me, it just looks pretty stupid. Don’t get me wrong. I hit the gym as much as I can these days in the effort to add back a few hours to my lifespan.

Long term, it’s probably futile to do given the few of years of life this crazy world and my reckless decisions have probably taken away from me. Counterproductive, maybe, but I’m an optimist at heart. Getting to my point, I know there are pieces of exercise equipment that are going to make you look a little…humorous to others. That’s just the nature of the beast, er, dumbbell, I suppose. However, the Ab Circle really doesn’t look like it’s doing much, other than causing your hips to sway to and fro like a pendulum. Unless you’re planning your career as a human grandfather clock, I just don’t see much use in the thing. Sure, maybe I’m wrong. But personal history has shown that anything that explains ownership as being as “easy as three payments of…” can’t be that revolutionary or useful. The fact is this isn’t the only type of consumer filler I’ve ever seen on TV, especially as of late. I get it, America is still on the fat scare. And

meanwhile, my generation will have to one day explain to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren how we were able to beat the great obesity epidemic. I will tell you this. Those record victories will not include the Ab Circle. Exercise isn’t the only area where I’m seeing these little attempts at consumer-driven innovation. I’ve seen ads on tv for a special hose that helps increase water pressure. I’ve seen a cup-cake pan that helps you bake the snack from mini to coliseum proportions. I’ve even seen an ad on TV for a colorful sand that doesn’t really have the physical properties of actual sand. Is this the best that we can do? Instead of hover cars, pills that turn into sevencourse meals with the drop of water, cities in the sky, this is what 2010 has brought me? Instead we just get more junk that’s on a oneway trip to the garage or closet? Wow, the Jetsons sure did have things wrong.

4 Opinion  
4 Opinion  

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