Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sleep Deprivation without Representation

It was fun for me when I was a little kid. It meant an extra hour of baseball with my friends on the vacant lot near my house, or on the dirt road down the street. It did seem strange, though, for there still to be glimmers of light at nearly ten o'clock.

Some things changed, for sure. We once had three or four "drive-in" movie theaters. My home town still has one, amazingly, but they died throughout the great Southwest. And I remember the security I felt in the order of our elementary school classrooms. That clock on the wall was controlled in the principal's office. He could change it, and we often saw the reset happening before our very eyes. You could count on that clock. It would buzz once for things like recess or lunch, and three times for a fire drill. It was never wrong. The clocks were placed back-to-back on adjoining walls in the orderly elementary school I attended, and I dreaded the years that the clock was on the wall facing us, instead of comfortably behind us. That minute hand would climb from six back up to twelve with an agonizing slowness.

Then, one year, those clocks didn't work any more. They had been designed for a time and place where the sun determined the hour. They had never been designed to be run backwards one hour in the fall, or for that matter, even run forwards one hour in the spring. That magic button the in principal's office (probably near the famed "electric paddle") was not equipped to handle the intricacies of Daylight Savings Time. In another year, half the clocks (there were about 40 on the campus, all controlled by the same button), no longer kept good time. Some were hours off, and even the ones that were close were not that reliable. We had to depend on our watches, and the bells and buzzers were irregular. Somewhere along the way, they were replaced by a tone that came over the speaker system. Even the fire drill was no longer three exciting buzzes. It was a "fire tone" on the speaker.

Town clocks were broken as well. They had never been intended for this abuse. And that says nothing of our internal clocks. People, in what should have been the rush of spring, were coming to work angry and moody, feeling the loss of an hour of sleep. Pets were puzzled by the change in feeding time, and pre-schoolers could not go to sleep in their cribs when the sun was shining through their windows.

Children stood in the dark, waiting for school buses. In the spring, people showed up for church just as the final prayer was being announced, and then in the fall, the habitually late got to services in time to help the sexton open the doors.

No one has ever been able to reasonably explain why 48 of our states do this every year. Oh, I know what you're saying: "to save energy." I believe that like I believe the Internal Revenue Service has the purpose of raising money for the operation of government. Some studies this year have even noted that the new, earlier move to "spring forward" may actually be conterproductive and waste more energy in the morning than it purportedly saves in the evening. We have even heard that the rationale for the longer DST is based on surveys and studies from the 70's, fully a generation ago, that have no bearing at all on current work patterns and personal preferences.

So why did this happen? Was there a great public outcry for DST? While I'm sure there's the occasional "odd man out" that says "I like it," most Americans are offended, irritated, and perplexed by it. Most who don't speak against it simply tolerate it.

What amazes me the most is that the people who imposed this -- thing -- on the American public are the very ones we have sent to represent us in congress. No one wants it, so why do those who claim to represent us keep voting for it? Why do the "farm" advocates of the midwest vote with the "cubicle" candidates of the big cities? It makes no sense.

And my biggest question: "Why do we keep sending these people back to Washington?" If this really is a "representative democracy" (which the Constitution never claims, by the way), why do these things keep happening? At the turn of the last century, the Supreme Court overruled the "income tax" as unconstitutional. It took an amendment to make it legal. That meant that congress actually had to propose it and vote for it, then that 2/3 of all the state legislatures had to approve it. Was there really a public outcry in America at the time? "Tax us, tax us!" Did that happen, or did some people in high places disregard the welfare of their own electorate when they made April 15 a dark day?

Ask any ten Americans about DST, and 7-8 will say, "Get rid of it." Yet congress keeps expanding and protecting it (they managed to get Indiana "on board" a year or two ago).

The more "democracy" we get, it seems the less results we get. The "majority rules" idea seems to destroy what most Americans want. As I see the remaining candidates left for the presidential election, I see a Republican that no one is really too excited about. I see Democrats who are scared to say it too loud, but who whisper to themselves, "Are these two clowns really the best we could do?"

Why do we keep sending these people to Washington, and to our state capitals? And what can be done about it? I wish I knew. For now, I know that most people are still rubbing sleep out of their eyes this week, and just about the time we get used to it, they will change it back so they can confuse us all over again.

And we keep voting for these people.

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