Consensus rather than compromise

From: Rob Seaman <>
Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2005 10:26:49 -0700

Poul-Henning Kamp wrote:

> It is not unrelated to why some of us think that changing the
> definition of UTC is infinitely more possible than changing the
> rest of the worlds educational level with regards to timekeeping.

Not unrelated, simply completely irrelevant. Your argument,
apparently shared by the folks pushing the ITU proposal, is not
without merit. Folks don't understand civil time issues now and we
have little hope they ever will, so why not take the purely pragmatic
action of redefining UTC? The failure of your argument is not that
public policy in an imperfect world sometimes requires compromise.
The failure is that the compromise being offered doesn't address the
problem at hand.

Clive D.W. Feather wrote:

> The problem here is Microsoft, whose software appears to believe
> that the current LCT here is "GMT Daylight Time".

The case has been repeatedly made that since the world tolerates
large excursions in civil time such as caused by the varying local
Daylight Saving Time policies, that the world's institutions and
populace will be able to simply ignore leap hours on those rare
occasions when they are needed. What is offered up is evidence for
the exact opposite. We're shown that Daylight Saving has been
mishandled in a trivially simple instance and that the GMT standard,
synonymous with UTC, is capable of misinterpretation (by minions of
the richest man on Earth) completely distinct from leap second
related issues. Nothing about the ITU proposal would mitigate the
situation being discussed.

And in fact, the analogy between DST and leap hours is faulty. TV's
talking heads carefully remind us twice a year either to spring
forward or to fall back. DST is a periodic effect. Leap seconds -
or leap hours - are secular effects. DUT1 builds up to a high water
mark and then the total is transferred to the list of historical leap
seconds. It would be the constant daily persistence of a large DUT1
that would make leap hours unpalatable - not only the large
corrections that would be needed every few hundred years. And if
civilians are surprised by the requirements of civil time now, how
much more so they will be in a world in which the last leap hour
troubled their great-great-...-great-grandparents? The current DST
and leap second standards are much more balanced where it counts -
society's talking heads remind the populace twice a year about DST
and roughly once every two years about leap seconds. This is just
about right from the point of view of reaching the widest possible
audience of civilians.

The reality is that we don't need - and shouldn't desire - a
compromise that will wholly satisfy nobody. What we need - and what
we should all desire - is rather a consensus that leads to joint
actions supported by all affected communities. Compromise is a
symptom of terminating a discussion too soon. The two sides (or more
than two sides) are still separated by a gulf of disagreements.
Averaging the two positions - or worse yet, having one side trample
the other's - cannot possibly produce the optimum solution. Contrast
this with a well-formed consensus - several disagreeing factions are
locked in a room until they all agree on a common vision of how to
proceed. Call this the "Twelve Angry Men" effect. That one faction
or another may have to completely change their original position is a
strength, not a weakness. Ideally none of the factions even arrives
in the room with a specific position to bargain over, but rather
arrives only with general requirements and objectives.

What is needed is civil time to continue to reflect solar time as it
has since literally the dawn of time. Our policies, standards,
mechanisms and procedures for making this happen have changed several
times throughout history. It is unsurprising that they would need to
change again. We would be more productive if we focussed first on
the transport mechanisms and procedures that we foresee will be
necessary to support third millennium civil time and only later
return to the specifics of the standard(s) that will be transported
and the policies that those standards will implement.

Rob Seaman
National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Received on Mon Aug 29 2005 - 10:28:27 PDT

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