Time is eternal, but methods of tracking it are not — and so a Johns Hopkins University astronomer wants to replace the Gregorian calendar, with its leap years and floating dates and 15th-century effluvia, with a sleek and standardized system for the world.
According to Richard Conn Henry’s calendar, eight months would each have 30 days. Every third month would have 31 days. Every so often, to account for the leftover time, a whole extra week would be added.
The upshot: Years would proceed with clockwork regularity, with no annual re-jiggering of schedules required. Each day would occupy the same position as it had the previous year and would in the next. Were this 364-day calendar, known officially as the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, adopted on the first day of 2012, both Christmas and New Year’s Day would forever fall on Sunday.
'Every institution in the world has to change their calendar.... It's all totally unnecessary.'
“Change is possible,” said Henry, formerly a NASA astrophysicist, who late one December early this millennium spent a full day adjusting his upcoming year’s teaching schedule to reflect the remainder left when dividing a 365-day calendar by a 7-day week. “I’d been doing this for decades. I thought, is this really necessary? And it’s not necessary.”
Irritated with inconsistency and beguiled by the possibilities of a steady-schedule world — “Every institution in the world has to change their calendar. Sports schedules. Every company. The dates of holidays have to be reset. And it’s all totally unnecessary,” he said — Henry went to work.
His calendar is a refined version of one designed in 1996 and known eponymously as Bob McClenon’s Reformed Weekly Calendar. McClenon established the four-quarter, 30-30-31 pattern to the year; Henry added the extra week, which if inserted into years starting or ending on a Gregorian-calendar Thursday would almost perfectly account for Earth’s 365.2422 day-long orbit around the sun.
Back in 2004, when Henry’s calendar was first publicized, he called that extra week the Newton week in honor of Sir Isaac. It was a heady time. Whereas in 1582 Pope Gregory needed a decree to tweak the Julian calendar established 1,628 years earlier by one Julius Caesar, Henry had the internet. “I just have to put up a web page,” he thought, and soon he’d appeared on television in Moscow and morning radio in western Australia.
But history is littered with upstart challengers to the Gregorian crown, from the United Nations-denied World Calendar (ending on Worldsday, marked on the calendar as “W”) to the Raventos Symmetrical Calendar (13 months, including three with 28 days) to the Symmetry 454 Calendar (not a single Friday the 13th.) When year-end news cycles turned, Henry’s calendar was left behind.
This time around, Newton is out. The extra week is simply called the extra week, and Henry is joined by Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke. Their rhetoric is bottom-line as well as common-sense.
The Hanke-Henry calendar would streamline financial operations, they write in an article republished by the libertarian Cato Institute, because Gregorian calendar anomalies make a muddle of interest-calculating conventions. Sunday-only Christmas and New Year’s holidays would also eliminate their mid-week appearances and “get rid of this zoo we’re in right now, when the whole economy collapses for two weeks,” Henry said.
Not satisfied with conquering calendrical irrationality, Henry and Hanke take on timekeeping, too. “The time in Australia is the same as it is for us, but their clocks are set different,” Henry said. “We’re just saying, ‘Set your clocks to the same time, because it is the same time.’” All the world’s clocks would be set to Universal Time, or Greenwich Mean Time as it’s generally known. Time zones would be abolished, as would Daylight Saving Time, of which Henry is especially not fond.
“Suppose the government decided that in summer we should drink more water, and so in the summer had the size of the quart increase, so that you got more water with a quart,” he said. “It’s as stupid as that.”
It might be a little strange at first — people living in the western U.S., for example, would mostly go to sleep by 7 a.m. — but people are nothing if not adaptable. Henry observed that the National Maximum Speed Law once seemed unthinkable, as did an end to indoor smoking. And while dates in the western Pacific would change awkwardly in mid-day, at least International Date Line weirdness would be history.
According to Henry, the Gregorian calendar wouldn’t disappear altogether, as it’s still needed for agriculture. People could use both it and Henry-Hanke, much as Jews use both the Hebrew and Western calendars, or as airline pilots use Universal Time in flight and local time in their private lives.
“I gave a presentation at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Atlanta. Two young ladies came up to me, and one said she liked it. The other said she didn’t,” recalled Henry. “And I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘My birthday is always going to be on a Thursday.’ I said, ‘You’re free to celebrate when you want! What the devil difference does it make what it says on the calendar?’”
Images: 1) Olga Pavlovsky/Flickr 2) Richard Conn Henry/Johns Hopkins University