[LEAPSECS] 2007-12-31 23:59:60 Z (sic)

John Cowan cowan at ccil.org
Wed Jan 2 13:58:51 EST 2008

Rob Seaman scripsit:

> International treaties have the force of law in the U.S., I believe,

> and presumably in other countries as well. What is NAFTA, but a

> contract between nations?

True but irrelevant, since (with one exception) local civil time is not
the subject of any international treaties that I know of.

The EU insists that its members all change from standard to summer time
at the same UTC second (unlike the story in North America where the
change happens in a rolling fashion from east to west), but carefully
abstains from prescribing which countries belong to which time zones,
in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.

> So the assertion is that countries from

> Sudan to Bhutan can move their timezones around with gleeful abandon,

Indeed. Local civil time is and always has been a matter of national
sovereignty, possibly delegated to more local authorities. In the U.S.,
states can petition to change standard time zones as a whole or in part,
but the changes are not always granted: DST is, I believe, still entirely
a state option.

> but are somehow restricted by the ITU from issuing their own leap

> seconds?

They could, of course, do so, at the expense of being out of step with
the rest of the world. It is choice, not compulsion, that makes every
nation synchronize its LCT with UTC either de jure or de facto.

> Otherwise, what then is the point of the ITU?

The same as the point of ISO and other purveyors of standards, essentially
none of which are internationally mandatory.

> The entire stoopid argument for ditching mean solar time centers on

> seeking lock step synchronization - strangely, precisely because we're

> deemed too craven to keep our clocks set properly.

Not as far as I know. Apart from the ALHP proponents, the desire of
people who want to see an end to leap seconds is to redefine the day
as precisely 86400 SI seconds, and when the discrepancy between MSolT
(which is not quite LSolT, be it noted) and LCT becomes annoyingly large
in a particular place, to adjust the local UTC-TI offset accordingly,
just as we will eventually have to adjust the Gregorian calendar when
the discrepancy between the tropical year and the civil year becomes
annoyingly large (something that will probably not happen in all countries
at the same time, any more than the adoption of the Gregorian calendar
happened uniformly in 1583).

> Here you argue the opposite - that no possible ties can (or

> should?) bind our august authorities.

I don't argue anything: I state the facts of international law.
Countries could bind themselves by treaty to observe a uniform LCT
system, but they have not. Whether they should or should not is
a question I feel no compulsion to answer.

> "Civil time" is also a term used in multiple ways in this discussion.

Not by me, certainly. I use the term "local civil time" or "LCT"
solely to mean whatever time a clock that is correctly set by local
law registers at a particular place, and the timescale derived from the
sequence of those settings.

> Your meaning here is that each country (or even municipality?) can

> have a distinct system of time. Clearly something underlies these

> diverse local conventions.

Indeed, but there is neither legal nor metaphysical necessity for
it to be so, only convenience.

John Cowan cowan at ccil.org http://ccil.org/~cowan
Promises become binding when there is a meeting of the minds and consideration
is exchanged. So it was at King's Bench in common law England; so it was
under the common law in the American colonies; so it was through more than
two centuries of jurisprudence in this country; and so it is today.
--Specht v. Netscape

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