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It's Timely to Consider Still Another Inequality

It's Timely to Consider Still Another Inequality


Advent of daylight saving time draws attention to an area of discrimination which has so far escaped the Supreme Court's endeavor to establish absolute equality in every possible field. Not all communities have advanced their clocks an hour this Spring. But the fact that so many have just done so is evidence that government has the power to adjust time in what it conceives to be the public interest. This being so, consideration of more basic remedial action is invited.

When a businessman flies from the East to California he possesses a distinct advantage over a western colleague traveling by air in the opposite direction. The easterner can rise at a normal hour, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, phone his office and still be in Los Angeles or San Francisco in easy time for lunch. To do the same when flying from one of those cities to New York or Washington is currently impossible. If the westerner is to make a lunch date on the East coast he must rush from his patio to the airport at the crack of dawn that day.



This injustice towards our Pacific brethren will doubtless be ameliorated as jet travel improves still further. But the underlying defect will remain. There will still be discrimination against Mr. Addison Sims of Seattle. If at 3 p.m. his time he urgently needs top-level interpretation of a regulation affecting his business, his phone call will normally find the Washington agency closed for the day. The earth, as mankind has reluctantly been forced to admit, rotates around its axis in a certain way. And as long as that continues, the time situation will be what Chief Justice Warren in another connection calls inherently unequal. With the generous interpretation now given to the Fourteenth Amendment, this is a virtual challenge to the Court to set the matter straight.

Preliminary steps have, indeed, already been taken. When the Court espoused the doctrine of one person, one vote" it certainly suggested "one voter, one time" as a follow-up slogan. If every legislative district must have approximately the same number of people, regardless of county divisions, it would also be proper for them to vote at approximately the same hours, regardless of time divisions. In 1916, because of the discriminatory time lag, it was not known until the day after the election that Hughes had lost California to Wilson, and with it the presidency. Almost half a century later such disconcerting upsets are still possible.

Something, of course, could be accomplished by legislation, if the White House would emphasize the equalization of time as well as the equalization of wealth. The Senate, however, tends to ignore time completely and in acting with all deliberate speed both Houses habitually emphasize the adjective at the expense of the noun. Results could be more quickly attained by relying on the vast array of federal agencies which now regulate matters without prior legislation.

An illustration is the Agency for International Development, which announces, in its own words, an effort to reshape the entire educational system of Nigeria. If charity begins at home it would seem equally reasonable for the I.C.C. to reshape the time system of the United States.



But some preliminary governmental steps might be desirable, since not everyone is as yet aware of the invidious discrimination involved in the time differential. Thus the C.A.B. could conceivably decree that jets would be permissible only on flights from West to East, limiting East-West air travel to the old reliable if somewhat lumbering DC3. This would tend to neutralize the time bias. But the basic injustice, caused by the way the solar system is arranged, would still remain.

As the equal protection of the laws is now interpreted, the immunities of some are certainly abridged by time belts. Once seized of the issue the Supreme Court would almost have to decide it. Since no such suit, to the writer's knowledge, is currently pending, speculation on the probable verdict is in order.

With evidence showing that existing time differentials are inherently discriminatory, precedent would suggest their fusion in one nationwide temporal system. Standard time, naturally, would then become that of the national capital. One would scarcely expect the Establishment in Washington to subordinate its convenience to that of the grassroots.

A not unimportant advantage of this reform would be its overdue elimination of our present humiliating dependence on England for the calculation of our own American time. It certainly does not comport with a masterful image of the United States to admit that our continental times zones are centered at respectively 75, 90, 105 and 120 degrees west of Greenwich, meaning Greenwich near London and not Greenwich, Conn.

This makes the present system not merely discriminatory as among our own people, but almost anti-American. If educational standards for Nigeria can be set by Washington, then time standards for all the Free World can also be set there. This would not imply any recognition of the time used in Red China and if De Gaulle wants to recognize that, let him do so. Admittedly there will be a few difficulties, even within our own Union.

Under the present archaic system it is said to be 7 a.m. in Honolulu when it is actually 12 noon in Washington. After Hawaiian time is adjusted to that set by the Supreme Court the sun will scarcely be over the yardarm when  cocktails are served at Waikiki. But such inconveniences could be accepted as a patriotic duty. They will cause less resentment than that aroused in many State legislatures by the problem of redistricting on the mandate of a basis of complete equality for each voter.

Indeed no form of discrimination can be eliminated without a measure of discrimination in reverse. That is demonstrated, for instance, in the prayer cases. It is apparent that the State of Maryland, as a whole, would like to retain some form of religious observance in its public schools. To this end its General Assembly has this year passed a bill permitting a period of silent meditation before classes begin, as a substitute for the now unconstitutional recitation of the Lord's Prayer.

Asked by the governor for an opinion on the legality of this measure the attorney general of Maryland says it will probably be accepted by the Supreme Court, provided the teacher, while supervising the meditation, does not hold a Bible in his or her hand. To do so, he suggests, might offend atheists by intimating that any religious faith is preferable to none at all.

To soothe any Hawaiian irritation, people there, after time is equalized, might still be allowed to call their noon meal breakfast, provided they do not have their watches set at what is now Hawaiian time during that meal. In any case problems of this nature will not need to worry the Supreme Court. It will merely prescribe the equality of time, leaving it to the localities to make the readjustments. And if the upheaval should produce an East-West rancor, comparable to that now recreated between South and North, this too might have a backhanded political advantage.



In the pedagogy of logic there is an old device known as the reduction to absurdity. Legend says it originated in the case of a medieval monk, who preferred counting his beads to  protracted service in the monastery cowbarn to which he had been assigned. So he told the abbot that if the two prescribed hours of daily prayer were good for his soul, 12 hours of chapel devotion would presumably be that much better.

The abbot, after reflection, called this reductio ad absurdum, but compassionately ruled that because of the cowherd's piety he should, after his barnyard work was done, worship continuously in the chapel, for the 12 hours from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Reduction of an argument to absurdity, as attempted above, has not heretofore been a common device in American discussions of vital issues. That is because, as a practical people concerned with tangible accomplishment rather than fine-spun discourse, we have seldom permitted theories with ridiculous implications to make substantial headway. Both our system of government and our way of life depend for good health on constant check and balance. The extremist viewpoint, in any direction, has seldom received either public sympathy or official support.

There are signs that this traditional position of the golden mean is coming to an end. Certainly it is weakened when the admirable premise that all men should be equal before the law is developed into a governmental effort to make them all equal, period. If the impossible dogma of absolute and standardized equality should ever gain the upper hand, it could not long stay dominant. There is too much evidence that the Creator did not intend this world to be that way. Infinite variety, not deadening equality, is a law of nature which no human court can hope successfully to repudiate.

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