Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Times They Are A-Changing

 In honor of the annual idiocy known as Daylight Saving Time, I thought I'd save myself some time and re-post what I wrote a year ago on this fraught subject.( A more timely update is below.)

Welcome to Daylight Saving Time, a.k.a. Nighttime Stealing Time.

Since most of us don't need that fake extra hour of daylight to plow the fields and bring home the cows after supper, time theft is exactly what the annual abomination of Daylight Saving Time is. No benefits are accruing to those being ordered to save. To the contrary: the first Monday of DST has been scientifically proven to be the most dangerous day of the entire year. Chances are that you might not even live to see another night because of all that pretend extra sunshine being inflicted upon you. Heart attacks and fatal car accidents and workplace mishaps reach their annual peak Monday, the intensity decreasing slightly for the rest of the week. Night-owls suffer more than day-owls. Outbreaks of workplace cyber-loafing are not uncommon. 

(from National Lampoon's Vacation)

Calling something 'saving' is SOP to make you feel resigned to being abused without your permission. (see: Republicans' "health savings accounts" to replace Medicare, and Obama's MyRa "retirement savings accounts" to maybe someday replace Social Security.)

The Turn of the Screw Clocks is tantamount to mandated sleep deprivation in an already sleep-deprived society. Sleep deprivation has, after all, been deemed torture by the Geneva Convention. Hyperbolic to call Daylight Saving Time torture, you say? Well, not so much, when studies show that even occasional or "minor" sleep deprivation has a cumulative effect, permanently altering brain chemistry and damaging health. You cannot catch up on lost sleep. For some, that one mandated lost hour could be the difference between life and death.

Sleep deprivation has been blamed for the Chernobyl meltdown, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, and the Challenger disaster.  Most recently, the engineer of the ill-fated Metro-North train that killed four people in New York reported "zoning out" as a result of his work schedule having recently shifted from late night to early morning.

Factor in our chronic lack of sleep with the exhaustion pinnacle that is Nighttime  Stealing Week, and you've got a recipe for a whole bunch of tragedies.

 The irony is that the whole time-altering scam started out as a joke by none other than Ben Franklin. He facetiously suggested that colonists could save money on candles if they advanced their clocks ahead by an hour in the warmer months. And the rest, like most of ironic American history, is history. The Gothamist has 21 more reasons why the Great Time Robbery sucks, as if you needed any more.

Meanwhile, if you are you feeling tired and cranky after being forced to set your clocks ahead, try not to smash stuff as the chipper TV news mannequins urge you to just put on your happy face and dress yourself in sunshine and indulge in that horrible, neoliberal-sounding Power Nap after your Power Lunch. Try some blood pressure-reducing Ohhhhhmms between the Yawwwwwns.  There might still be a foot of grimy gray snow on the ground where you live, but try to visualize all those hopped-up horny Easter Bunnies "springing ahead" wherever you look. Don't be a downer. Take an upper. If you're not into drugs, just raise up the curtains and greet the glorious dawn! It's empowering. Which is pretty stupid, since DST actually means it's still dark outside at 6 a.m.; Dawn is dawning a whole hour later now. So, scratch that. Stay up a whole hour later instead, and watch the romantic sunset.  Your body clock may be screaming in protest, but those diurnal rhythms are just so yesterday. We live in an artificially lit, techno-connected 24/7/365 brave new world of higher worker productivity and stagnating wages. Get used to it, plebes, because there's always another poor slob waiting to take your place, willing to get by on less sleep just for the chance to survive another day-lightful day.

So let's keep a lousy idea that was lousy when they dreamed it up in those mythical, simpler, agrarian times for no other reason that it exhausts us. Sleep, as a universal, equal opportunity, no-cost phenomenon, is profitable only for the sleepers. The global economy is not making any money while you're snoozing, folks! The world cannot be made safe from terror with a country full of lazy snorers strung out in their hammocks of dependency. And in a hyper-capitalistic world that commodifies everything from drinking water to health care, if it's not profitable, then we must get rid of it. The plutocracy's answer is not more sleep for better health, but less sleep for us translating into more money for them.

And what better place to study how to reduce sleep than the taxpayer-funded Eternal War Complex? From ABC News:
By devising superhuman ways of staying awake for up to seven straight days and nights, military officials hope to lend U.S. soldiers a strategic edge in future conflicts.
"Eliminating the need for sleep during an operation … will create a fundamental change in war fighting and force employment," says a recent statement by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
To strive toward creating the no-sleep soldier, DARPA has funded a multi-tiered program from tinkering with a soldier's brain using magnetic resonance to analyzing the neural circuits of birds that stay awake for days during migration. The hope is to stump the body's need for sleep — at least temporarily.
"This program is really out of the box," says John Carney, director of DARPA's Continuous Assisted Performance program. "We want to look at capabilities in nature and leverage it so we can apply it in ways that no one thought possible."

Just what we need: bird brains studying bird brains for fun and profit and death. No word if there are mass suicides among sleep-deprived birds to correlate with the suicide epidemic of returning "tinkered" troops. But whatever. Stop kvetching about your precious hour of lost sleep, civilians!  If our Troops can go without sleep to keep you safe, think of the endless possibilities for an army of round-the-clock worker bees here in the Homeland!

Actually, that is already happening. As journalist Nick Reding reveals in his excellent investigative book Methland, the way that the low-paid, multi-shift workers at an Iowa meatpacking plant stayed awake was massive quantities of .... well, meth. The feds and the corporations didn't care, because the cost of the labor stayed low, and the profits flowed in, and people are ultimately disposable anyway. One more reason the War on Drugs sucks, as if you needed another reason.

I've told the story before about how I got my own personal, albeit short-lived revenge  on Dimwit Saving Time. One of my first assignments as a cub reporter was to write a story on it. Silly me, I (mistakenly of course) advised readers to set their clock back an hour instead of forward. I awarded folks with two extra hours at no cost to them. When the story zoomed past the sleepy editor and got into print and I realized my mistake while reading the front page at home that Sunday, I felt sure that the next day at work would be my last. But much to my surprise and relief, the newsroom was erupting in laughter. Turns out the only readers who called to complain were ladies who'd missed church. And since my editor was both an atheist and a misogynist, it ironically worked out very well for me at that brief moment in Time.

And it turns out I am in very good company. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford used his Twitter account to advise 130,000 people to set their clocks back Saturday night. No word if he was smoking crack at the Time, or if he can't remember because he was plastered when he Tweeted. Like a sleep-deprived migrating magpie.

Maybe the Army can study him.

Update: Of course, President Obama's retirement savings accounts took off like a shot (a fair shot at a fair share, but only after climbing the ladders of opportunity to a mythical level playing field, where everybody who works hard and plays by the same set of rules has a fair shot at a fair share after closing the mythic education and skills gaps, that is.) And Rob Ford, poor guy, is no longer mayor because of illness.

But everything else is the same old, same old. The biggest sleep deprivation story of the year is still that of the Metro-North engineer, whose undiagnosed sleep apnea and unhealthy swing shift schedule caused him to literally fall asleep at the switch as his early morning train sped around a curve, derailed, and killed several passengers. 

Another tragedy involved a woman who was killed by carbon monoxide as she fell asleep in her car between low-wage shifts at Dunkin Donuts.

Neither of these had anything to do with Daylight Stealing Time per se, but everything to do with how the Precariat is not getting enough sleep at any time of the year, no matter what time of year it is. Human rest does not jibe well with capitalist pursuits. Productivity grows, profits grow, while wages stagnate and plummet. You have to work longer hours just to squeak by.

When Paul Krugman wrote about the "Pizza Lobby" in his last column and noted that Big Ag and Fast Food potentates give mainly to Republican politicians whose states are contained within the so-called Diabetes Belt, he concentrated mainly on anti-science partisanship, while glossing over the connection between libertarian policies and the increased morbidity and mortality rates of poor people throughout the country. He also didn't mention that chronic sleep deprivation and the literal stealing of our time is a crushing feature of the New Economy.

My published comment:
The only pie we have to fear is the chart showing that the world's 80 richest billionaires own as much wealth as half the global population. Or the one showing that the Waltons have as much money as the bottom 40% of American families. Or the fat cat CEO scarfing down the deluxe topping, forcing the workers to compete for their 1/300th share of leftover crust.

Fresh healthy food is expensive. Despite decreasing costs of petroleum, which is used for food production and packaging, you don't see your grocery bill coming down, do you? If you rely on food stamps, which were cut yet again in another "bipartisan" deal by the millionaires of Congress, you quickly find that frozen pizza or mac n cheese fills hungry bellies better than a couple of sacks of applies and oranges sold at the same price.
And it's not just junk food that causes weight gain. It's lack of sleep. People working unsteady shifts might have to close late and open up early. Or they have to feed their kids on the fly because they work two or three jobs. The sleep-deprived have higher cortisol levels, which stimulate appetite. This makes them less sensitive to insulin, putting them at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Workers forced to stay awake just to stay alive tend to eat cheap foods that help them function.
It's the plutocratic Domino effect: precarious jobs, low wages, no time, no hope... and a big smirking goodbye kiss from the GOP to all the tumble-down disposable people.

Don't look for our millionaire congress critters to pass a bill outlawing Daylight Savings Time any time soon. Nobody can even agree on who is even to blame for it. It seems that farmers have gotten a bad rap for it all these years, when they actually were among its most vociferous opponents back in the day. And Ben Franklin's input seems to have been a myth as well, just like the mythical level playing fields and ladders of opportunity.

 Sleep itself is the enemy of neoliberalism and cancerous profits. As Jonathan Crary lays out in "24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep," since the Free Market never sleeps, nor should we be allowed to. Every moment that we slumber is a moment that we don't supply our labor, a moment that we're not connected to a device, a moment that we aren't purchasing and consuming goods or health insurance or "content" in the marketplace of things and ideas. Restful sleep is a literal and physical slap in the face to capitalism, and the Market refuses to tolerate it. So up and at 'em.

I'm exhausted just thinking about this hellishness. I think I'll go take a nap. I'll dream about a million tired people giving a group middle finger to the predators of the free market. I'll dream that a mass uprising will scare the living daylights out of all of them and they'll writhe in defeat, and return to us all those stolen hours and stolen lives and destroyed livelihoods.

Dreaming and breathing may be limited, but they are still free, despite the best efforts of the Free Market. On second thought...been to an Oxygen Bar or shopped oxygen product lately?



Patricia said...

Farmers in Indiana didn't start using DST until 2006. I lived in a farming community there and saw farmers plowing well into midnite. They don't need DST since they have lights on their tractors. What happened was more energy consumption, not less. Since we have an hour more of daylight Exxon and BP make more money since people will drive more when it's light out so there's not going to be any pressure from lobbies to get off DST, it's profitable to stay on. I just read that Chile went off DST. Not sure how many other countries are dumb enough to go along with it. Anytime the corpro-government can steal from us they will take, we will never get it back.

Denis Neville said...

Oxygen bars? "Flavored" oxygen? Oxygenated water? There are suckers born every minute, looking for ways to light their money on fire.

When I was in the Air Force, I rotated from day shift to evening shift to night shift every four days, with four days off before repeating the cycle. I suffered from shift work sleep disorder - difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, and excessive sleepiness - during that time. I didn’t have anything resembling a normal sleep pattern for several years after that experience.

Then, as a health care professional, I worked demanding schedules - off-shifts and long hours. The effects of sleep deprivation upon health care professionals were essentially ignored until the Libby Zion case in 1984.

The quest for the ultimate human killing machine … creating the no-sleep soldier … “the idea of ridding people of the need for sleep is attractive” … “Forcing our enemies to perform continuously without the benefit of sufficient daily sleep is a very effective weapon” … by all means, let’s mute the qualities that make soldiers human. What could possibly go wrong?

The German army's drug of choice during WW2 was Pervitin - pills made from methamphetamine, commonly known today as crystal meth.

Fertile ground for scientists to work in.

valerie long tweedie said...

Interesting reading in Der Spiegel, Denis. It reminded me of a book Karen reviewed when I first started reading Sardonicky two or three years ago. I think the book was called Methland and I recall the main theme of the book was how working class people in farming communities were using meth to stay awake in order to hold down two or three jobs. It reminded me so much of the supersoldier theme that comes up from time to time in popular culture.

Bill said...

I probably responded to this a year ago but I'll say the same thing again: why don't they just split the difference a half hour and leave the clocks alone? DST is way outmoded and it's time (hah, hah) to stop. I hate DST. It's such a sham.

Pearl (yawn) said...

By extending the purpose of DST to create ways of depriving people of normal sleep patterns to accomplish a mission on the battlefield or in the workplace, increases the possibilities for a solution of permanent sleep for these soldiers/workers.
Also accidents on the battlefield (friendly fire, etc.) or in the workplace by injuring others claims more victims.
But, venal mission accomplished.
I think Krugman changed the venue for comments to make it harder for you, Karen, to upstage him so spectacularly.