five assorted country wall clocks

Well, we’ve all gone through that ridicu­lous semi-annu­al prac­tice of reset­ting our clocks once again, a prac­tice which leaves near­ly every­one scratch­ing his or her head as to why we con­tin­ue this madness.

Let’s for­get about “day­light sav­ings time” for just a bit and con­cen­trate on some real­i­ties of time-keeping.

All the world rec­og­nizes Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the basis for glob­al time-keep­ing.  Okay, maybe there are a few recal­ci­trant rogue states or ter­ri­to­ries that don’t, but they are a minus­cule minority.

The zero degree lon­gi­tude line runs through Greenwich, England (the French argued that it should run through Paris, but every­one knows how tru­cu­lent the French can be) and the Greenwich time zone lies seven–and–a–half degrees on either side of that line, with each time zone lying an addi­tion­al fif­teen degrees to the east and west.

Each time zone should encom­pass one hour as there are twen­ty-four time zones and the earth rotates once every twen­ty-four hours.  Twenty-four times fif­teen equals three-six­ty.  Simple, right?

Well, it would be if every­body rec­og­nized the con­ti­nu­ity of the lon­gi­tude lines, but it is not to be.  Localities and states and coun­tries choose which time zone they wish to reside in so the time zone lines zig and zag in all sorts of crazy con­fig­u­ra­tions.  China rec­og­nizes only one time peri­od for the entire coun­try, though it spans five or six time zones.

And one would think that the International Date Line, which lies in the mid­dle of the Pacific Ocean, could eas­i­ly be defined by a sin­gle straight line run­ning north to south with­out inter­rup­tion.  Not so.  Some island nations have opt­ed to reside on one or the oth­er side of the line, and so it is jogged to meet their demands.

So, for Kentucky.  Most of our state is cur­rent­ly in the Eastern Time Zone (EST) and is typ­i­cal­ly five hours ear­li­er than GMT.   And while most Kentuckians have come to accept this as nor­mal, it doesn’t com­ply with a strict com­pli­ance to the lon­gi­tu­di­nal lines which should serve to estab­lish time zones.  Here’s why.

Since the GMT time zone lies sev­en-and-a-half degrees east and west of the zero merid­i­an, that means that – mov­ing west – the next time zone should add 15 degrees and extend from 7.5 degrees west to 22.5 degrees west, the next from 22.5 to 37.5, and so on.  The EST zone should lie between 67.5 degrees west and 82.5 degrees west. 

But all of Kentucky, save about twen­ty-six miles at the very east­ern end, lies between 82.5 and 89 degrees west, total­ly with­in the Central Time Zone which extends from 82.5 degrees west to 97.5 degrees west and is minus six hours of GMT.

Confusing?  Of course.

So the ques­tion becomes: In the midst of this con­fu­sion, why aren’t we in the Central Time Zone already, and why are we com­pound­ing the prob­lem by chang­ing our clocks twice every year?

Say, here’s a solu­tion!  Let’s declare that all ana­log clocks be made with faces that have two sets of num­bers, off­set by one hour and, fur­ther, that all dig­i­tal clocks can­not be made that are not auto­mat­i­cal­ly able to adjust to DST as com­put­ers and smart­phones do.

Or we could be total­ly log­i­cal and just do away with DST and make the lon­gi­tude lines the true demar­ca­tion of time zones or stip­u­late all our time as Zulu Time, refer­ring to GMT and using the 24 hour des­ig­na­tion so that 8:00 a.m. (0800 in mil­i­tary time) in the Central Zone would be expressed as 1400 Zulu and get rid of those pesky a.m.’s and p.m.’s.

Is your head explod­ing yet?

Recommended read­ing: Revolution in Tme by David Landes and Longitude by Dava Sobel.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.