Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Election Follies - A Proposition to Change Daylight Saving Time


It’s common, even typical, to be outraged after Election Day. But don’t worry, I’m not going to get all political on you. Discussing party politics is about as enjoyable as a botched colonoscopy. Either you agree with your confabulator, in which case the chat is pointless and boring, or you don’t, in which case he’s an idiot and you start to hate him.

That being said, on the recent California ballot there was one Proposition (a non-partisan one, I hasten to add) that was unspeakably moronic and had me gnashing my terrible teeth, roaring my terrible roar, and rending my garments—even before (gasp!) it passed by a wide margin. In this post I will explain what makes the argument for Proposition 7 so stupid; what a reasonable argument could have looked like; my conjecture about how it managed to pass; and why it will never come to anything beyond a waste of time for the California Legislature.

Why should we care? Because the victory of this Proposition suggests that maybe democracy isn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe we’re too stupid to vote and would be better off with a benign dictator.

What is Proposition 7?

Here is the title of Proposition 7 (the full text of which you can read online here): “Conforms California Daylight Saving Time to Federal Law. Allows Legislature to Change Daylight Saving Time Period. Legislative Statute.” Right off the bat, before the first word of the Proposition proper, we’re already being mislead.

“Conforms California Saving Time To Federal Law.” This is exactly the opposite of what Prop 7 seeks to do. California already conforms to federal law. Prop 7 seeks to pave the way for an exemption.

“Allows Legislature to Change Daylight Saving Time Period.” No it doesn’t. Only the federal government can allow this. Prop 7 merely allows the Legislature to ask the federal government to change its laws. And this Proposition is not trying to change the period, per se; it’s trying to do away with the concept of period entirely, by having the same time year round.

Later in the Proposition, the “Argument in Favor” says, “A YES vote on Proposition 7 allows California to consider making Daylight Saving Time or Standard Time our year-round time.” Again, this is not the intent of Prop 7. States can already choose to be on Standard Time year-round (as Arizona and Hawaii do). Prop 7 seeks to adopt Daylight Saving Time year-round. Why don’t the authors just state this outright? Who knows. Maybe they cynically hoped that confusion would help their chances.

The arguments for Prop 7

Whether or not permanent Daylight Savings is a good idea (more on this question later), the arguments provided by its proponents are complete bullshit. Let’s look at them.

University medical studies in 2012 found that the risk of heart attacks increases by 10% in the two days following a time change.” What university? How were these studies conducted? Why should anybody take this utterly ridiculous assertion at face value?

In 2016, further research revealed that stroke risks increase 8% when we change our clocks. For cancer patients the stroke risk increases 25% and for people over age 65 stroke risk goes up 20%.” Again, what research, by whom? Published where? Why not tack on some more groundless assertions? Like: “For people with more than two vowels in their names, constipation went up 79% in the 18 hours following the time change.” The fact that like 60% of Californians seemed to buy this crap makes me want to move.

If changing clocks presented this significant a health hazard, people who travel on business would be dropping like flies. When I fly to the East Coast, I’m changing my watch by three hours when I get there, and changing it again a few days later. That’s way more disruptive than changing my clock by one hour twice a year.

Meanwhile, if humans are so delicately tuned that changing the clocks presents significant health threats, what might be the effects of California being an hour ahead of the rest of the Pacific time zone for four months out of the year? Well, guess what: I just did a university study that found the risk of heart attacks will increase by 15% whenever the rest of our time zone changes its clocks and we don’t! For people who routinely attend conference calls, that risk increases by 30%! And when athletes from Washington and Oregon compete against those from California, concussion risk will more than double!

Changing our clocks twice a year increases our use of electricity 4% in many parts of the world, increases the amount of fuel we use in our cars, and comes with a cost of $434 million.” Okay, whoa whoa whoa. How does changing clocks increase our use of electricity 4% “in many parts of the world?” I spin the hands back on my clock, and the electricity going to my home increases in, like, China?

Look, Prop 7 assholes, the amount of fuel I use in my car varies only with the distance I have to drive and when I need to get where I’m going. This doesn’t change with DST.

And where does this weirdly specific $434 million figure come from? Wouldn’t any extra cost be at least marginally different when we spring forward vs. falling back? The Prop 7 authors don’t differentiate between springing forward and falling back, but they should. I am not alone in enjoying falling back. We get an extra hour of sleep, for one thing. Meanwhile, for a few days after this time change, when my body feels like it’s an hour later than the clock says, I have an easier time falling asleep at night, which is a real boon. And in the morning, when my circadian rhythms get me up before my alarm? That’s glorious! I’m up and around, I’m getting shit done—it’s like a better me! Contrast this to typical mornings when you’re snoozing your alarm again and again and feeling weak and worthless. I always find it a shame when I get used to the fall time change.

Since 2000, 14 countries have stopped changing their clocks. And now 68% of all the countries don't do it.” Okay, first of all, “stopped changing their clocks” doesn’t necessarily mean they went to full-time DST as this proposition aims to do. In many cases it means they stopped observing DST altogether. So it doesn’t even matter if the authors of Prop 7 pulled these numbers, too, out of their asses. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting which countries observe DST, isn’t it? I mean, should we blindly mimic whichever behaviors are the most widely adopted? Here’s a map (from Wikipedia) showing which countries observe DST:

Virtually the entire developed world observes DST only part of the year. Most of the countries abstaining are in the third world—hardly an ideal role model. The main exception is Russia, which tried out full-time DST from 2011 to 2014 before abandoning it, based on the people not liking it. Now they don’t observe DST at all (i.e., they do the opposite of what Prop 7 seeks to do).

Opponents of Proposition 7 can't dispute the scientific and economic facts showing that the changing of clocks twice a year is hazardous to our health and our economy.” What do you mean we “can’t”? I just did!

A legitimate argument for permanent DST

Oddly, there is at least one reasonable argument for switching to DST full-time: lowering violent crime. As cited here, “A study by the U.S. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that crime was consistently less during periods of Daylight Saving Time than during comparable standard time periods. Data showed violent crime down 10 to 13 percent. It is clear that for most crimes where darkness is a factor, such as muggings, there are many more incidents after dusk than before dawn, so light in the evening is most welcome.”

At least this factoid says who did the study. Not that it’s clear this study is legit; when I googled it, all I found were three different sources all trotting out the same three sentences you just read, verbatim, with no citation given. (Plagiarism increases 25% whenever we change our clocks!)

But at least the notion kind of makes sense. You’d expect a mugger to be a night owl, wouldn’t you? A lot more potential victims would be up and around at, say, 9 p.m. than 6 a.m. Violent crime just doesn’t seem like something a morning person would do.

So why didn’t the writers of Prop 7 advance this argument, which at least passes the sanity test? Beats me. Perhaps it didn’t occur to them … which begs the question, why would they want permanent DST to begin with? Another mystery.

What’s wrong with permanent DST?

Okay, I’ll grant you that the assortment of lousy justifications the Prop 7 folks gave for permanent DST doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad idea. If a dumb kid touted Hawaii as a good vacation spot because you get to watch movies on the flight to Honolulu, you might not be swayed by his argument—but that doesn’t mean Hawaii isn’t lovely. So, could permanent DST be a fine idea, whether it prevents heart attacks or not?

Well, I’d prefer permanent DST to opting out of DST altogether. If we didn’t do DST at all, the sun would rise at 4:46 a.m. in mid-June in the Bay Area. That isn’t doing anybody any good (except cyclists who love to get in 80 miles before 9 a.m., but who cares about them?). On the flip side, having the sun set at 8:35 p.m. in late June is highly useful.

But what would we gain by adopting permanent DST? Well, the sun wouldn’t set until 6 p.m. instead of 5 on December 31. Yeah, that’s not bad, but consider how late the sun would rise. For two months—from early December to early February—my kids would be biking to school before sunrise. That means they’d have to be responsible about keeping their bike lights charged up—and what teenager was ever on top of details like that? Sounds like an accident in the making. When Russia tried out permanent DST, the late sunrise was the biggest complaint.

Now, in asking “what would we gain,” it’s crucial to be clear about who “we” means: if Prop 7 passed, and the federal government decided to follow suit and allow California to adopt full-time DST, we’d get our later sunset, sure—but we’d also have to endure a huge lot of hassle being out of sync with the rest of the Pacific time zone. I have written about this before, in my first Daylight Saving Time post:
Today, Monday, was rough. At work, an 11:00 a.m. conference call threw people into a tailspin because the recurring appointment had been set up in the e-mail/calendar program by somebody in the Arizona time zone, where DST is not observed. For those outside Arizona, the call automatically jumped forward by an hour on our electronic calendars. For example, in San Francisco, Pacific Standard Time switched to Pacific Daylight Time so the call was bumped to noon; even past iterations of the call show up in our calendar software as having been at noon. To the person who set up the call, everything seemed normal, but we had to decide whether to move the call or not. After a dozen instant messages among colleagues across three time zones, we compromised on rescheduling today’s call for 11:30 a.m. PDT. We do this little dance twice a year.
I think opting out of DST makes more sense for Arizona than full-time DST does for California, for two reasons. First of all, Arizona is hotter than blazes, so having a really early sunrise gives people a chance to get outdoors for some exercise when the weather is nice, before starting their workday. (I used to travel to Arizona on business quite a bit, and loved me some early morning hikes.) Second, in terms of interstate business, Arizona just isn’t as important as California so their stubbornness doesn’t affect as many people. I know that sounds harsh, but it is what it is.

How did this absurd Proposition pass?

I’ve talked to a number of friends about Prop 7 to try to figure out how it passed, and they all fall into one of three categories: 1) they were completely against it; 2) they didn’t understand it and didn’t try very hard to; or 3) they ignored it and didn’t vote one way or the other.

One friend thought Prop 7 backed out Dubya’s extension of the DST period. Another thought it simply did away with changing the clocks, but never considered what downstream implications this would have. But you know what? The positions my friends took are not the point. My friends do not comprise a representative cross-section of California voters. For that, I’d need to go to traffic school or something (and I don’t need to, my recent flap with a traffic cop notwithstanding).

I will never know what, if anything, went through the minds of the millions of Californians who voted YES on Prop 7. My best guess is that this outcome resulted indirectly from a previous initiative from the last election: Proposition 64, which legalized weed in this state.

Will Prop 7 have any effect?

Okay, so regardless of whether or not Prop 7 makes any sense, it’s the political equivalent of pissing into the wind anyway—it will never have any effect on voters’ lives.

How can I so confidently assert this? Well, think about it. Only Congress can change the federal law that prohibits states from adopting permanent DST. And who is in Congress? Well, it’s representatives and senators from all 50 states. Sure, California has a lot of representatives—53 out of 435 (about 12% of the total), but we only represent two votes in the Senate. Whatever benefits we might think we’d get from full-time DST, it would be a hassle for 49 other states. What possible incentive would the vast majority of non-Californians have to change the federal law and allow California to be a pain in everyone’s ass? Zero incentive. So what’s the plan here … we just ask really nicely?

Okay, fine, Prop 7 gave the California Legislature the authority to pursue permanent DST … but who cares? Whatever effort is made now will be a complete waste of time and energy. I truly hope the Legislature lets this die on the vine.

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