Professors say permanent calendar would be cost-saver
Prof. Richard Henry poses with the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar in this undated photo. (Courtesy The Johns Hopkins University)
Published Sunday, January 8, 2012 4:07PM EST
Imagine if the calendar were always the same.
Your birthday would fall on the same day of the week year to year, Christmas and New Year's Day would always be on a Sunday and you'd know what day of the week Valentine's Day was without even looking it up.
That's exactly what two professors from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have in mind.
The problem is, as perfect as they believe their reformed calendar is, they know it would be easier to move a mountain than to try to shift the sands of time.
Astrophysicist Richard Conn Henry has complained for years that our current calendar is a confusing mess. It hit home about seven years ago, when he grew frustrated while redrafting his teaching schedule for the umpteenth time.
"I was putting together the schedule for my classes for the next year. And I thought: is this stupid labour necessary? And I discovered it was not," Henry says by phone from Baltimore.
So he took pen to paper, borrowed some ideas from previous calendar reform proposals, and came up with a calendar he believes is infinitely better.
"I'm not claiming any originality for this; my interest in it is just practical," Henry says. "It just seems to me we'd be better off with a stable calendar."
Where other calendar reforms have failed, Henry believes, is in their attempt to break up the seven-day cycle and bump the Sabbath.
"And there are billions of sincere, deeply religious people for whom that is anathema. It's not going to happen. With our proposal, the weekday cycle isn't interrupted," says Henry.
Unfortunately the calendar isn't perfect. How could it be when it actually takes the Earth 365.2421897 days to go around the sun? That little fraction of a day tends to mess everything up.
The new calendar would eliminate leap years, but replace them with a whole extra week at the end of the year, every five to six years. Without that extra week, the calendar would start to drift away from the seasons over time, again because of that pesky fraction of a day. The extra week would reset things.
But the problem is: What would that extra week be? Would it be part of December or a mini-month? Would it be part of our Christmas holiday? How would we spend it?
"It doesn't matter to me," says Henry.
The professor adds that he doesn't really like the idea of an extra week at the end of December either. "But we're stuck with that because of the Earth rotation and its orbit around the sun," he says.
Henry tried to skirt the Christmas holiday problem by moving the extra week to the end of June.
"But I've come to believe that would not be a good idea, because it then interrupts the cycle of the rest of that year. So I was convinced to suggest it come at the end of the year," he says.
The other problem? The new calendar would shuffle around the order of the months with 30 and 31 days. February would get 30 days, for example, and so would January. So if your birthday is on January 31… well, that day just wouldn't exist anymore.
Henry tried to promote his calendar reform idea a few years back, but while news outlets were happy to report on it, the idea went nowhere.
This time, Henry has the backing of prominent Johns Hopkins economics professor Steve Hanke.
Hanke has helped establish new currency regimes in seven countries, so surely he can convince the world to make this change. He's framing the permanent calendar as a cost-saver for the business and financial world.
The Henry-Hanke Calendar, as it would be called, would mean businesses, schools and governments wouldn't have to re-draw their schedules most years (except for that troublesome extra-week year). It would be a whole lot simpler to figure out monthly interest on mortgages and bonds. Financial quarters would be the same (most of the time). Even drafting game schedules for sports leagues would be a breeze.
Really, the only ones who wouldn't benefit would be shirtless firemen who sell fundraising calendars.
Henry and Hanke's idea has been met with a lot of enthusiasm by some, says Henry – but by a lot of anger by many others.
"The biggest objection people typically have is they absolutely detest the idea that their birthday could be on a Tuesday or some other day in the middle of the week. A lot really hate that. And I tell them, ‘Fine, celebrate it on some different date. Who cares?'" he says.
The same would go for those phantom Jan. 31 birthdays; it's just a matter of adjustment, he insists.
Not content with just changing the world's calendar system, Henry would also like to get rid of all time zones and have the world adopt Universal Time instead. Air traffic controllers already use it, he notes, and in a global economy, having one time would make a lot of things easier.
Of course, it would mean that most of the world would have to switch their ideas of what 7 a.m. feels like. In Greenwich, England, for example, it might mean sunrise, but here in North America, it would mean the middle of the night.
But Henry insists it would make things a whole lot simpler and we'd all quickly get used to the change, just as Canadians got used to the switch to metric measurements. Besides, he says, time is a human construction anyway.
"The time IS exactly the same all around the world. In Australia, right now, it's now, believe it or not. It's not three hours from now. So the clock should be the same. It's just crazy that it's not," he says.
Henry admits the clock reform idea appears to be a lot harder sell than the calendar reform idea.
"But they really should change both together because it's all time," he says.
He admits that calendar reform "is a hopeless task." He knows it would take a lot of political will to get the entire world to switch its method of timekeeping.
"I'd like to see it happen, and while I'm prepared to put some work into it, I'm really a scientist; I'm not a politician. Hanke is the economist and I'm hoping he'll go the extra mile," Henry says.
"If it's really going to happen, someone has to trek to the United Nations and slog through it all. I'm hoping my partner, Prof. Hanke, is up for it," he says.
"He knows people in high places and maybe he can sell this thing."