Opinion: Calendars and time

POSTED: 12/29/11 12:06 PM

December is the month when companies shower other companies with calendars to make sure that their name remains on display throughout the year. Those calendars may become obsolete if the world accepts a new system devised by astrophysicist Richard Henry and economist Steve Hanke at the John Hopkins University have now designed a calendar that makes events always fall on the same day throughout the years.
Christmas Day for instance would from now on forever be on a Sunday. The researchers say that their calendar makes event planning and financial calculations easier.
The new calendar has 364 days; 8 months have 30 days, while March, June, September and December have 31 days. Because an earth-year is 365.422 days, the calendar adds one extra week at the end of December for every year our current Gregorian calendar begins or ends with a Thursday.
Those extra days would be labeled December 1 – 7, thereby creating a remarkable phenomenon of having seven double dates in that month.
People who were born on the last day of the months of January, May, July, August and October would be robbed of their birthdays but the scientists do not see that as a problem. “Just celebrate your birthday on a day that suits you,” Richard Henry was quoted as saying.
While the idea to finally replace the more than 400-year old Gregorian calendar is certainly intriguing, we foresee plenty of trouble with it as well. Some people would always get to have their birthday fall on a weekend, while others will have to put up with dull days like Mondays or Tuesdays.
Under the title changing times, Henry and Hanke wrote extensively about their calendar in the online publication energy tribune. They point to previous attempts to modernize and fix the calendar. “George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company in 1892 and a consummate man of business, was a strong advocate of calendar reform in the interest of business and commerce. Eastman favored 13 identical months of 28 days. Writing in The Nation’s Business (May 1926), Eastman complained that, with reference to the present Gregorian calendar, “There can be a difference of three days in the two half-years, and of two days in two quarters of the same year. Holidays occur on various days of the week, changing each year; shutdowns for holidays occurring in the middle of the week are expensive in certain plants. Complications arise in setting regular dates for meetings, in providing for holidays that fall on Sunday and in reckoning the passage of time, as for instance, in interest calculations.” But, Eastman’s calendar drifted relative to the seasons, which is unacceptable. He suggested fixing that problem by adding occasional extra days that would not bear weekday names.
Eastman’s effort at calendar reform failed because his proposed calendar did not respect the Sabbath. We propose a new calendar that preserves the Sabbath, with no exceptions. That calendar is simple, religiously unobjectionable, business-friendly and identical year-to-year. There are, just as in Eastman’s calendar, 364 days in each year. But, every five or six years (specifically, in the years 2015, 2020, 2026, 2032, 2037, 2043, 2048, 2054, 2060, 2065, 2071, 2076, 2082, 2088, 2093, 2099, 2105, …, which have been chosen mathematically to minimize the new calendar’s drift with respect to the seasons), one extra full week (seven days, so that the Sabbath is unaffected) is inserted, at the end of the year. These extra seven days bring the calendar back into full synchrony with the seasons. In place of Eastman’s 13 months of 28 days, we prefer 4 identical quarters, each having two months of 30 days and a third month of 31 days.”
Moving on from the calendar to time, Hanke and Henry also recommend “the abolition of all time zones, as well as of daylight savings time, and the adoption of atomic time—in particular, Greenwich Mean Time, or Universal Time, as it is called today. Like the adoption of a modern calendar, the embrace of Universal Time would be beneficial.
For example, the adoption of Universal Time would give new flexibility to economic management in the vast East-West expanse of Russia: everyone would know exactly what time it is everywhere, at every moment. Opening and closing times of businesses could be specified for every class of business and activity. If thought desirable, banks and financial institutions throughout the country could be required to open and to close each day at the same hour by the world time. This would mean that bank employees in the far East of Russia would start work with the sun well up in the sky, while bank employees in the far west of Russia would be at their desks before the sun has risen. But, across the country, they could conduct business with one another, all the working day. (This would have a second benefit: at least in the far east and far west, the banks would be open either early, or late, convenient for those who are working “sunlight hours,” such as farmers.)
With Universal Time, agricultural workers, critically dependent on the position of the sun, could rise with the sun, without producing any impact on other aspects of cultural and economic life. The readings on the clocks, and the date on the calendar, would be the same for all. But, times of work would be attuned with precision to Russia’s local and national needs. China already has adopted a single time zone for the same purposes. And all aircraft pilots, worldwide, use Universal Time exclusively, for exactly the same reason that we are advocating its broad adoption—plus avoiding collisions.
Moscow could introduce both a simplified calendar, identical each year (harmonized with the seasons by rare full-week adjustments at year’s end), and Universal Time, which would abolish the International Date Line, making the date and the time identical everywhere, including Alaska and the farthest eastern regions of Russia. There, and also in the center of the Pacific Ocean, the date would change at 00:00:00, just as the sun passed overhead.
The natural date for the introduction of these changes is 1 January 2012, because it is a Sunday in both the current Pope Gregory calendar and the simple, new calendar. That does not give us time to change over computer programs to the new, simpler system, of course. But, that does not matter—the change worldwide will take some time, politically, with a natural completion date of 1 January 2017, when Sunday will, once again, fall on January 1st for both the old and the new calendars. This gives a more than ample five-year transition for adjustments to computers. There is nothing magic about these dates; anyone can transition today, if they wish. But, absent national and international agreements, that could be confusing.”
Now we’ll have to wait and see whether Hanke and Henry’s ideas will remain a scientific pipedream or whether they will become a reality.

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