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CALENDAR CRUSADERS WOULD PREFER A NEW YEAR

So what if it fits in your pocket? That 2005 datebook you picked up at the bank is the flawed byproduct of a mistake made more than four centuries ago.

Or so might say a band of crusaders who have opened their eyes to the defects of the current calendar system, the one Pope Gregory XIII saddled us with in 1582, when he ordered changes to the way the Western World marks its days.

Richard Conn Henry, a physics and astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University, is among those chafing under the chronological status quo. If he had his way -- and it's safe to say he won't -- the Gregorian calendar, now used by most of the world, would be retired, along with its awkward leap years. Replacing it would be his "Common-Civil-Calendar-and- Time Plan," a scheme in which holidays, birthdays and the like fall on the same days of the week, year after 12-month year.

Pulling this off would require some adjustments. For instance, there's the matter of the phantom week that must be inserted occasionally between June and July.

At the core of the problem is a number: 365.242, the raggedy number of days it takes the Earth to circle the sun. Julius Caesar was the first to try to compensate for the accumulation of fractional days by introducing a leap day every few years.

But that 45 B.C. adjustment was imprecise, and the seasons eventually slid out of sync with the calendar. In the 16th century, with Easter drifting toward summer, the pope ordered a correction; 10 days deleted and leap years reconfigured.

Henry worked out a 12-month calendar in which each year starts on Sunday, Jan. 1, and ends on Saturday, Dec. 31. The system gets recalibrated every five or six years with the weeklong mini-month, which Henry calls a "Newton," after the famous physicist.

But the Newton isn't the part of the plan that troubles most people. The biggest snag he has hit, in fact, is the birthday conundrum. Apparently people would resent celebrating their birthdays on Tuesday, say, for life.

And forget about appeasing the people who would lose birthdays completely (Jan. 31? -- gone) under Henry's plan. He says 2006 is the year to put his system into effect because the year starts on a Sunday.

There was a time when calendar reformers rode a groundswell of support. In the 1930s, the League of Nations considered the issue, and many countries organized committees to weigh the dominant proposals, consisting of 12-month and 13-month systems. Later, in 1955, the U.S. government officially panned the idea.

Some calendar crusaders see reform as a way to inch closer to world harmony, says Rick McCarty, a philosophy professor at East Carolina University who studies these efforts. His Web site (personal.ecu.edu/mccartyr/calendar-reform.html) lists more than a dozen proposals.

"But very little of anything does unite the world," he says.

"If I were designing this" -- the universe, that is -- "I would make the year last exactly 365 days. Regrettably, the natural cycles aren't perfect."

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