Sunday, January 01, 2006

On Time

Filipinos are ambivalent on matters involving time, demanding precision in sports, but delightfully imprecise (read tardy) in starting the event itself. The leisureliness on time is pridefully called “Filipino time”.
Fresh calls to upgrade “Filipino time” are raised time and again, the most rcent being the adoption of meridian times officially, a timely isue, so to speak. One call proposed a Big Ben type clock mounted on Cagayan de Oro City Hall, presumably to be time-set to local radio or TV broadcast timesignals (which is about as precise as telling time by cock crow).
Another call sardonically proposed butchering the cock and adopt international time standards and global scheduling based on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Zulu, now modernized to UTC or Coordinated Universal Time, as practiced by worldwide broadcast media like British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and Cable News Network (CNN) as well as reputable international airlines and hotels. In this city, observance of Filipino time is almost total. The spoiler is a Jesuit institution, Xavier University that apparently recognizes the precise value of keeping GMT-based meridian time.
Many locals will resist this globalization just as vehemently as the oppositors to WTO, AFTA, and APEC due to self-interest, some because of habitual reluctance to change, even some to a hint of sadness to a loss of a revered culture.
We have the Babylonians to thank for our present system of timekeeping. The number 12 held mystical significance for the ancients, owing to the fact that there were generally 12 full moons a year, and so they divided day and night into 12 parts each. The number 60, apart from being a multiple of 12, is evenly divisible by more integers than any lesser number, and thus was useful for dividing hours into minutes and seconds without the distraction of fractions
In a 1884 Washington conference that established Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the international reference point, the conferees divided the world into 24 zones, the time in each of which was to differ from a whole number of hours from GMT.. But some Asian countries, are a half-hour out of sync, including India, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. India straddles two time zones, but preferred to have one uniform time throughout the country. Rather than choose between GMT+5 and GMT+6 (which would make dawn and dusk in the far reaches of the country either unusually early or unusually late), the government apparently decided to split the difference.
The new year 2006 began one second late to compensate for the slowing down of the Earth's rotation. The so-called "leap second" was added to the end of December 31, 2005 Leap seconds were introduced in 1972 to keep "clock time" and "Sun time" in step.
Normal clocks are based on GMT which is tied to the Sun's position in relation to the Greenwich Meridian, zero longitude. This is the first leap second to be applied for seven years. The decision was taken by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, based at the Paris Observatory
The resulting UTC depends on the rotation of the Earth on its axis. But the speed at which the Earth spins is continually changing, partly due to varying weather patterns and geological disturbances, but mostly because of the friction of tides.
This results in a small but continuous slowing down, so that the day is now about two milliseconds longer than it was 200 years ago. Pinoys could use some of that time to catch up and be coordinated with the rest of the world. In our case, every little bit helps.
Scientists say that leap seconds are essential; without them, the civil time would no longer coincide with the 'Sun time' traditionally shown on a sundial. "Even over a few decades, when the error might grow to up to a half minute or so, one can imagine the arguments that lawyers and insurance companies might have about whether an event had occurred just before or just after midnight," said a spokesman for the Royal Astronomical Society.
Time is a riddle. Man lays claim to its invention (calendar, clock) but is helpless in reversing or stopping its progress, and it serves man as both servant and master. One author said, “People relate to time in many different ways. Referees call time; prisoners serve time; musicians mark time; historians record time; loafers kill time; statisticians keep time. But no matter how people relate to time, the fact remains that all of us are given the same amount of time. There are only 24 hours per day, 168 hours per week. Use them.” Thomas Mann, novelist, Nobel laureate (1875-1955) wrote “Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” A wisecracking graffiti author wrote (probably in a toilet environment): “Time is that quality of nature which keeps events from happening all at once. Lately it doesn’t seem to be working”
Labor is heavily dependent on time. Many work on straight time, some on overtime, others against time, steal time, or are clock-watchers. Government and the community are calendar conscious, watching for red-letter days and fiestas (where one can still get a free lunch); school opening (tuition fee time) and Christmas time (when bonuses are timely); New Year’s Eve (time to blast fingers with firecrackers, more below); birthdates (so one can “blow out” the year’s savings); and the religious dates (Lent, Ramadan).
Customers buy on time but often do not pay on time; society respects time-honored traditions; Olympians try to break time records; elected politicians enjoy fixed time terms (and would welcome an extension); jetsetters cross time zones; banks thwart robbers with timelocked vaults, accept time deposits, and bury time capsules; even machines keep pace with timing belts.
Broadcast media offered an editorial (Time Pa) and a novel time signal (raised index and pinkie fingers) meaning to viewers – commercial coming, change channel.
New Year’s eve is celebrated as Pinoy retardates’ night. The timing of this event is typical Pinoy time – highly elastic – occurring plus or minus 30 minutes off local midnight, and rising to a deafening and bloody crescendo plus/minus at the presumed twelve midnight. The pyrotechnics revelry and mayhem is predictable: mangled fingers of several hundred dimwits, some residences incinerated, one or two deaths from stray bullets, and lung cancers initiated by the acrid fumes carrying 2.5 micron particulates. (Note – Not all retardates are idiots, some being morons or imbeciles). This class of retardates does not evoke the usual sympathy of society as they pose an antisocial act --- they harm not just themselves but bystanders nearby.
The most striking feature of time is chronobiology, the bioclock I wrote about in an earlier blog. The Christmas season is heralded by the poinsettia plant whose leaves turn red at year-end. Young women have their periods or “monthlies”. Global travellers are beset by jet-lag syndrome that disrupt their circadian rhythm of sleep, excretion, and mealtime.
The Philippine Atmospherical, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced last April 2000 that they are working on a proposal to implement Philippine Standard Time (PST), presumably based on meridian time of the country in relation to the International Date Line and Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT). PST would then be precisely GMT (or UTC) plus 8 hours. One year later, the proposal has not changed status. So, being an hour or two late is still fashionable. Just recently the City Council of Cagayan de Oro adopted PST as the official time reference. I presume bundy clocks in cityhall are routinely set to PST, but the private sector is loath to adopt. Habits, of course, die hard, and Filipino time is so embedded in our culture, even the council at times reverts.
The many aspects of time, for certain, make it difficult to define, but one facet is clear: maybe it is high time we discard Pinoy time.

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