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Greenwich Meridian

Greenwich Meridian

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Published by: Daniel Nye Griffiths on Sep 03, 2011
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09/03/2011

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Daniel Nye Griffiths
 –
Longshot Magazine Submission
 
Zero sum games at the zero meridian - Daniel Nye Griffiths
I live near Greenwich, London, where they used to make empire, training the Royal Navythrough the peak
and the decline of British sea power. Now, Greenwich’s major export is
time and space. Greenwich Mean Time - Zulu time, the most middle of midnights - runsthrough the Royal Observatory, as does the zero meridian.
It’s like the North Pole:
nomatter which direction you take when you walk away from Greenwich, you are walkingaway from Greenwich.Unfortunately, just as the Soviet Union exported grain while its people went hungry, being
the word’s single largest exporter of time doesn’t offer any special privileges. A case in
point: solicitations for a 48-hour magazine arrive at 8pm on Friday, rather than noon. TheGreenwich meridian is uncompromising that way.For those in Britain living their professional and personal lives half over the Atlantic, this isan acute manifestation of a common issue. The day starts at nine, then starts again afterlunch, and again two hours later
1
, ending somewhere east
2
of midnight. For any normal
person, it’s a nightmarish
torrent of dawns, but
for the committed insomniac it’s
little shortof a miracle. As one world flags, the relief shift comes in.The universal desirability of the
“straight eight” is increasingly seen as mythical, and
specifically Procrustean. The Russian doctor Marie de Manaceine may have a lot toanswer for regarding its longevity. The market-friendly repackaging of her
fin-de-siècle 
study
Sleep: Pathology, Physiology, Hygiene, Psychology 
was titled
Sleep: A Third of Our Life.
In the very first chapter she manages to raise the slumber stakes even higher,observing:
Every man loves life, every man wants to live for as long as possible, and yet each man consecrates a third and even sometimes half of his existence to sleep.
You start to wonder whether this dormouse dedication to shut-eye was the cause of some
of Russia’s problems at the turn of the 20th century. When she wasn’t sleeping, de
Manaceine satisfied her curiosity about sleep by killing puppies. No, seriously. She keptfour puppies awake until they died. Apparently this was very difficult for her emotionally, asyou would hope prodding sad-eyed puppies to death would be.A little under a century later, Alan Rechtschaffen devised a machine to automate theprocess of exhausting animals to death - a rotating disk that forced rats to keep moving toavoid being dunked into a bowl of water. Generally, the test group started dying after fourweeks, and stopped before six weeks
. The problem being that it’s unclear what they died
of 
. One can divide REM and NREM sleep, and measure brain activity, blood pressure andendocrine response, but when it comes to solid conclusions one might as well try to recalla dream.Testing humans to destruction this way has not been the subject of many research grantapplications - although there are mutterings and legends, as there always are, of madscience and CIA laboratories. In 1963 William Dement of Stanford University watchedRandy Gardner stay awake for 264 hours, during which time he imagined himself to be arunning back for the Chargers and became short-tempered and irritable
 –
the two perhapsnot unconnected. On the final day, Gardner got five steps through counting down from 100
1
Californians being inexplicably early risers.
 
2
Or widder-Greenwich, as they say around here.
 
 
Daniel Nye Griffiths - The Sleep Debt Ceiling
 
to zero (Zulu time, zero meridian) in increments of seven, before forgetting what he wasdoing. Any coder or academic knows the lighter form of these effects: the shriek at abathrobe hung over a door, the sudden conviction that the kettle is, in fact, a scorpion, therace to finish the crunch before the time spent is doubled or tripled by error-checking.Nonetheless, ten days into his tour of ahypnia Gardner could still beat his monitor atpinball.And in Washington, D.C., 300 minutes of time and 4632 minutes of longitude west ofGreenwich
3
, the political leaders of the United States are pulling on cups of coffee andexpecting a long evening. There is talk of all-night sessions, filibusters and counter-filibusters, visions of Jimmy Stewart on the Senate floor. Looking at the available evidence,will exhaustion make the elected representatives more pliable, more likely to agree to asettlement?
According to the CIA’s memos on interrogation methods, it’s too little, too late. Based
pr
esumably on Randy Gardner’s experience and its apparent lack of consequence, sleep
deprivation of up to 11 days was at one point authorized
4
. By then, the Credit Riots will bein full swing. Later amendments pegged that figure back, but it feels like houses full ofratty, bewildered and occasionally hallucinating ideologues may actually be a worse optionthan those currently on the table.Back in Greenwich, the time and distance factories tick on and over, cutting down amongother things the last of this 24-hour deadline. I find myself counting my own sleep debt,dwarfed as it may be by the combined deficits of 100 irritable, scratch-eyed senators.Balancing all-nighters and comatose weekends, at a rough estimate I am underpaying 500hours a year, and have been for around two decades. That extra 10,000 hours ofconscious life, though often of poor quality, is a debt, paid for by an increased risk of early
death probably somewhere between 12% and 24%. That’s assuming I stay away from
rotating disks and bodies of water, of course. But, just like any debt and equity market, themarket for equitable levels of sleep is subject to change. And, just like those markets,
nobody really has any idea of what’s going on, or what any of it means. Not even in
Greenwich, where
making time for a good night’s sleep has a different and double
meaning.
3
Give or take a few seconds
4
No records exist of how good at pinball those under interrogation might have been at this point.
 

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