Sunday, March 11, 2007

In a Country Where They Turn Back Time

(Sabbath Blog #8)

The title of this post is a line from Scottish songwriter and singer Al Stewart’s 1976 song Year of the Cat, from the album of the same name. The song begins,

On a morning from a Bogart movie,
in a country where they turn back time;
you go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
contemplating a crime.
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
like a watercolor in the rain.
Don't bother asking for explanations
she'll just tell you that she came
in the year of the cat.

I can’t be sure that the line refers to turning the clock back when a country goes from Daylight Saving Time (DST) to Standard Time. In fact, I doubt it does, given the references to Bogart and Lorre; Stewart seems to be trying to paint a picture of a romance against a film noirish, foggy, and melancholy kind of canvas.

Nevertheless, when I hear the song, I think of the fact that in this country and in about 70% of the world, once a year we set our clocks forward and once a year we set them back. Spring forward, fall back. Well, this year the United States Congress has moved the start of Daylight Saving Time ahead by three weeks so that today, ten days before Spring even begins, we went to DST.

While the idea of DST supposedly began with Benjamin Franklin, the United States was not the first nation to adopt it; that honor goes to Germany, which did it in 1916. Congress authorized DST in this country in 1918 but it was disliked so much it was repealed in the following year. President Roosevelt reinstituted it on a year-round basis during World War II as “war time.” Following the end of the war and of year-round DST, many states adopted their own DST practices. In 1966, Congress adopted the Uniform Time Act, which set a uniform pattern for time changes during the summer. Another experiment with year-round DST was tried in 1974-1975 during the OPEC oil embargo. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 moved the start of DST from the first Sunday in April to the second Sunday in March and the end of it from the last Sunday in October to the first Sunday in November. (Historical information from

The other day I heard someone ask what I think is a fair question: by what definition of “standard” is Standard Time standard when it is followed only four months of the year while DST is observed for eight months? Hasn’t DST become the “standard time”?

I do agree that there are sound ethical reasons for having and even expanding DST. For one thing, statistics show that energy, especially electricity, is conserved during DST months. Statistics also show that traffic accidents decrease during those months. We are also encouraged to put fresh batteries in our smoke detectors on the same nights that we change our clocks, and it stands to reason that lives will be saved as more of us adopt that practice. I do wonder if, since there are clear-cut advantages to the practice of DST, we ought not make it a year-round practice.

Still, I am opposed to that as a matter of self-preservation. The extended daylight in the evening makes is possible to work in the yard until well into the night. All too often what is possible comes to feel like what is necessary. When I get to thinking about mowing the lawn or trimming the hedges or raking the leaves, I’d like to have at least four months where I can say, “I can’t—it’s too dark.”

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