Monday, April 21, 2008

Muslim Irony?

Not entirely sure if I missed a memo about it being 'World Irony Day' or something, but surely this can't be anything other than ironic. Can it?

Basically, muslim scientists and clerics have called for the adoption of Mecca time to replace GMT, arguing that the Saudi city (where muslims face when they pray) is the true centre of the Earth. One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca's was in perfect alignment to magnetic north.

Couple of things there, matey, magnetic north moves. As shown in this rather splendid Canadian illustrative website, magnetic north has moved quite substantially. By almost 20 degrees of longtitude in just over 100 years, in fact. So I wonder if the geologist is suggesting we should keep moving the centre of world time every time the magnetic north moves? Sadly the BBC doesn't report the answer.

Amusing enough as that is, it gets ironic shortly afterwards. Deep breath everyone, or you're going to have to drink the irony.

"He (the same geologist) said the English had imposed GMT on the rest of the world by force when Britain was a big colonial power, and it was about time that changed"

Okay. Well, where to start?

How about that GMT was originally used to determine position? The GPS of its day in fact. British mariners kept at least one timepiece on GMT in order to calculate their longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which was by convention considered to have longitude zero degrees. This, combined with mariners from other nations drawing from Nevil Maskelyne's method of lunar distances based on observations at Greenwich, eventually led to GMT being used world-wide as a reference time independent of location.

That's not imposing, dipshit, that's people using it because it worked. It was also only made the legal time of Britain in 1880, some 33 years after it was introduced so that train departure times across the country were correct (which is why some old clocks of that time have two minute hands, fact fans, one for GMT, one for local time). Prior to that solar time was used on a local basis: midday was when the sun was directly overhead. Handy for where you lived, but a bit fucking unworkable once people could travel (or communicate with someone) a couple of hundred miles away.

How about it being adopted worldwide by committee, rather than enforced? GMT was only adopted worldwide at the International Meridian Conference, held in October 1884 in Washington, D.C. to determine the Prime Meridian of the world. It was held at the request of U.S. President Chester A. Arthur. Twenty-five nations were represented by 41 delegates. The vote, fixing the meridian at Greenwich, was passed 22–1 (San Domingo, now the Dominican Republic, voted against); France and Brazil abstained. The French (quelle shock) did not adopt the Greenwich meridian until 1911.

That same conference also proposed "the adoption of a universal day for all purposes for which it may be found convenient" and that should "not interfere with the use of local or standard time where desirable". So timezones weren't our fault either. And while most major countries had adopted hourly time zones by 1929, I'm fairly certain we didn't "force" all of them.

Oh, and one last thing. I don't know if you've noticed there, geologist fella, but science yeah, doesn't really mix too well with religion, k? And GMT is used because of science. If you want to fuck about with time for religious reasons, you just piss off and invent a time machine then bring Mohammed, Jesus, or any of those other fuckers back here with you.

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