Q. What purpose does daylight saving time serve today? Seems that it's just a way to annoy me twice a year.
-- Scott Kirkpatrick, of Mountain Home, Ark.
A. You probably wouldn't want to say that too loudly around former President George W. Bush.
In case you don't remember, Bush in 2005 signed a law that extended daylight saving time yet another month starting in 2007. The primary reason? It's the same one people have used since DST first was enacted a century ago: Extending daylight in the evening saves energy.
But does it? The conflicting studies may annoy you more than changing your clocks twice a year. Some say there is a small savings because people are outside longer in summer so they don't watch TV or turn on their indoor lights. Others say such savings are devoured by the need for more light in the early morning and air conditioning in the evening because you go to bed later.
Whatever the case, the concept of DST has appealed to people for 200 years. When he was our French ambassador, Benjamin Franklin, that early-to-rise guy, was sorry to see the sun already up when he rose at 6 a.m. How much better it would be if it would be dark until late morning so that people would burn less midnight oil, he opined in a newspaper letter.
But nobody took the suggestion seriously until 1916, when Germany instituted "Sommerzeit" (summer time) to ease the pain of growing coal shortages during World War I. Friends and foes soon joined suit, including the United States in 1918.
Yet despite two vetoes by Woodrow Wilson (he reportedly loved DST to get in more golf), the time change was repealed here in 1919. Farmers hated it because they wanted light in the early morning.
A few cities, including New York, continued the practice but most of the country ignored it until -- you guessed it -- World War II, again to save precious resources. And this time, lawmakers ramped it up a notch, instituting year-round DST from Feb. 9, 1942, to Sept. 30, 1945.
Since then, both the nation and various states have tweaked the law almost as often as someone adjusts a poorly running wristwatch. In 1966, the United States finally adopted the Uniform Time Act, which mandated DST from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October -- except for any state that expressly prohibited it like Arizona and Indiana.
More changes came during the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, when DST again was extended through the winter, and in 1987, when DST was moved to the first Sunday in April. That brings us to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which, again to save resources and reduce greenhouse gases, extended the time switch another four or five weeks.
So, has the extra daylight been worth all the cursing over resetting digital clocks and missed shows on mis-timed VCRs and DVRs? Maybe, maybe not.
In 2000, parts of Australia extended DST for the Sydney Olympics, but the move proved to be a wash when increased energy use in the morning wiped out decreases in the evening.
In 2006, Indiana adopted DST statewide, which forced the state's other 77 counties (out of 92) to observe the time shift. Compared to the state's energy use previously, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that increased air conditioning costs more than offset any gains.
Yet in a 2008 report to Congress, the Department of Energy said the extended daylight saving time in 2007 cut energy consumption by .02 percent, which they said is significant when you look at the total. The DOE said California experienced a 1 percent energy savings every day.
There are disputes in other areas as well. Some say the extra daylight promotes fitness, boosts retail sales, cuts crime and reduces traffic fatalities. Others argue the periodic disruption to our natural body rhythms poses a significant health risk.
"The consequence of that is that the majority of the population has drastically decreased productivity, decreased quality of life, increasing susceptibility to illness, and is just plain tired," Till Roennenberg, a chronobiologist in Munch, Germany, once told National Geographic.
If it makes you feel better, you should know that most people are like you. In a spring 2010 Rasmussen Reports poll, 47 percent agreed that DST isn't worth the hassle while just 40 percent thought it was. Nevertheless, we will be falling back again Nov. 4, so at least use the disruption to check those smoke and carbon monoxide alarm batteries and maybe save a life.
What unusual feathered friend did actor John Barrymore have as a pet?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: The Iroquois regarded the vegetables corn, beans and squash as The Three Sisters, because, like loving siblings, they supported one another closely. Planted together, the corn stalks provided a lattice for the bean vines to grow on while the broad-leaf squash plants deterred the growth of weeds.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com