Re: [LEAPSECS] Equitable estoppel

From: Rob Seaman <>
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2006 01:26:11 -0700

On Dec 17, 2006, at 11:48 AM, Poul-Henning Kamp wrote:

> Regarding an intenational treaty as a contract is not only pointless,
> it is downright silly.

Regarding me as an expert on international law is what would be
silly :)

The point was to elaborate, in the context of UTC, on some issues
raised by Parrish. I'd be delighted to see real lawyers consulted on
the real world implications for real civil timekeeping. Evidently
this is non-trivial. To not seek legal counsel prior to instituting
an historically unprecedented change in the nature of civil time
would be absurdly foolhardy.

The concept of estoppel is quite general, however, and one might
expect that it would apply even more to treaties than to contracts.
Two or more parties negotiate some complicated freeform agreement.
One of the parties presses for a certain provision. In good faith,
the others reluctantly agree. Simple playground rules (i.e., what
one might hope to apply at the level of governments :) suggest that
those other parties have a veto over future changes to that provision.

> But you could conceiveably argue the point, that ITU-R only controls
> time, as far as it pertains to telecommunication and radio
> transmission
> of time signals,

No. I argue that interval time (TAI, etc.) and time-of-day (civil
time) are two different things. This is a point of fact, not of law.

And I argue that while ITU-R has some authority over the UTC standard
as pertinent to the transmission of time-of-day, it does not over its
fundamental nature as a flavor of Mean Solar Time.

Time-of-day is what the name says - and is defined by cultural norms,
statutory and common law and international agreements arising out of
the Meridian Conference, for instance. The worldwide civil time
consensus based on GMT that has proven so durable has far more
reality than the hazily imagined mistaken best interests of some
telecommunications multinationals.

And no, I don't think embargoing leap seconds for 600 years
corresponds to a practical approximation to time-of-day. It is a
ridiculous shell game trick.

> and that each country is free to use another timescale for civilian
> time.

Well, yes. If not, you're going to need a heck of a treaty to
implement a viable leap hour instrumentality six centuries hence.
Few of today's signatories may even exist. Others may arise whose
opinion of early 21st century timekeeping is less than nil.

Civil clocks display subdivisions of the civil calendar, and thus of
the mean solar day. Wishing won't make it otherwise.

Received on Tue Dec 19 2006 - 00:26:28 PST

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