Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner #1: Turkey, Pool, and a Grand Jury

As a plebe, Thanksgiving dinner at the Academy meant getting to the dining hall an hour early to set up the tables and prepare drinks and appetizers for the table. It also means running to the galley on a schedule to pick up the next course, or to replenish a depleted delicacy. As an upperclassmen, Thanksgiving dinner begins when the meal starts, and ends with the departure of the VIPs. As a senior, Thanksgiving dinner begins after class, and continues to the end of the night. That is because dinner is fit in between two social hours: the first is a reception to receive the guests, and the “pub hour” afterwards is an aperitif for the invited guests- including faculty who happen to be alumni- who are still young at heart. After two winning rounds of pool (thanks to having a partner with more experience at the table), there was a mishap with whipped cream- witnessed by spectators including myself. No need to elaborates, but to make sweetness of the situation, I grabbed some eggnog to share- topped with the remainder of the whipped cream bottle. Then the TV was turned on to the news. A rare occurrence after breakfast (when the news remains high-paced and full of drama), and only done for important events. I am not an avid current-events fan, instead preferring big-picture topics like public morals and economic policy. So I was intrigued that a bunch of young men, and women, would want to watch a press conference. The last time was when the President announced action against the ISIS militant group. I was not a fan of former press secretary Jay Carney, so I tended to avoid watching direct coverage from the Press Room of the White House. But in watching this speech, I was more sympathetic to the President than I had been: In contrast to the legislative force which Mr. Obama had in his first two years of the presidential office, Mr. Obama appeared to be a more humble man. He no longer had the House of Representatives, and by this time was predicted to lose the Senate as well. He was a bit aged by a contentious relationship with the House. Tonight, at a press conference beginning at 8:15pm Missouri time, the decision came down from the jury, as read by a civil minister. It was a lengthy talk, detailing the pains with which the jury took to avoid misleading rumors and biases of the media. But about six minutes in, squished between two other sentences, it turned out that Police Officer Darren Wilson was not guilty of any of the five potential charges. I was one of the few to catch it before Fox News posted a banner with this highlight. This was the desired verdict for many in my crowd, as a number had a police officer as a parent, cousin, or a close family friend. Quite nefariously, one person confided to another that it was “A good day to be a white guy”. But that logic is wrong and divisive. Justice is supposed to be colorblind. I was relieved that justice was administered based on all evidence. The same class of person who says that this case was a verdict for the Caucasian race is the same type of person who fears visiting foreign ports. This turkey season, Darren Wilson has a lot to be thankful for. Our front-line police officers’ families appear to be thankful, too.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Daylight Savings Time Bewitched

It has nothing to do with farmers, but something to do with golfers. A Mad Men special feature illustrates the history of Daylight Savings Time in America. Its origin was wartime rationing, where inefficient home boilers consumed coal and oil for heating. After WWII, each state or major city set its schedule for switching to daylight savings time. Which meant confusion during the months of April and October. It was in the 1960’s that daylight savings time would be a state, not local issue, and the start and end dates would be the same nationwide. Residents of Arizona and Hawaii don’t need to bother with clocks. In the southernmost states, air conditioning costs outweigh the reduced lighting costs. Nevada and Florida retain daylight savings time to avoid a 2-hour time difference with neighbors California and Alabama, which both stretch further north. The Atlantic Magazine reported a disruption of sleep cycles, increased heart attacks, exacerbation of sleep disorders, and car accidents in the week after the spring time shift. And I don’t think it’s a big deal. On cargo vessels, clocks advance or are retarded an hour per night, or every other night. Rather than a single change at 2am, advances or delays are made in 20 minute increments at 8pm, 12am, and 4am. This is so that each officer on watch splits the difference. Because the ship’s clocks rely on an electrical frequency of 60 hertz to keep time, a time change is the right time to synchronize the ship’s clock to GPS time. On the fastest ocean liners, clocks advance 90 minutes per night as vessels took the “great circle” route form New York to England and Northern Europe, shortening the distance and time between time zones. Twice a year, the sailor’s, pilot’s and traveler’s daily clock-changing becomes a national affair. Local sunrise and sunset times are determined by longitude and latitude. Longitude determines the sunrise and sunset times, and latitude determines the number of hours of daylight. Last year in November, I was in Portland, Oregon. One gripe was that the evening commute ended in darkness. This is nothing unusual in New York. At the winter solstice (I took note of this last year), “flag retreat” took place 15 minutes after classes ended at 4pm. In the summer, “flag retreat” occurs after 8pm. And, for the record, the sun sets earlier in New York than it does in Washington, DC. In 2007, Daylight Savings Time was extended to almost 8 months of the year. As a result, “Change your clock, check your smoke detector” is no longer the golden rule. Morning commutes in October now take place under darkness. Most famously, Daylight Savings Time now covers Halloween. All my trick-or-treating was done after sundown. Not so for today’s tots, who can finish before pitch black.