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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
March 6, 2005

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Time, The Pacifier, Forgotten Man, and College Humor

Daylight Savings Time has been with us for so many years that we take it for granted. But its adoption took a long time, and was thwarted for many years because of reasons both rational and absurd.

The premise of daylight saving time is simple enough. In northern latitudes, like most of the United States, during the winter a person who starts work at 8:00 a.m. is likely to leave home in the dark.

But in the summer the sun will rise much earlier, so that by the time he gets to work, three or more hours of daylight will have been wasted on such useless activities as sleeping, bathing, and brushing his teeth.

I'm an old man now, and I personally don't regard sleeping as wasted time. In fact, I regard it as something of a triumph, and wish I could get more of it.

The proponents of daylight saving time originally thought of it as a way of gaining more leisure time during the summer months. But it was the desire for greater worker productivity and savings on electricity during World War I that led, first Germany, then the Allies, to adopt daylight saving time.

The rational opposition was the most obvious: Why should we change our clocks, when all we have to do to gain those extra hours is to get up early in the morning?

But most of our activities are scheduled according to the patterns established by others. If you wake up at five a.m. during the summer, you'll have many daylight hours for solitary activities. Because no one else will be up and around to bother you.

Moving an hour of that morning daylight to the evening, however, gives you a chance to take part in social activities.

Farmers have a good reason to complain. Cows don't understand about clocks, and they will need to be milked at the same time every day, regardless of what the clock says.

The real hardship, though, was that on daylight saving time, local trains that carried fresh milk to market would leave before the milking was done. So in effect, daylight "saving" forced farmers to get up even earlier than they already did. One can hardly blame them for hating it.

David Prerau's short and charming book, Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time, goes into perhaps more detail than some might want about the history of public time measurement. But I found the whole book a great deal of fun, partly because I'm fascinated by the kind of detail that some people find boring, and partly because it was so entertaining to read of the utterly foolish reasons some people had (and probably still have) for opposing Daylight Saving Time.

My favorite Dumb Reason is that "We shouldn't try to change God's time."

Why is this dumb? Because there is nothing about Standard Time that is remotely connected to "God's time."

It was the railroads that first connected cities in America and Europe with such brief travel time that people had to give up local time entirely. Today we take it for granted that everyone within a certain time zone will keep the same time. But the fact is that true noon comes at a different time for any two spots that are not on exactly the same line of longitude.

If we truly kept to God's time, then people in eastern Greensboro would need to set their clocks to noon a few seconds earlier than people in western Greensboro. And people in Winston-Salem, Burlington, and Charlotte would be off from us by several minutes.

The impossibility of making rational train schedules that would mean anything at all to travelers led to the adoption of time zones, first by a consortium of railroad companies, then by many local governments, and finally by the national government.

The interesting thing is that long before daylight saving time was adopted, various American cities opted to move into more eastern time zones than they were originally assigned. Thus, Eastern time originally did not reach very far into Ohio, but by various cities' own choice, the boundary began to creep farther and farther west.

In effect, they were adopting "daylight" time year-round.

Daylight saving time used to be adopted on a haphazard basis -- a state here, a city there. It meant chaos all over again, especially as long-distance telephones and transoceanic cables gave access to intercontinental markets. It mattered that businessmen in London be able to predict what time it was in New York.

So the federal government wasn't interfering with "God's time." For that, we might as well blame the first clock makers, who got rid of the old system of twelve short hours of daylight in the winter and twelve long hours of daylight in the summer -- back when the first hour of the day came at sunrise.

Having hours that are the same length year-round is absurd, artificial, phony, and definitely has nothing to do with any plan God might have set forth in any scripture I know of. But then, God did give us the brains to invent things like clocks. And because we have come up with a plan for time-keeping, we're able to make it to church all at the same time.

Or at least to know exactly how many minutes we're late.

*

The Pacifier, Vin Diesel's attempt to imitate Arnold Schwarzenegger's success with 1990's Kindergarten Cop, was the hit of the weekend, packing theaters and, I must confess, delighting even discriminating viewers.

Not because it's a good movie. Its writing is painfully bad, and there's a cheap, slightly amateurish feel to it as it jumps around through scenes that are often included for no better reason than a dumb laugh. Which is fine -- laughing is good, unless it is caused by something I inadvertently did in public -- except that even in comedies, we expect that if a scene is worth spending time on, it will lead to some kind of consequence in the movie.

Too many scenes in The Pacifier go nowhere; and too often, they're not that funny.

This movie is kind of awful in a ramshackle, slapped-together way.

But compared to movies that are just as awful but are slick and polished, like, say, Daddy Day Care (2003), I have to say that I prefer the honest clumsiness of this one.

Let's get one point out of the way right now: Vin Diesel is no Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the difference is all to Arnold's benefit.

But there are good actors in this movie. Brittany Snow has a wonderfully real emotional moment as the oldest daughter; Max Thieriot is growing up into a good actor who seems likely to get out of adolescence with a career; and Morgan York as the younger daughter is an absolute charmer.

And the side trip into musical comedy as directed by a Navy Seal was the only truly inspired bit of comedy in the whole movie.

On the other hand, Carol Kane is utterly wasted -- they essentially tossed her out of the movie so early that she never had a chance to play off of Vin Diesel. It was a stupid move -- the plot didn't require it, and she could have saved many a scene that died without her.

And Brad Garrett is appalling as the vice-principal. It's hard to know which is worse, his over-the-top performance or the deeply stupid and unfunny character the writers created for him to play.

Yet despite the problems, we were not bored, we often laughed out loud, and while our ten-year-old liked it better than her parents did, we were all glad we went to the movies Saturday night.

In other words, clumsy as it was, The Pacifier earned the money we spent on it.

But I'd have to be tied to a chair to sit through it twice.

*

Robert Crais is an excellent writer of mysteries, but like many of the best in that field today, he's moving outside the boundaries and writing novels that feel like mysteries, but are actually something else.

Gone are the days of simple puzzle mysteries, where the fun came from trying to guess who did it and why at least a page before the sleuth's solution is revealed.

Instead, in contemporary mysteries like Crais's, even if you guess whodunit on page fifty, you still want to read every page to watch the interaction among the characters.

The sleuth isn't just a collection of eccentricities, like Agatha Christie's -- which is not a criticism of the Grande Dame, but rather a simple observation, for Hercule Poirot was supposed to be the same in every book. He didn't change, and you could read most of the Poirot mysteries -- and most of the Marple mysteries -- in any order.

Crais -- and the other modern mystery writers -- develop their sleuth's lives with every book, and the suspects aren't there to be pieces in a puzzle, they're fascinating characters in their own right.

The result is a slight disappointment, sometimes, for those who still read mysteries for the contest between writer and reader; but for most of us, the new mysteries are a vast improvement. We invest, not just our minds, but our hearts, and are well rewarded for the effort.

Crais's latest novel, The Forgotten Man, takes up the story of his sleuth, Elvis Cole, just after the love of his life has left him for good. This time he knows that the romance is over; what he doesn't know is whether his life is over along with it.

The trouble with reviewing this book is that anything I tell you might poison your reading of the tale by leading you to think along lines that are best avoided until the author unfolds them. I guess you'll just have to trust me that Craise always gives his readers a wonderful ride, and this is one of the best.

*

Do you want to know what kids are doing in college? Well, in the case of the guys at Give Me Back My Son Productions, they're making some really hilarious, creative videos.

"Spasmodic" is really a serious of still pictures that are edited in order to give the impression of a weird timelapse movie of several guys, presumably college roommates, going through a series of semi-miraculous transformations.

It's just plain silly. That's a good thing. I laughed a lot.

So sign on (using your internet-connected computer, please) to http://www.collegehumor.com/?movie_id=121764

Or you can Google "College Humor Spasmodic" which will lead you to the right page.

However, a friend warned me that the "College Humor" site is famous for featuring topless co-eds. I didn't know that -- I went straight to "Spasmodic" every time and didn't see any "scenery" on the way. Now my friend and his wife will have a talk about why he knows this. Meanwhile, I'll check it out and see just how offensive it is.


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