Saturday, April 02, 2005

daylight wasting

daylight saving time begins tonight. if you've been reading my stuff for long enough, you'll know that i find dst to be unfathomly stupid and irrational. as a hoosier, i'm proud that i live in a state (one out of only three) that is not so unbelievably stupid as to officially observe daylight saving time. of course, certain political forces keep trying to force it onto us for some god-awful reason, but generally we hoosiers have been smart enough to resist the push for dst every time. (will we keep on resisting or will our legislature eventually flip? i sure hope not.)

but with dst beginning tomorrow in the stupid states, it's a great opportunity for journalists and pundits outside indiana to discuss the idea. here is a review in the indianapolis star of a book called spring forward:

Downing writes that golfers, allied with an array of commercial interests, including Wall Street brokers, sports promoters and major banks and stock exchanges, were the true first boosters of DST, a public policy he calls "the most unscientific ever perpetuated."

Downing's history of daylight-saving time offers a thoughtful, provocative and often hilarious look at what he calls "the most sustained political controversy of the past 100 years." Beginning by debunking the myth that Ben Franklin invented DST, Downing conducts his readers through the "deliberate misrepresentation, preposterous piety and unfettered opportunism" that informs a controversy still raging to this day.

The modern plan to save daylight by altering clock time was first proposed in 1907 by William Willet, a British architect and golfer who wanted to give his friends more time for summer leisure. Germany adopted the idea; and in 1916 it became the first nation to advance clocks as part of an effort to conserve resources and win World War I.

Soon nations on both sides of the conflict had adopted DST. Downing writes, "The scheme's American advocates, who had long been dismissed as the caddies for the interests of the leisure class, shifted the battle from the golf links to the trenches. 'Millions of dollars will be saved by the people of the United States,' announced the newly elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 'and our preparedness along industrial lines will be augmented.' "

In truth, writes Downing, DST resembled an innovative strategy for boosting retail sales. After its passage, "Working girls were encouraged to stop on their way home to update their wardrobes with dresses specifically designed for the brighter summer evenings. Daylight specials offered discounts on garden spades, watering cans, even new homes . . .

"It was not exactly for nothing that chambers of commerce and other merchants' associations had figured among the earliest and staunchest supporters of daylight-saving time," Downing writes.

Politically, it was never an easy sell. But World War I gave advocates a window of opportunity. "Daylight's proponents wrapped themselves in the flag, appropriating the war effort, and successfully turned the House vote (on DST) in March 1918 into a loyalty test. And they won."

President Woodrow Wilson, an avid golfer, in 1918 signed into law the first federal legislation "to save daylight." Downing quotes a Washington Post sportswriter of the day: "If the government had especially desired to do something to foster and promote golf, it could not have made a better move than to turn the clock ahead."

so it's not really about farming at all... it's about golf? that makes sense, considering that contrary to conventional wisdom, it's not about farming. in fact farmers tend to hate dst, as national review columnist john j miller points out:

Well, it turns out that DST had nothing to do with farmers, who traditionally haven't cared much for it. They care a lot less nowadays, but when the first DST law was making its way through Congress, farmers actually lobbied against it. Dairy farmers were especially upset because their cows refused to accept humanity's tinkering with the hands of time. The obstinate cud-chewers wanted to be milked every twelve hours, and had absolutely no interest in resetting their biological clocks — even if the local creameries suddenly wanted their milk an hour earlier.

As Michael Downing points out in his new book, Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, urban businessmen were a major force behind the adoption of DST in the United States. They thought daylight would encourage workers to go shopping on their way home. They also tried to make a case for agriculture, though they didn't bother to consult any actual farmers. One pamphlet argued that DST would benefit the men and women who worked the land because "most farm products are better when gathered with dew on. They are firmer, crisper, than if the sun has dried the dew off." At least that was the claim of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, chaired by department-store magnate A. Lincoln Filene. This was utter nonsense. A lot of crops couldn't be harvested until the morning dew had evaporated. What's more, morning dew has no effect whatsoever on firmness or crispness.

it's not often you'll find me agreeing with the folks at conservative rags like NRO, but i definitely do here.

arizona is another state that doesn't observe dst: the arizona republic has an article about how the rest of the nation's silliness affects those of us who aren't so silly. cable tv watching is definitely confusing. but i don't have a lot of sympathy for those telemarketers and other (rare) businesses that must shift their schedules around.

there are a lot of reviews of downing's spring forward out right now. for example, this review on st louis today includes this convenient chart:

There are winners and losers associated with daylight-saving time, according to Michael Downing's new book "Spring Forward." Downing says proponents are businesses that benefit from extra evening daylight that encourages more outdoor activities. Opponents are people or businesses who benefit from indoor activities or want extra sunlight in the early morning. President Richard Nixon was a longtime opponent before the Middle East oil crisis convinced him to push for year-round daylight-saving time.

Garden equipment and seed sellers
Barbecue industry
Sporting goods industry
Major League Baseball
Richard Nixon

Electric utilities
Movie studios
Television broadcasters
Parents of school-age children
Richard Nixon

i think the fact that power utilities are against it explodes the myth that dst somehow actually conserves energy. indeed, while you might occasionally see references to the "1 percent" of energy saved by dst, if you think about it you'll realize it doesn't exist:

One of the few losers, Downing says, are electric utilities. AmerenUE spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said that demand drops about 1 percent immediately after the first Sunday in April. But that effect is dwarfed later, during the summer, by demand for air conditioning, she said.

you'll find a fair number of dst stories right now, and many of them demonstrate their authors' poor research habits by relying on the myths that downing disproved. i won't dignify them by quoting them.

still, there are forces in the indiana legislature that want to introduce it. so desperate are they to sell out to the golf and bbq industries that they even want indiana to adopt dst late this year, proposing that we begin on june 5 (because they couldn't sucker enough people into passing a resolution to switch this weekend). but despite all their exuberant (naive) support for the plan, it fix any of indiana's time-zone problems:

This legislation, which would bring Indiana in line with 47 other states and 40 other countries, would not change Hoosiers' time zones.

Currently, most of Indiana observes the Eastern time zone, with 77 counties observing Eastern Standard Time year-round. Fifteen counties, in the northwest, southwest and southeast corners of the state, observe daylight-saving time.

That has lawmakers from northwest Indiana upset because they're in the Central time zone, meaning the change would put them on a different time from Indianapolis year-round.

sheesh... so the only real problem about indiana's approach to dst--that certain fringe counties side with illinois or ohio and do observe it--would remain. brilliant. way to sell out to the business community, guys.