[email protected] - Be sincere, even if you don’t mean it!

December 2011

These are really tough times aren’t they? The economic situation in Greece, Spain and Italy, not to mention Ireland, is as close to catastrophic as can be and the so-called leading industrial nations in the EU (which, of course, does not include Switzerland and Liechtenstein) such as France, Germany and the UK are beginning to show signs that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” to quote our old pal Will Shakespeare. Complete economic and monetary harmony in the eurozone looks about as likely as Ebenezer Scrooge donating all his wealth to the Salvation Army.

If these countries were treated like any leading company in the private sector, the entire management team would have had their lapels ripped from their Armani suits, their Rolexes confiscated and, after having received their million dollar handshake, they would have been put out to graze along with the discredited millionaire bank managers. But no, we continue to lend these cash-strapped countries money from the almost empty coffers. Clearly the current set of leaders need replacing, but the only people capable of replacing them are already gainfully employed as taxi drivers, road sweepers and men’s hairdressers.

But these problems pale to insignificance alongside the forthcoming World Radiocommunication Conference of the International Telecom-munication Union in Geneva in January, where a vote will be taken on whether or not to redefine Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and put our clock time out of synchronisation with the Sun’s location in the sky.

This of course refers to that rectifying “leap second” that is added every so often to keep UTC in step with the wobble in the Earth’s orbit. UTC is the reference against which international time zones are set by averaging signals from some 400 atomic clocks scattered around the place and the leap second is added to stop UTC drifting away from solar time – which happens to be about one minute every 90 years. If you take that a step further it means we could lose one hour in 5,400 years time and, as you can well imagine, the homeless, people living below the poverty line and the many thousands without drinking water in Africa are really pre-occupied about the vote.

I’m led to believe that the countries overtly concerned about this are Canada, the UK and, in particular, China, whose scholars believe that for philosophical reasons it is important to have a connection to astronomical time because of their culture. (Which reminds me of one of those sayings attributed to Confucius, but which in fact comes from A. N. Onymous: “Support bacteria, is only culture some people have!”)

It goes without saying that it is understandable the Chinese don’t want to lose that leap second. The total population of China is 1,308,254,400 and if we assume that only 50% of them are working that means the country would lose 181,702 working hours in one leap second, which makes about 10 working years for one person. Do you know how many watch cases and bracelets can be manufactured in that time, not to mention the effect that would have on the Swiss watch industry? It hardly bears thinking about.

But what of the loss of that second on our own lives? Imagine you’re speeding along the motorway in your rickety Citroen 2CV and suddenly, without warning, that leap second is added on. Since you’re now driving a second faster than you actually thought, what’s the breaking distance you now require before you hit the Ferrari in front? And what about the speed traps, try and explain a leap second to the police when they tell you that you passed in front of their speed camera a second faster than you were really driving.

Of course, this mind-boggling concept of the leap second makes about as much sense as Albert Einstein’s remark, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

In truth, what do we really care about a leap second being added every so often? Will it change the price of beer, the result of an important football match or even bring the grim reaper sooner? And even if it did, assuming that we’re all going to live to at least ninety years of age, we’ve only lost a minute in an entire lifetime – the time it takes to sneeze twice or even pick the fluff from your belly button. One thing is for sure, the old adage is right: Time flies. However, you’re the pilot, the navigator, the engineer and the air hostess, so stop that cross-dressing and make the most of your time on earth. This isn’t a rehearsal; it’s the real thing. And if you’re getting on a bit, you’ll appreciate this anecdote about an elderly man telling his friend about his new hearing aid. “It cost me a small a fortune, but it was worth it. It works perfectly, I now hear everything.”
“Really,” said the neighbour. “What kind is it?”
“Ten thirty.”
Well, you’ve got to laugh haven’t you!

Source: Europa Star December - January 2012 Magazine Issue