Thursday, February 25, 2016

End Daylight Savings Time

Why should we continue this useless relic from the past?

Let’s return to Standard Time All Year!

[Christopher Nyerges writes a regular blog at, posts regular YouTube videos, and has led outdoor trips since 1974.  He is the author of How to Survive Anywhere, Extreme Simplicity, Foraging California and other books. He can also be reached via School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]
Our lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, continue to tinker with time.  Manipulate the clocks and we can trick the people into saving energy.  And twice a year, we are all subject to the changes and inconveniences that occur as a result of the springing forward or falling back.  We have to quickly adjust.  It is part of our annual ritual, our relic from the past, where we go back to standard time from  daylight savings time.  And now we are expected to extend this “better” time a few more weeks.

But are there real and tangible benefits from doing this?  Must  we continue to do so?

Daylight savings time is a manipulation of the basic solar time within each time zone’s standard.  It was said to be an idea of Benjamin Franklin, and was begun in the United States during world wars one and two, and eventually became “official” in all but two states. That right!  At least two states have said “No, thanks, we’ll stick to standard time.”

Indeed, daylight savings time is like a quaint tradition of a bygone era that refuses to die.  It is a pointless habit with little recognizable merit.  Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Savings Time,” demonstrates that the clock-change saves energy in theory only, but not in practice.

David Letterman once asked the question to his audience during his monologue: “Why do we practice daylight savings time?  It’s so the farmers have more light,” he laughed, answering his own question.  “But how does that give the plants more light?”  That’s a Letterman joke for you, but there is a truth hidden under his humor.  Most people queried on the street don’t know why we have daylight savings time, and fewer still experience any tangible benefits from it.

There are two often-cited reasons for the use of daylight savings time.  One is so that the children can have more light going to school in the morning.  But consider:  the  children have an hour more of morning light in late October, when the clock is set back (“fall back”) to standard time.  That is, it is the very use of daylight savings time which creates a darker morning as the days get shorter and shorter.  The “falling back” an hour merely puts us back in sync with the local time zone.  It is the use of daylight savings time that created the problem of less light in the morning, and only in that sense can you say that the “falling back” to regular time gives children that extra hour of light.  In other words, this is a problem caused by daylight savings time.  This is not a bonafide benefit from daylight savings time.

My grandfather, and all my uncles on my mother’s side were farmers.  I have some knowledge of the schedule of farmers.  There is not one that I know who does not arise at the crack of dawn, if not sooner.  There is no other way to function as a farmer.  You then proceed to work as long as needed, and as long as you are able, daylight savings time or standard time.  The manipulation of clocks in no way affected how much work they got done, or not done. 

I have talked to many people about daylight savings time. Some like it, some do not. Some are annoyed by it, some find the long afternoons of summer very enjoyable.  Everyone has arrived late (or early) on the first Sunday (even Monday in some cases) after the changing of the clocks.  Daylight savings time thus gives millions of people a quasi-valid excuse for lateness at least once a year.

Let’s end daylight savings time entirely and adopt a year-round standard time.

Those who wish to start school or go to work earlier can do so!  Such voluntary time alterations are fine if those individuals and businesses choose to do so. It may even make the freeways less crowded at rush hours.  But keep the standard time year-round.

Yes, this is a small thing in the context of a world at war, with hate and suspicion in all political camps, and endless economic hardships all over the world.  In that big-picture sense, this is just a little issue.  But this is still an issue that should be resolved, and dealt with.

Since daylight savings time is a state-by-state decision, we can begin with California. Write to Governor Brown and ask him to implement year-round standard time. You can write to Brown at Office of the Governor, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814, or phone at 916) 445-2841, or on-line at  (if you live in another state, write to your governor if you agree).

Take a poll of your friends and acquaintances before you write to the Governor.  See if you can find anyone who derives tangible benefits from daylight savings time.  Secondly, there is always the initiative process where a Proposition can be put on the ballot to be voted on by the people.  This is a process that would take an organized effort and cost at least a million dollars, and probably more.  

An Earthquake Toilet Test: Excerpt from "Squatter in Los Angeles"

[This is an excerpt from "Squatter in Los Angeles," available as a Kindle book, or a pdf from the Store at]

The reason I was living there in Highland Park was because I was attracted to the work of the non-profit, whose stated goal was to research and share all aspects of “survival.”  I took on a project of experimenting with the practicality of using an alternate toilet, such as would be necessary in the aftermath of a major Los Angeles earthquake.

We purchased an inexpensive RV toilet from Big 5, and it consisted of a simple 3 gallon plastic bucket which fit into a larger bucket, which had a toilet seat and lid.  The plan was to exclusively use this simple bucket toilet in my home for a period of three months.  I kept records and the idea was to ascertain the practicality of such a toilet after an earthquake, and to share those results with whomever would be interested.

I set up the toilet near the regular indoor toilet, but turned off the water of the regular toilet so people would not be tempted to use it. I put a notebook and pen near the toilet so people would write relevant notes after they used it – especially guests.

Though we had occasional guests, it was mostly the three of us in the household who used it.  We had a rotation system of who got to empty it, and no one was enthusiastic about this aspect of the project.  When the bucket was nearly full, one of us would take it out to a trench that I dug in the yard, and bury the contents, and cover the contents with straw, earthworms, and worm castings. The toilet-bucket would be washed out, and put back into the bathroom. 

Otherwise, this simple bucket toilet was not difficult to setup or to use.

Part of our challenge was to test various methods of combating the “outhouse odor” which most people find offensive, and which also attracts flies.  We tried some blue powder that came with the RV toilet, and it seemed to work OK at keeping down the odor. We also added lemon juice added to the toilet after each use, and this also worked as well as the blue powder.  We didn’t want to rely on the blue powder product provided by the manufacturer, since in a “survival situation” when we actually would need to use this toilet, we’d probably not be able to readily get more of the mysterious blue powder.

We tried a variety of odor-beaters, and found that a lemon juice and/or baking soda combination was nearly ideal.

We began to try wood ash instead of baking powder or lemon juice.  I used a little wood stove out in the yard for cooking, and so we had a steady supply of ashes. Wood ashes are absorbent and they reduce odors, and it does make sense that just about anyone anywhere could get wood ashes. Wood ashes added to the toilet after every use worked out fine, with minimal odors and no flies.

Such a simple system like this could be done in the aftermath of an emergency when  sewer drains are  broken, and as long as the participants emptied the bucket regularly and covered the hole where the contents were buried, this would be somewhat convenient and should be hygienic. 

You could also use such a system as this on a more or less permanent basis if you were in the backwoods, too far from sewer lines and utilities – though making an outbuilding (as people did for centuries) is a much more permanent way to have a toilet.

I eventually filled and covered two of the trenches into which we poured the toilet contents during the duration of the test.  Again, each was covered with compost and earthworms after each emptying of the toilet, and the worms rapidly decomposed the contents. After about a month of covering up the trenches, I planted tomatoes in each trench, and added some trellises for the plants to grow over. The tomato plants grew surprisingly well, and were insect-free.  The plants took about two months before the fruit was ripe, and so I took a basket of the ripe fruit and added it to a salad that I made and served at one of the functions of the non-profit. 

When the meal was served, I said that I had grown the tomatoes, and everyone said they were beautiful and tasty as they ate their salads.  I’m not sure how it came up, but someone did ask me when our meal was nearly over how exactly I grew the tomatoes, and so I told them. One woman abruptly put her fork down and ate no more of the salad, and her face exhibited both disdain and disgust during the rest of that meeting. I could tell that she felt as if I had done something bad to her.

However, if you think through the biological processes involved, the tomatoes were completely safe. If the woman got ill afterwards, it was primarily from her own psychological reaction to eating tomatoes grown in decomposed feces. On the other hand, a few people congratulated me for the “daring” experiment.

In retrospect, the toilet test wasn’t simply about learning to deal with catastrophes.  It taught me a very important lesson about dealing with human feces.  It’s not really all that hard or complicated  to deal with if you do things properly.  Because part of my drive in life was to live ecologically and to take responsibility for all the resources that came into my life, I tried to grow my own food, and recycle as much as possible. It was clear to me back then that modern societies, packed together in houses in neighborhoods, are often designed in such a way that the residents are unable to deal ecologically with their own wastes.  Such was not always the case.

In fact, for the long stretch of human history, human waste was either a useful resource, as well as a source of disease and death, depending on how the people handled things. I wanted my waste to be the resource it was intended to be, not the major water waster that it has become in our society.

Over the years, I have been to the homes of friends who composted their own bodily wastes.  Some did something right because you had no clue that’s what they were doing.  In one case, the entire side yard of the woman’s home smelled of urine. It wasn’t overtly strong, and the next door neighbor probably didn’t even notice it, but we noticed it when we visited.  She was doing something wrong.

In another case, a friend composted his urine and feces and scattered it about the trees and bushes in the yard. Part of the yard reeked of the obvious odor of old urine.  Fortunately, he had a large yard and far from the noses of neighbors, but I noticed it and told him about it.  Composting human wastes shouldn’t be offensive to our senses.  I was informed that maybe wild animals were using the yard as a toilet – an insult to what little intelligence I have -- so I never brought it up again.

About 7 or 8 years after the squatting time ended, I was living with Dolores on our little plot of land, growing our food and raising chickens.  [We wrote about that time in our “Extreme Simplicity” book].

I continued to experiment with toilet alternatives during that time, and I did use an outdoor toilet that I devised which had no smell and produced compost quickly.   

You can read all about it in the "Extreme Simplicity" book, available from Amazon or

Monday, February 08, 2016

The Lupercalian Roots of St. Valentine's Day

[Nyerges is the author of several books.  He can be reached via School of Self-reliance at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or, where one can view his various blogs.]

OK, follow along closely -- there will be a quiz.

In the pre-Christian era, there was a celebration in honor of Lupercus, a pastoral god, sometimes identified with Faunus or Pan.  Faunus is depicted as having the body of a man but the horns, pointed ears, tail, and hind legs of a goat.  That is, Faunus is more or less identical with the satyr, who was said to be lustful, and always ready to party.

The pre-Christian observance of this day was called Lupercalia, which fell on February 15.  On Lupercalia, cards were given (often with subtle or overt sexual offers and overtones), and men reportedly chased women through the streets. Wow! Sounds somewhat like Mardi Gras, or Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Carribbean.”

OK, fast forward to 2015, and the stores of our town are full of red and pink hearts, and lovers and sweethearts are looking for something to give that special person.  Why?  Because February 14 is the day set aside to commemorate a real historical person named Valentinus, the day we now call “Saint Valentine’s Day.”  And who was Valentinus?  With just a little bit of research, we learn that this Valentinus person was stoned, clubbed, and beheaded in about the year 270 A.D.  He was violently killed by an unruly mob.  But why?  And how have we come to associate Valentinus with chocolates and hearts and lovers and all the festivities of Lupercalia?

It turns out that there were at least two people called Valentinus – possibly more – who lived in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries.  One – who the Catholic Church now called Saint Valentine – was beheaded in 270 A.D. 

Another Valentinus lived about a century earlier and founded one of the most important sects of Gnosticism.  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria.  He settled in Rome during the reign of Pope Hyginus and taught there for more than 20 years.  He attracted a large following to his beliefs, due in part to his intelligence, his eloquence of speech, and his impeccable arguments.

But the teachings of this Valentinus differed in some ways from the Christian church of that time, and when the office for the Bishop of Rome opened up, he was not selected.  Valentinus decided to split off from the Christian church, left Rome, and continued to develop his doctrines as he saw fit.

Unfortunately, there are no original surviving documents from the teachings of Valentinus.  So, if you want to discover what he actually believed and taught, you have to study fragmentary quotations found in the writings of his orthodox Christian opponents.      

Through research, we learn that Valentinus was influenced by Plato (the main source of the teachings of Socrates), Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. Valentinus also spoke of a spiritual realm which he called Pleroma, which consisted of “emanations” evolving from an original divine being.  These have been described as the layers of an onion, with each layer being a wholly complete reality.  It’s all very interesting, though it’s all a bit second-hand because whatever Valentinus wrote was apparently “lost” or destroyed by opponents.

The term Gnosticism came from the word “gnosis,” defined as spiritual knowledge.  Those who followed this line of study were called the Gnostics, and many were referred to as Christian Gnostics.  But by the third century, the more orthodox Christian church (and the political power of the day), decided to oppose and persecute the Gnostics.   By the end of the third century, Gnosticism as a distinct movement had largely disappeared.

Now, here’s the quiz:  Where in all this did you hear anything about chocolates, hearts, greeting cards, bunnies, jewelry, roses, or lace underwear?  Plus, there doesn’t appear to be any historical connection with any of the individuals named Valentinus with the date of February 14.

It is difficult to ascertain why the commemoration of Valentinus was used to supplant, uplift, and supercede the already-existing commemoration of Lupercus, but that’s what happened.  Yet, very little of the trappings of modern St. Valentine’s Day have anything to do with the historical Valentinus.

And that’s really a shame, since Valentinus was as important as perhaps Socrates or Pythagoras, and yet most of us only associate him with the silly commercialism of Lupercalia’s remnants. Certainly it’s possible that the Church engineered this substitution so that men would quit chasing women through the streets on this day  (that’s my theory anyway, even though most historians disagree with me.)

There’s really nothing wrong with telling your loved ones that you love them!  In fact, we need to do that more often.  But you might also benefit by taking a little time and study a bit about this great teacher Valentinus.  This is also a good time to contemplate the meaning of “love,” and how we can improve our ability to be loving with everyone.  One excellent book in this regard is Eric Fromm’s “Art of Loving.”   Once you get into this book, you may discover – as I did  -- that  much of what Fromm wrote is very relevant today, and very relevant to Valentine’s Day.

When you read Fromm’s book, you will learn that “real love” is not something you “fall –into,” but rather something that requires hard work to master. In fact, despite what most people think, sex is not synonymous with love, and is only one aspect of what “real love” is all about. The Real Love that Fromm speaks of is that driving force that compels people to do heroic “superhuman” acts of bravery and generosity, for family, for a spouse, for children, for city, even for one’s country.  The Real Love that Fromm spends a whole book talking about is the driving force behind all that is good in society and life.  It is the deep feeling and deep desire that compels people to rise up out of their little selfs and do, and become, something greater.  Try to obtain a copy of “The Art of Loving” and read it. It will be far more challenging than anything you’ve heard in a very long time on your TV or in your newspaper.