Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, not for any astronomical reasons, but for the sake of arbitrary government finagling: it was the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, scissoring an hour out of the day for reasons that aren't entirely lost in time but have been obscured because they weren't very good to begin with. The most compelling of the excuses was energy savings, a questionable concept to begin with: mass and energy are interchangeable, after all, and nobody has reached Peak Mass except maybe a couple of Walmart customers. Anyway, tweaking actual physical constants is far above our pay grade, so we rationalize it as a matter of money. And that fails, spectacularly:

The idea behind daylight savings time is to cut back on residential electricity use, which is heaviest at night. By moving the clocks forward in the spring, human activity would start and end earlier, and when people return to their still-sunny houses after work, they wouldn't need to turn on the lights until an hour later than normal. The result? Energy savings.

But there's little empirical proof it actually works.

For instance, one 2007 study looked at two neighboring Australian states. Victoria extended daylight savings time as part of the national plan to facilitate the 2000 Olympic games. South Australia, next door, did not extend DST. The upshot? They found DST did reduce energy use in the evenings. But it also boosted energy usage in the mornings, essentially negating all the savings.

Which is exactly what you should expect if you cut off one end of your blanket and sew it on the other to make it longer.

What I find most distressing about this is the placid, cud-chewing acceptance of a really stupid idea: not one of our ever-louder politicians is ever going to run on an anti-DST platform, not one will ever read the enabling law at a campaign stop and declare "This is bullshit."

Nor is DST the most egregious example of bovine excreta. The Renewable Fuels Standard is utterly unserious: in exchange for higher world food prices, we get to use inferior gasoline blends, the very definition of a lose-lose outcome, unless you happen to be one of the half-dozen movers and/or shakers in Iowa, where Presidential candidates bow and scrape to the Mighty Cornstalk, lest they be overlooked in the caucuses. This past week, Ted Cruz attempted to tell Iowans that, yes, this is bullshit; the only way he could have damaged his campaign any further would have been to come out in defense of the so-called Affordable Care Act.

The ACA, in fact, is a poster child for bullshit, because it's based on the highly dubious premise that what people really want is health insurance. This is manifestly not true: what people really want is to be able to afford health care without having to flatline the rest of their budgets. Consider the craftsman who goes to Lowe's to buy a quarter-inch drill. He's not thinking "I want a quarter-inch drill"; he's thinking "I need some quarter-inch holes."

The Democrats working on this matter discovered rather quickly that they couldn't do a damned thing about making health care affordable without turning loose their grip on the marketplace, so they decided to sell health insurance instead. (The Republicans were not part of the discussion, but there's no reason to think the GOP would have done anything differently: both parties are cut from the same forest full of rotting trees.) The shtick was never #GetHealthy; it was always #GetCovered. And the outcome was wholly predictable: some people had to pay far more so that some other people got to pay far less. Republicans on the campaign trail in 2016 might make some vague references to this result, but not one of them has the stones it would take to assert that this is in fact bullshit.

And so it goes, bill after bill, each a greater sham than the last, and when there's no bill, there's the Executive offering to do the same with his pen and his phone. Things can never get better under such circumstances. And while I can't blame DST on him, I blame the rest of it on Ted Kennedy, who caught the (lack of) imagination of the nation the day they buried his brother Bobby:

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."

For that kind of mindset, it is impossible to imagine that there may be a perfectly good reason why not, and they will not listen to you when you tell them that this is bullshit.

The Vent

  9 March 2015

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 Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Hill