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Friday, October 28, 2005

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Overtaken by darkness

One of my favorite words, benighted, has two definitions: "overtaken by darkness or night," and "in moral or intellectual darkness; unenlightened."

On Sunday we will be "overtaken by darkness." Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends then, we turn our clocks back an hour, and we're plunged into darkness by 5 p.m. By Monday we'll trudge out of our offices into the too-early night and drive home to Carlisle in the dark. "Truly benighted," we'll grumble.

Winston Churchill once said of Britain's DST, "We borrow an hour one night in April, we pay it back with golden interest six months later." That sounds eloquent, but wouldn't it be pleasant to collect that golden interest even later in the fall? Two years from now, we will.

The concept of saving energy by extending daylight hours began in the U.S. during World War I, when Congress enacted Daylight Saving Time (it is Saving, not Savings) to save resources for the war effort. It lasted seven months and then was rescinded. During World War II, in a similar energy-saving measure, Congress instituted year-round DST which lasted from February 9, 1942, to September 30, 1945. After the war, individual states and localities instituted their own versions of Daylight Saving Time, but this led to confusion and chaos, especially for transportation systems forced to publish new schedules every time a state or town began or ended DST.

In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act that established six months of DST. A major change occurred in 1973 during the oil crisis (remember those long lines at the gas pumps?) when Congress put most of the nation on extended DST again in hopes of saving additional energy — instead of the normal six-month period, DST lasted for ten months in 1974 and eight months in 1975. Whether or not DST did save energy was debatable — proponents claimed it did, opponents claimed otherwise. Among the opponents to DST were farmers, who complained that the time change adversely affected their livestock, and airline companies forced to grapple with shifting schedules.

Looking ahead, we'll gain an extra month of daylight in 2007. As part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, DST will start three weeks earlier than it does now, on the second Sunday in March, and will end one week later, on the first Sunday in November. The original bill considered by the Congress extended DST by two full months, but farmers and the airlines objected and the one-month extension was a compromise.

The secondary definition of benighted "in moral or intellectual darkness; unenlightened," describes the current state of our government. Political fallout from the CIA-leaks inquiry, an unpopular and immoral war, and a controversial Supreme Court nominee parallels the physical darkness that marks the end of DST. But one thing is certain the early darkness will brighten in late March with a return to Daylight Saving Time. When, and whether, the gathering shadows will lift over the benighted White House is uncertain.



Tricks and treats

Trick or treat. Treats are the expectation because tricks are frowned upon. Tricks are apparently perceived to be anti-social, demeaning or in poor taste. But as I see it, tricks and treats are both positive learning experiences and prepare us for the vicissitudes of adult life. We should learn the difference between them. For instance, is (was) New Orleans a treat or a trick? In other words, were you to have visited New Orleans before the destruction by Katrina, would you have been treated or tricked? Certainly if your visit was limited to the French Quarter, the Garden District, Downtown and Mid-City, it was arguably both. The beauty of those parts of town belied the shocking poverty of the districts not visited and largely unbeknownst and/or unrecognized by nearly all of us.

Of course, this is not a phenomenon limited to New Orleans. While the Katrina disaster was perhaps the most revealing of our middle class myopia (reinforced by the major news outlets and our own cultural blindness), West Coast disasters are not far behind and for much the same reasons. Why is it that whenever there are "wild- fires" in southern California, we only see news reports of multi-million dollar estates saved or destroyed? Are millionaires the only people in harm's way in California? I hardly think so.

The trick today is that according to the current administration in Washington, it is the wealthy who are really suffering in this economic climate, and who need relief from onerous government regulation, taxation and the pettiness of minor bureaucrats. You and I know that this is false and shameful. As Pogo said so many years ago, "We have met the enemy and it is us!" Unfortunately, we are absolutely averse to looking over the gunwales of our ark and seeing the world as it really is.

Now, some would say our myopia is a trick: "they" have done this to "us" (whoever "they" might be)! Others would see our myopia as a treat: we have our own problems let's take care of ourselves first. But obliviousness through rose-colored glasses will be the bane of our society. We need to wake up, unplug the I-Pod and deal. Of course, we send checks all around the community and the world to "help" those in need. No one said we weren't generous as a people. But most of us would not give up our air conditioners or other creature comforts because we have a sense of entitlement.

Maybe we should give up candy this year for Hallowe'en. (We brainwashed Americans no longer give trick-or-treaters healthy, home-made goodies). Instead, maybe each child and family who traipses Carlisle's streets in search of hollow calories and saccharine satisfaction should donate an equivalent amount of time to one of the Lowell or Lawrence shelters serving a warm Thanksgiving dinner to someone who really needs and appreciates it. Community service should not be learned in high school. It should be taught at home. The trick is to make the time, and the treat is realizing that personal service is a lot harder and a lot more rewarding than cutting a check or asking for UNICEF pennies.

Or think of it this way: if just the families in Carlisle center gave to a shelter in Lowell or Lawrence what they are expected to spend on candy for kids who don't need it well, you do the math and leverage it through all the other Carlisle neighborhoods. Wouldn't it be a treat to feel that good as the December holidays approach?

 

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2005 The Carlisle Mosquito