Planet Earth

Adopt a Calendar That Makes Sense? Fat Chance.

DiscoblogBy Veronique GreenwoodDec 29, 2011 7:38 PM

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A logical calendar? Never! The pre-Julian Romans (see above) had a good thing going.

It's almost the new year. And you know what that means: stories about academics' plans to finally make the Western calendar reasonable and logical

. And you know what that means on Discoblog: a quick tour through all of the times when we changed what we were doing because switching over just made sense. Like the metric system, for example. The quick, unanimous adoption of this eminently logical system by grateful nations the world over has been a sterling example of how reasonable we all can be when we put our minds to it. Pretty much everyone is on board, except for Liberia, which is working to put itself back together after one of Africa's ghastliest civil wars

, and Myanmar, home of the WHO-certified world's worst health care system

. And, of course, the United States, which would rather incinerate a 125-million-dollar satellite in the Martian atmosphere than convert feet to meters

. (It also has a pretty crappy health care system. Related?) The Dvorak keyboard

is also a marvel of modern, logical engineering. The keys are arranged so as to prevent awkward key combinations and minimize strain on the hand; the world's fastest English language typist until 2009 set her record on a Dvorak. It's also not the keyboard you're using right now. Reduced likelihood of hand injuries, faster typing, and fewer errors were apparently not as important as keeping things just the way they've always been, and so the QWERTY layout

, designed more for the comfort of typewriters than the comfort of humans, is still the gold standard. Oh, and lest you believe that we can all be reasonable when it comes to something as serious as keeping time, let me draw your attention to the French Republican calendar

of 1793, which had days made of ten hours of 100 minutes of 100 seconds, ten of which made up each week, three of which made up each of twelve months, and which caused everyone to get only one day off every ten instead of every seven and made the first day of the year shift wildly. That went over well with the citizenry. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the experiment was dropped in 1805, after only 12 years. Or at least we think it was 12. Hard to say, really. I hate to break it to you, astrophysicists who want to make the calendar make sense, with all the dates falling on the same days of the week every year (!), but human beings have this (unfortunate? splendid? weird?) thing called culture. For better or for worse, they like the way things are, and there are reasons---sometimes stupid, sometimes wise, usually difficult to overcome---for the current state of affairs. But truly. We wish you luck.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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