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Intricacies of the Gregorian calendar and fixing regatta

by 30 Dec 2013About the Regatta0 comments

Proposed Gregorian calendar

Tweaking the Julian Calendar: Thanks to the brilliant work of doctor, astronomer, philosopher and chronologist Aloysius Lilius, Pope Gregory XIII achieved what nobody else has in the more than two millennia that an essentially Julian calendar has been in use, by fine-tuning the intercalation of leap years. Subsequent attempts at calander reform, to address week-drift have failed. image National Geographic

It’s a reminder of the utility of weeks. When Christmas along with New Year’s Day, fall in the middle of the week, it is all too easy to be set adrift from the structure provided by the seven-day week.

But the one-day advance of the immutable seven-day week, and two-day advance on leap years, sets up all sorts of scheduling peculiarities. For example, Auckland Anniversary Day is generally the last Monday in January. But every fifth, sixth, then eleventh year it lands on 1 February—ignoring century leap years that aren’t. Fixing the date for the Mahurangi Regatta requires a convoluted rule; it is mostly the nearest Saturday to 29 January, but will not be not this summer, or the next. It is of no consequence because, being held on the Saturday of Auckland Anniversary weekend, the Mahurangi Regatta is subservient to the rule determining that.

The next time Auckland Anniversary Day will be celebrated on 1 February is 2016. But 2016 is also a leap year, and that combination of Auckland Anniversary Day landing on 1 February, and in a leap year, happens only once every 28 years—for the superstitious perhaps, an auspicious weekend on which to celebrate the 50th summer of Wenderholm Regional Park’s opening to the public. The 28-year cycle results from the interplay between the simple rule that determines when Auckland Anniversary is observed and the intricacies of the Gregorian calendar. Auckland Anniversary is observed on the Monday closest the day William Hobson arrived in Aotearoa as its lieutenant governor: 29 January 1840. Curiously, Aloysius Lilius and Pope Gregory XIII retained the Julian 28-day February, foregoing the perfect opportunity to increase the number of 30-days-haths from 4 to 7—possibly a result of the latter’s not unreasonable obsession with having Christians worldwide celebrate Easter on the same day. Despite his efforts, it took a further 341 Easters for that goal to be achieved—Greece having held out until 1923—so it is unsurprising that no further calendar reforms have survived the lethal gauntlet of the world’s religious fundamentalists. The biblical commandment to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day has, so far, thwarted any scheme to add a day to a week once a year to compensate for the inconvenience of a nominal solar year not being divisible by seven. Not even adoption of the International Fixed Calendar, from 1928 to 1989, by then ubiquitous Eastman Kodak Company was sufficient for the League of Nations-favoured initiative to receive the blessing of the United States.

George Eastman

Thinking Outside the Box: In retirement, George Eastman, the Bill Gates of personal photography, had ‘one remaining hobby’—promoting the Cotsworthian calendar. But not even by leading by example (Eastman Kodak Company operated under the 13-month International Fixed Calendar for 61 years) was sufficient to break the stranglehold of the perpetual seven-day-week cycle.

Civilisation once had a much more flexible relationship with the seven-day week. The Babylonians, the probable instigators of the institution, sensibly and simply, added a day or two to the last week of each month to keep their weeks in phase with the moon. If Earth’s solar year had been neatly divisible by lunar months, a natural fixed calendar would have suggested itself, but the 11-day difference precluded that—round pegs and square holes. Meantime, named months clearly have utility, and early Roman calendars solved the 11-day deficit by declaring an extra month, every few years, to keep their lunar-based months contained within a year. Sadly for coastal dwellers, the many advantages of the calendar being tightly in sync with the sun, outweighs the advantages of a lunar-based year comprised mostly of alternate months of 29 and 30 days.

Given the extent to which the sanctity of a Sabbath rest day has been eroded, it is ironic that the perpetual seven-day week continues immutable. Contemporary retail practices, the rise in sedentary occupations leaving employees with physical energy to burn on all manner of noisy do-it-yourself projects, and now with advent of the always-connected employee, Sundays have long since lost their ambience of quiet and contemplation. With humanity ripping through fossil fuel at ever-increasing rates, at exactly the time superhuman measures should be being made towards zero emissions, a new commandment might be commended: Six days you shall strive to reduce fossil fuel use, and on the seventh to desist entirely.

In comparison with the urgent need to restore a liveable climate, Pope Gregory XIII’s obsession with having Christians observe Easter on the same day verges on the vacuous. But the task of replacing the world’s energy infrastructure is of such enormity, that were one day per week devoted to communities coming together to study how best it might be achieved would be, quite simply, righteous. At least the current pope is condemning the worldwide obsession with growth and materialism that is responsible for altering the chemical balance of the sky and the seas:

…today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

China, pollution

No Quarter: By offshoring much of its dirtiest and energy hungry industry to China, including the manufacture of photovoltaic panels, the developed world has been complicit in causing the premature deaths of an estimated 257‍ ‍000 Chinese per year—more than a quarter of a million lives cut short. map Greenpeace

President Barack Obama’s impotence in the face of a system of government hopelessly gamed by corporate power is probably sufficient proof that the United States is incapable of leading the world away from catastrophic global warming. That is no proof that an anti-fossil-fuel revolution isn’t in the offing, but it is an indication that much smaller countries will lead the change. Aotearoa is the arguably the right size: Small enough for networks of citizens to overpower cynical corporate interests, yet large enough to have a useful impact on world opinion.

Throughout the 1930s, Winston Churchill sought to mobilise Britain to face the clear and present danger posed by the military build-up by Nazi Germany. But, displaying a pattern of human behaviour that is tragically evident again today, the British public and its elected leaders denied the need to mobilise. However, once Germany invaded Poland, and Britain declared war against it, Churchill soon enjoyed the overwhelming support of his people. In May 1940, the British Institute of Public Opinion asked:

In general, do you approve or disapprove of Mr Chamberlain as Prime Minister?

Of the 1796 respondents, 32.75% approved and 59.78% disapproved. Immediately prior to Poland, 54.62% had approved of Chamberlain. John Key’s preferred-prime-minister polling, immediately after David Cunliffe’s election as leader of the Labour Party, dropped to 42%. Whether the latest Herald–DigiPoll figure of 61.9% proves to be an outlier or not remains to be seen, but by July 1940, 87.36% approved of newly installed Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

David Lange, seated at desk

Less Popular than Cunliffe: Immediately prior to Robert Muldoon being dumped from office two months after drunkenly calling a snap election, only 12% of New Zealanders polled preferred David Lange as prime minister. image Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

Meanwhile, that David Cunliffe’s rating hovers only in the high teens should not be interpreted as ominous. Voters have immense difficulty in visualising the future. In January 1940, Britons were asked:

Which do you think Italy will do in this war[?]

In equal measures, more than 79% believed Italy would join the Allies or remain neutral. Only 4.69% of answered ‘Join Germany’. Showing a similar inability to visualise a different future, in March of 1984, a mere three months before the less-than-snappy call by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon for a snap election, the vast majority of New Zealanders failed to see David Lange as prime-ministerial material, rating him a lowly 12%. Whether 2014 will mirror 1984, with the John Key displaying sufficient arrogance in the face of crisis to allow David Cunliffe his opportunity to be visualised as prime minister, cannot be known, but can be prepared for. In any event, Key is clearly on the wrong side of history and has zero credit with the next generation of leaders.

Returning to the dire urgency to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, a five-day week with the fifth devoted to zero fossil fuel use would be entirely rational, although to gain traction, it would probably require another apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis, on the virtues of the 73-week year—an extra 11 Sundays, and 12 on leap years. Ironically, when a five-day week was introduced in the Soviet Union, it wasn’t to protect the workers, but to exploit them under Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship to keep the wheels of industry turning every day of the week, with families effectively denied days off together.

Back in the real world of seven-day weeks, Aucklanders are fortunate that their anniversary weekend is celebrated in the height of summer. Auckland’s founding day could fairly have been said to have been 18 September 1840, when Lieutenant Governor Hobson’s advance party ran up the Union Jack on the shores of the Waitematā Harbour, and held Auckland’s first, impromptu, colonial regatta. In one of his last official acts as governor, Hobson decreed that the then capital’s anniversary day be 29 January, the date he arrived in Aotearoa as her first and last lieutenant governor, in the Bay of Islands. Another legitimate candidate for anniversary day would have been late February 1840, when Hobson first visited the Waitematā, intending to survey it as a location for the capital, on the recommendation of the ex Royal Navy midshipman turned missionary and shipbuilder, Henry Williams. But it was an utterly miserable time for Hobson, shamefully under-resourced and obstructed by the Royal Navy captain assigned to assist him, Joseph Nias. Hobson suffered a stroke on 1 March, and had to be taken back to the Bay of Islands to be cared for at the Church Missionary Society mission station.

Wenderholm Regional Park’s 50th could have legitimately been celebrated on 31 March 2015, the anniversary of the park’s purchase. However, it wasn’t until the park was opened, the following December, that Aucklanders realised quite what a handsome Christmas present had been purchased on their behalf. December, however, is an impossible month for a major event, making Auckland Anniversary weekend, 30 January to 1 February 2016, the sensible and entirely legitimate time to celebrate the opening of first of the coastal regional parks. And the perfect time to open the first section of the Mahurangi Coastal Trail:

A blueprint for the new minimal-emission means by which Aucklanders might access their rich network of regional parks—particularly on regatta day.


UpdateSamoa Time Shift Creates Sabbath Rift

Footnote Fortunately for labour reform, the bible’s admonishment that ‘Six days you shall labour, and do all your work…’ wasn’t allowed to defeat introduction of the 40-hour week. Be that as it may, religiously observing the Sabbath every seventh day proved to be a sticking point with the various calendar reforms attempted in the 1900s. Despite promoters of fixed-week calendars kindly offering that the extra day per year required could be celebrated as a double Sabbath, (or treble, of a leap year), fundamentalists, not for the first time, fell back on an asinine literal interpretation of the bible. A complication, no doubt, was the divergence of opinion as to whether it is Friday, Saturday or Sunday that the Sabbath should be observed—something even Pope Gregory XIII the reformer was unable to remedy.