Do you ever snap awake from a sound sleep with the certain knowledge that something has just gone “bump” in the cosmos? I’m not talking about something run-of-the-mill like the earthquakelets that jolt the left-coaster now & then - I’m talking music-of-the-spheres stuff.
It turns out that you may have been awakened every couple of years by an international agency clumsily slipping an extra second under your pillow in an attempt to cover up systemic incompetence of the earth in its assigned task of rotating on its axis:
Because the moon’s gravity has been slowing down the Earth, it takes slightly longer than 24 hours for the world to rotate completely on its axis. The difference is tiny, but every few years a group that helps regulate global timekeeping, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, tells governments, telecom companies, satellite operators and others to add in an extra second to all clocks to keep them in sync. The adjustment is made on New Year’s Eve or the last day of June.
This is taken from a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Why the US Wants to End the Link Between Time and Sun” On its face, this sounds like another stunning act of hubris on the part of a runaway US administration and, in fact, that’s what it turns out to be. The government is proposing to end the practice of using “leap seconds” to synchronize the world’s clocks.
It’s a sign of the times when I read an article like this and turn it this way and that, trying to glean some underhanded political or theological purpose to something the administration proposes. Does it benefit oil companies? Penalize labor unions? Or is there some biblical proscription to screwing with time that raises the dander of the evangelical base, something that might cause undue delay to the start of the End Times?
It turns out that it’s expensive and disruptive to try to program computers to countenance the existence of a 61-second minute, sort of like the concept of i, the square root of -1. Think of the conniptions the Cobol crowd went through simply to accommodate something rational like a 4-digit year, and you get the picture. There would be winners and losers, of course, and it may bear looking into as a political exercise. Astronomers, whose telescopes need the microadjustments in order to track faraway phenomena, are howling. One suspects that the timing of the announcement of the discovery of a 10th planet is aimed at swaying public sentiment the astronomers’ way. No Planet Left Behind would be a catchy slogan for the campaign.
Other constituencies are equally compromised:
But the U.S. proposal, which an ITU committee will consider in November, has upset some of the most powerful people in timekeeping — including the Earth Rotation Service’s leap-second chief, Daniel Gambis, of the Paris Observatory. “As an astronomer, I think time should follow the Earth,” Dr. Gambis said in an interview. He calls the American effort a “coup de force,” or power play, and an “intrusion on the scientific dialogue.”
Earth Rotation Service? The Paris Observatory? Wouldn’t you know it - the French don’t like it. The international scientific community should get over it. In the new world order, science is what the US administration says it is, and you can white-paper until you’re blue in the face.
Then, there’s the diplomatic aspect:
The U.S. effort to abolish leap seconds is also firmly opposed by Britain, which would further lose status as the center of time. From 1884 to 1961, the world set its official clocks to Greenwich Mean Time, based on the actual rise and set of the stars as seen from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, just outside London.
Can we afford to so alienate the only remaining member of the Coalition of the Willing? Even if, as the neocons suspect, it’s vestigial European socialism and its drag on productivity that actually causes the time loss in the first place?
I’ll let the A-list political bloggers sort out the details. What bothers me is the intrusion of the administration into the field of time in general. Just last week, an adjustment of Daylight Savings Time was all the administration could offer in the way of energy conservation in its early Christmas gift to its donor industries, but I’m too exhausted to delve into who benefits from that. The Tinkling Ice-Cream Truck Lobby?
The Rolling Stones promised long ago that Time Is On My Side, and it begins to look like just another comforting liberal illusion of the 70s that Bush & Co is legislating out of existence. I’m not giving up anything without a fight, though. I want the government out of my bedroom and out of my alarm clock. Fuck with my snooze button and you’ve got a revolution on your hands!