Oct. 13, 2010


by Marcia Popp

i broke a vase at my great-grandfather's house when i was five here come sit on my lap
he said don't feel bad about that vase i didn't like it anyway you helped me get rid of it i
knew better but let him comfort me while i felt secretly bad inside did you know that my
own mother said i was her worst boy no i said that can't be true oh yes he said and she was
right i made accidents happen all the time i didn't really mean to do bad things they just
came upon me when i wasn't paying attention when i was five my brother and i chased the
goose in the barnyard until it fell over dead we propped her up in the fence so she would
appear to be interested in the grass on the other side what happened my father noticed
that the goose did not move all day we got spanked should i get spanked too for the vase
not in my house he said.

"accidents" by Marcia Popp, from Comfort in Small Rooms. © Black Zinnias Books, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1884 that "Universal Time" was established using the longitude line running through Greenwich in London, England. It's the origin of why we say GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time," to use as a standard point of reference for time zones.

Before the notion of standard time, cities around the world were using the local position of the sun to set their own official clocks. But this became a problem in the second half of the 19th century, when new technology gave rise to new forms of transportation, like steam engines and trains. Trains could travel so fast over such long distances that train conductors kept needing to readjust their clocks to local, uncoordinated time. They would have to do it many times on a single long train ride, and it was all very confusing.

And so in 1879, a man named Sanford Fleming suggested that we divide the world into 24 hour time zones. Each time zone would be 15 degrees of longitude (those vertical lines on the globe).

And then, a few years later, on this day in 1884 at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., delegates from around the world voted to make the local time at Greenwich the universal standard time on which all other time zones would be based. Greenwich was chosen because there was a famous Royal Greenwich Observatory, which many maps already used as a reference point.

Out of the 25 countries at the conference, only the Dominican Republic voted against using the Greenwich line, though Brazil and France both abstained from the vote. The French waited another four decades to adopt the Greenwich meridian, which everyone else agreed to adopt on this day.

From the archives:

It’s the birthday of singer and songwriter Paul Simon, born in Newark, New Jersey (1941). He and his friend Art Garfunkel recorded a hit record but they didn’t want to be pop musicians, they were more interested in folk, so they recorded their first folk album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM in 1964, and it was a flop, and Paul Simon moved back in with his parents. But without telling them, a producer added electric guitar, bass, and drums to the song “The Sound of Silence” and released it as a single, and it went to number 1 on the pop charts. Paul Simon said “Facts can be turned into art if one is artful enough.” And he said “I think I have a superior brain and an inferior stature, if you really want to get brutal about it.”

It’s the birthday of novelist and short story writer Conrad Richter, (books by this author) born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania (1890). His wife got sick so they moved to New Mexico to improve her health. Richter became obsessed with the history of the Southwest, began traveling around interviewing old people and gathering old record books, newspapers, letters, and diaries of the early pioneers. He wrote a called Early Americana, and Other Stories (1936), and it was considered one of the best works of historical fiction ever written about Western pioneers.

It’s the birthday of comedian Lenny Bruce, born Leonard Schneider in the town of Mineola [Minny-OLE-a] on Long Island, NY in 1925. He became a comedian at a time when comedians told jokes methodically, with a set up and a punch line, over and over. Bruce just stood on stage and talked about things like politics, society, religion, and race; and he free-associated on those topics to make people laugh. He said “I won't say ours was a tough school, but we had our own coroner. We used to write essays like: What I'm going to be if I grow up.” And he said “All my humor is based upon destruction and despair. If the whole world were tranquil, without disease and violence, I'd be standing on the breadline right in back of J. Edgar Hoover.” And he said “The liberals can understand everything but people who don't understand them.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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