Monday, January 17, 2005

Calendar Conundrum

On a lighter note...

Richard Conn Henry, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, has proposed a revision to the Gregorian calendar used by most of the Western world for the last 400 years. Under his proposed calendar, which he calls the C&T calendar, the length of the year would be adjusted so that every day falls on the same day of the week every year. A sort of "leap week" would be added between June and July every five or six years to keep the calendar in sync with the solar year.

Of course, none of this has any effect on the Jewish calendar, which has been confusing gentiles for more than two millennia. Our calendar is based on rules from the Creator given to us in oral and written Torah, so we can't change it and we will continue to confuse you for the foreseeable future.

Why change the secular calendar? Laziness, of course! There is no limit to the amount of work geniuses will do in order to save themselves some work (I speak from personal experience). In this case, according to a journalist from the Baltimore Sun, Prof. Henry noticed that he was teaching the same courses using the same textbooks and assigning the same homework every year, but he had to revise his syllabus every year to reflect the new dates. Of course, this begs the question: why doesn't he update his course material? But that's not the point. The point is, if he can persuade the entire world (not to mention Microsoft!) to change their calendars, then he will never have to update his syllabus again.

Henry suggests that there are other advantages to the system too. For example, you could use the same calendar every year, and could buy a calendar any time of year you wanted.

I think perhaps Prof. Henry has not taken his plan far enough. Why do we have to have 12 months with varying numbers of days to keep track of? Henry's 364-day year could more conveniently be divided into 13 months of 28 days, yielding many more benefits. Every month would start on Sunday, so you could use the same calendar every month. Your monthly planner white board that you have to hand-write the days on? No more: the days can be pre-printed, because every month has the same days! The First Friday of a month always falls on the same day, no matter what month. Paychecks would always arrive on the same days of the month; no more confusion trying to coordinate a weekly payday with a monthly bill day! And think of the convenience for women on birth control: those three weeks on / one week off are always the same weeks. Of course, women not on birth control may not be happy to have their pregnancies expanded to 10 months.

Prof. Henry has an interesting idea, but let's be realistic: the chances of getting the entire world to go along with it are slim, and if the entire world isn't following this calendar, then there will be as much confusion between the C&T calendar and the Gregorian one as there is now between the Gregorian calendar and the Jewish one!

Calendar Reform - Professor Henry's home page on the subject
Astronomer wants calendar fixed - an article by a writer from the Baltimore Sun discussing the subject
Judaism 101: Jewish Calendar

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Counter-protesting at Outfest

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Philadelphia is in the national spotlight this week for arresting fundamentalist Christians who were counter-protesting at a gay pride event.

It is hard to be certain of the facts at this time, because the rhetoric on all sides drowns out any attempt at rationality. The Outfest organizers complain of homophobia while the Christian protesters complain of homofascism. The Christian protestors claim they were charged with hate crimes for reading the Bible, while Outfest organizers claimed they were disrupting the event by shouting hate speech into a bull horn. Outfest organizers claim the Christians were trying to incite a riot while the Christians claim that it was the Outfest organizers who were trying to start a riot. The Christians claim that the arrests were unjustified while the Outfest organizers claim that the Christians went out of their way to get arrested to make themselves martyrs and gain attention for their cause. Several conservative commentators have blasted the "liberal" ACLU for not supporting the Christians, while ACLU representative Larry Frankel, agreed that it sounded like police overreaching but the ACLU was not asked to intervene.

It didn't take long for the whole mess to take an antisemitic turn, because Philadelphia's tough District Attorney Lynne Abraham happens to be Jewish. Her office has been receiving obscene and antisemitic phone calls as a result of her usual vigorous prosecution of this case. See 'Philadelphia Four' drawing nat'l attention.

When I first heard about this story, I couldn't help thinking of another demonstration and counter-protest in the Philadelphia area only two weeks before Outfest. On September 25, 2004, a small neo-Nazi group held a rally in Valley Forge National Historical Park, located about 20 miles from Philadelphia in its northwestern suburbs. It was probably not a coincidence that the rally was held on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar: a day that was both Yom Kippur and Shabbat, a convenient way to cut down on Jewish counter-protestors. There was, nevertheless, a considerable presence of counter-protestors, both Jewish and gentile, in response to the neo-Nazi rally. Security was tight, and there was a substantial police presence, complete with riot gear and pepper spray. The protestors occasionally turned violent, and one of the protestors was arrested, charged with striking a Nazi sympathizer with a stick. The entire incident was quickly forgotten by most in the area.

I want to see an objective difference between these two counter-protests, because frankly I am quite weary of those who are determined to save my soul and won't take "no thank you" for an answer, but I have a hard time finding a difference. Yes, the fundamentalist Christians told the people at Outfest that they were going to Hell; but the counter-protestors at the Nazi rally chanted "Nazi scum go to hell." Yes, there was concern that the protest at Outfest might get violent, but the protest at the Nazi rally did in fact get violent.

However, I disagree with the claim this is a liberal/conservative issue or a sacred/secular issue. The difference between Outfest and the Nazi rally likely has more to do with the difference between Philadelphia and its suburbs. Just look at the 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia, where hundreds of liberal counter-protestors were arrested. The Philadelphia police even infiltrated and later raided a warehouse that created large puppets for street theater protests. Almost all charges (including all charges against the "puppetistas") were later summarily dropped or dismissed and lawsuits for false imprisonment were quietly settled. Does this sound like liberal or secular bias? No, it isn't a liberal/conservative or sacred/secular issue at all, but rather a police department that maintains the peace at an organized events by arresting those who protest, presumably thinking that it is easier to dismiss the charges and pay off lawsuits later than to deal with a full-scale riot.

If you have ever attended a sporting event in Philadelphia, you will understand where the police are coming from. ;^}

* 'Philadelphia Four' drawing nat'l attention
* Nation's eyes on Christian protesters
* Neo-Nazi group rallies at Valley Forge
* Neo-Nazi's protest in Valley Forge Park (an article from the student newspaper of a Catholic college near Valley Forge)