Dear Time Zones,

I learned many things during my recent trip to Japan. 

Many of those things were learned on the way to Japan, and some of the things I learned didn't really have anything to do with Japan at all.

For example, I learned that the flight from Europe to Japan takes you over the most desolate, godforsaken stretch of the globe that God ever forgot to hide under an ice cap.

The Gulf of Ob? Which Tolkien book are we flying into? If you had told me that one day I would gaze down with my human eyes on a real map of the real world and see a place called the Gulf of Ob, I would have said, "Your mom's an Ob." I was pretty immature back then.

I was pretty excited to see we were flying by Yakutsk. Finally, after eight hours of flight- a region I had heard of! I brightened the window to have a look.

I've now got a new Risk strategy- abandon Yakutsk to the enemy and wait for their troops to die there. It'll be suicides more than anything I suspect.

Fifteen seconds of looking down at Siberia pretty much gives you all the information there is to be gleaned for the next five hours, so I darkened the window again and settled in for a few episodes of Planet Earth 2. And I'll be damned if I didn't learn something again, and completely by accident.

It turns out that some sick fucker out there has been getting his jollies by putting makeup on birds.

Now I don't want to make accusations or point fingers or name names. But it's probably David Attenborough, just based on how he tried to play it cool and glossed over the whole thing on Planet Earth. As if we're not going to notice an Albatross in drag just because David didn't mention it during the monologue. I can only assume that he's probably using the birds to live out some sort of vicarious, transvestite, bestiphilic fantasy.

On the left we see the wild albatross in a state of nature, untouched by human (probably David Attenborogh's) hand. On the right we see Priscilla, Albatross of the Desert, with vibrant tri-tone lipstick, smoky eye-shadow, and some very heavy contouring, which really accentuates the bird's high cheek bones. There's no denying that it's a fetching transformation, but Jesus Christ, David, that bird never signed up to be your sex puppet.

I've heard of animal cosmetics testing, but this is animal drag queening and it's unconscionable. You know better than I do that these are sea birds, and they're going to look like they landed on an oil slick if that mascara gets wet. It's a smeary, ticking time bomb.

David, I know we've forced you to spend a lot of time in the wilderness, lonely and isolated from human contact, in close proximity to many attractive animals over the years; so in some ways I guess it's our fault, but you can't take it out on the albatrosses. It's not fair to them.

I was troubled by what I had seen on Planet Earth 2.

I also needed to take a poo.

It was in the bathroom that I realized that for a strict no-smoking environment, airplanes sure do communicate a lot of mixed messages when it comes to smoking.

First off, there was an ashtray built into the bathroom door. It sort of seemed like an invitation. I mean, you don't set up a volleyball net in your backyard and then tell the guests at your BBQ that they're not allowed to play volleyball. The paraphernalia is the invitation. Then I noticed the sign on the trash flap, specifically prohibiting me from throwing my smoldering cigarette butts into the trashcan. Alright, that seems pretty clear; message received. I'll dispose of my butts in the ashtray, where they belong. But then, to my utter confusion, and in complete incongruity with everything I had been hitherto led to believe, I saw a sign not far above the ashtray which read, "No smoking in the lavatory." Now that would seem to imply that while there is no smoking permitted in the bathroom, smoking is in fact allowed other places, otherwise the sign wouldn't have referred specifically to the bathroom. It's like when Chris Rock said, "There's no sex in the champagne room." That implies that there is sex other places... just not in the champagne room.

But of course, as we all know, this much insinuated smoker's paradise does not actually exist outside of the airplane lavatory. And as if this confusing nicotine cock tease hadn't gone on long enough, I then had to go back to my seat and look up at that little no smoking sign next to the fasten seat belt sign. They're both lit up. I know the fasten seat belt sign can be turned off. I've seen it done. I am 99% sure the no smoking sign can also be turned off. If it couldn't, then it wouldn't be a light. They could just paint it on. That would seem to imply that there must be some future time when smoking will be allowed in the cabin. I waited...

And then they started serving lunch. As I opened my little tinfoil house of horrors and ruffled through cellophane sheathings of various dimensions and opacities, a familiar yet unexpected likeness tumbled onto my tray. It was a little packet of Morton salt emblazoned with their timeless logo, the Umbrella Girl.

Just like Coca-Cola or the Sherwin Williams logo, Morton's Umbrella Girl is one of those throwbacks from a bygone era that managed to survive so long through pure inertia, it's acquired a vintage patina and seven layers of lacquered tradition which will undoubtedly assure that it survives at least another hundred years. These are logos so old and ubiquitous we become blind to them. Which is a shame, because just like Sherwin Williams, when you really stop and consider the Morton logo, you start to think, just what the hell is supposed to be going on here?

From my earliest memories of the Morton logo as a child in my mother's pantry up until thirty minutes ago when I started researching for this article, I thought the girl needed to take cover under the umbrella because it had started to rain salt from the heavens. And despite what I've recently learned to the contrary, I'm going to stick with my original theory. Quite frankly it makes more sense than Morton's version of events.

If you look closely at the logo, there appear to be little grains of salt bouncing off the umbrella. Further supporting my saltageddon interpretation is their ambiguous slogan, "when it rains it pours." This little diddy is a simplification of the old proverb, "It never rains but it pours," which means exactly what you think it does- many bad things can sometimes happen to you all at once. And in the proverb, both halves (it rains & it pours) of the sentence refer to the same thing- bad stuff. By that same logic, Morton's slogan should extrapolate to, "when salt rains, salt pours." It also explains why the girl is so devil-may-care with that canister of salt- why bother closing the spout when the shit is literally raining from the sky? For that matter, why did the little girl go to buy salt at all if she lives in a world where salt is a free and plentiful resource? Was her region in the middle of a salt drought that ended just after her trip to the store? But if she wasn't expecting salt that day, then why did she bring her salt umbrella? And finally, is she truly an albino or do the wind ravaged salt dunes of her home world bleach the skin over time? These are the questions we may never get answers to. These are Morton's mysteries.

Like I said, it's a shame people become blind to things they've seen their whole lives.

And the trip to Japan made me aware of something I had become blind to over time- Time itself.

More specifically, I started thinking about how dumb it is that the time changes as you move across the globe.

Now when I suggest to people that we should do away with time zones, I always get the same response, "But Sebastian, if we didn't have time zones then somewhere on earth people would have to eat breakfast at midnight." Oh the horror. Not breakfast at midnight. Anything but that. Just imagine.

The warm glow of a freshly risen sun on your face. The smell of bacon in the air and a couple of eggs sizzling in the pan. The birds are chirping cheerfully outside and your dog's wagging her tail because she knows it'll soon be walk time. It's a glorious Saturday morning. But then your eyes wander over to the kitchen clock. It says 12 PM. Three years ago "12 PM" meant bedtime. I'm incapable of assigning new meanings to numbers. I better brush my teeth and hit the hay. Morning ruined... for the 1167th day in a row.

Right now there are millions of poor souls on this earth who have to celebrate Christmas at the beginning of summer. Lines like, "Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh," fall empty from their lips as they sit on the beach in flip flops, sweltering under the sun of the Southern Hemisphere. And yet life goes on. And no one suggests offsetting the calendar by six months for everyone below the Tropic of Capricorn just so they can enjoy the wonders of a cold December. That's because these counting systems and labels are arbitrary. It's just about what you're used to.

I say we all set our clocks to Greenwich Mean Time and everybody who doesn't live directly on the Prime Meridian can just deal with it. How long do you think it would take before a 4 PM sunrise started to feel normal? Trick question. Because as long as we're bringing some common sense to time, we should also replace the current 60 seconds/minute, 60 minutes/hour, 24 hours/day nonsense that we inherited from the Egyptians and Babylonians. It's been real, Fertile Crescent. Thanks for the fun times, but we've moved on to base ten. I for one wouldn't miss the sixty-minute hour or the twenty-four hour day. What a senseless pain in the ass to calculate. If you don't agree, it's only because years of habit have given you Sexagesimal Stockholm's Syndrome. 

How many seconds are in a day? I'll give you a few minutes to do the math.

There are 86400 seconds in a day. The fact that this isn't common knowledge, and that it was easier to google it than it was to type 60x60x24= into a calculator (much less work it out on paper) should be some indicator as to what kind of a nightmare this system is from a practicality standpoint.

If a decimal day sounds like a radical, revolutionary, new idea, that's because it is radical and revolutionary... just not new. In fact the decimal day was standard time in that most revolutionary of countries, The French First Republic, over two hundred years ago. They even called it French Revolutionary Time. If you are a fellow American you might be getting a little suspicious at this point. "Wait a second... aren't these the same guys that invented the metric system? Are you trying to trick me into using the metric system, Sebastian?"

No. I would never trick you.

But you're right. These are the same guys who invented the metric system and it does beg the question- if the metric system went on to be a success, and decimal time failed, then just how good of an idea can this decimal time thing be? 

Pretty good, I'd argue. Some ideas are simply ahead of their time. After a stint in Greece and Rome, a failed concept called democracy spent about 1800 years in history's waste bin of rejected ideas.

Back then they had all these expensive, handmade clocks and watches that had to be replaced if you wanted to reinvent time. Today, the devices most of us use to tell time can be modified in moments for free with a software update.

Oh, and like all the cool things, of course the decimal time system was used in ancient China before contact with the Jesuits convinced them to abandon it in 1645. Of all the popish predilections and meddlesome propensities.

Ten decimal hours to a day. 100 decimal minutes to an hour. 100 decimal seconds to a minute. And yes, that means that a decimal second is only 0.864 of our current standard seconds, and a decimal hour lasts 2.4 standard hours, but who gives a shit? It's all arbitrary anyway. Who cares if you have to work eight standard hours a day or 3.3 decimal hours a day, if you spend the same amount of time at your desk? At least with the decimal system you also know at a glance that your shift lasts 330 decimal minutes. How many standard minutes are in your eight standard hour workday? I'll give you a few minutes to do the math...

Sebastian Braff


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