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Samoa Skips a Day

Posted by Josh Rothman  February 22, 2012 04:30 PM

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In a change which it's hard not to see as symbolic of a rising Asia and a declining West, Samoa, which is perched right on the International Date Line, has switched sides. Writing at The Smart Set, Stefany Anne Golberg explains that Samoa used to be three hours behind California and 21 hours ahead of Australia -- an arrangement ideal for doing business with American companies. As of December 29, however, it's now three hours behind Eastern Australia, and 22 hours ahead of California.

The shift, Goldberg writes, happened on the evening of Thursday, December 29, 2011. When the people of Samoa woke up the next morning, the date was Saturday, December 31. "December 30, 2011 was a day no Samoan would know" -- an unfortunate turn of events for those with birthdays or anniversaries on the 30th.

It might seem bizarre or even, in a broad sense, 'impossible' to so cavalierly change the date. But, Golberg notes, Samoa started out on the Asian side of the line, until, "in 1892, an American business house trading in the region convinced the king of Samoa that slipping over the date line to the other side, facilitating trade with California rather than Asia and Australia, was in everyone’s best interest." (In a patriotic gesture, the shift happened on July 4th, which allowed Samoans to celebrate the Fourth of July twice.) Ultimately, Golberg explains, time zones, date lines, and meridians have always been subservient to politics; there are fundamental ways in which the system is expedient, rather than rational. Take China:

The vast nation of China encompasses a citizenry speaking 292 languages and a land mass that has almost as many climates as exist on Earth. It geographically spans five times zones but observes just one — one big time zone that stretches from cosmopolitan coastal Shanghai to the rural far west. From 1912 until 1949, China did observe five time zones. But after the Chinese Civil War, the emergent Communist Party used a unified time zone as a way to consolidate the Party’s power over all the territories it claimed and to hail the existence of a unified Chinese nation.

Much more at The Smart Set.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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