For all its big waves that make headlines, Congress occasionally takes an action so subtle it passes under the radar - yet even its small ripples can still drag the country into an undertow. That's the Congress we all know and love. That's the Congress that creates Bridges to Nowhere. That's the Congress of which humorist Will Rogers said, "When I make a joke, it doesn't harm anyone; you can take it or leave it. But when Congress makes a joke, it's a law."
A few years ago, Congress made a joke that largely went unnoticed, because it didn't have any impact at the time. And it still doesn't - at least not for another two weeks. It's not a Big Deal, it's just a stupid deal. And it will annoy the bejeepers out of approximately 250 million Americans.
It is the law changing Daylight Saving Time.
Now, mind you, this was so under the radar that most people likely don't even know it was changed. And those who did know probably yawned.
O ye of little faith in the ways of Congress. Read on. File it under the heading of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Never mind that the last time Congress extended Daylight Saving Time, the results were so disastrous - "schoolchildren getting hit by cars in the extended dark of the morning" disastrous - that Congress did the most amazing thing in its existence: it repealed the law before the ink was dry. It was repealed faster than Prohibition, so you know they were serious. Perhaps the fear of tar and feathers had something to do with it, but still they changed it back.
Never mind that problem and that it still exists. This problem is different.
And never mind too that many other nations haven't changed their Daylight Saving Laws to match the U.S. during the overlap weeks. (Canada did, bless them. Bermuda, too.) This problem is different.
How different? Remember the Y2K deal? The one that didn't happen? Well, this is that kind of thing. Except it will happen. Starting in two weeks.
Happily, it's not anywhere as big a problem as the Y2K glitch potentially was. But it will be an annoyance.
Here's the problem.
Most electronic devices that run on a computer chip and have a clock automatically change that clock for Daylight Saving Time. The old Daylight Saving Time. Y'know, the one that used to change in April and October.
Except now, Daylight Saving Time changes in March and November. The problem is, no one told the computer chips.
When I say "computer chips," don't think of that thing on your desktop. Those actually should be okay, since Microsoft has supposedly included a patch in its Automatic Updates. This presumes that you use Automatic Updates. Or Microsoft. (Apple says its posted a fix on its website - for those who check the website.)
Rather, think of all the other peripherals you use that have computer chips and clocks.
Your Cell phone. Personal Information Manager (like a Palm). Answering machine. iPod. Digital camera. Things like that. And of course your VCR. (Good news, though, for people whose VCRs are blinking "12:00" - for the first time, that doesn't work against you!)
Certainly, not all of these are schedule-reliant. But for many of these devices, proper time is critical. And when the new Daylight Saving Time kicks in on March 11, not a single one of these devices will change with it.
But it gets pricklier. Here's the thing. Once people have finally figured out a) there's a problem, and b) how to change these computer chip devices - three weeks later, on the first day of the old Daylight Saving Time, the time will automatically change again on all of them!
And if anyone ever accuses Congress of not having a sense of humor, that day is - April 1. April Fool's, indeed!
And the circus is not over. Remember that other part of Daylight Saving Time, when you change back in the Fall? Your computer chip devices will change their clocks automatically in October (the old DST)...and be off by an hour. And after you've fixed that - the real Daylight Saving Time (the new one) will take affect in November, throwing things off once more.
Oh, a nd this will occur next year, too. And every year after.
There's an easy low-tech fix to this high-tech problem: leave your clocks alone and be out-of-sync for three weeks every year. Of course, some people believe their lives are out-of-sync to begin with, so for once in their life things will be actually seem right! (At least for three weeks.) Alas, it's everyone who relies on their clocks for appointments and accuracy who might have to do some tricky dancing.
Eventually, of course, built-in obsolescence will finally pay off: devices will break soon enough, and new models should have the correct computer chip in them, and all will be well.
Until Congress changes the law again.