A Better Standard?

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"It
was about fifty meters from shore …"

"What?",
my friend asked me, incredulously. "Meters?!"

I
couldn't believe I had committed such an abomination — I had actually
employed the dreaded metric unit for linear measurement.

What
humiliating hypocrisy!

You
see, I am self-designated Keeper and Defender of The English Units
of Measurement (Houston Office).

In
my defense, I had just returned from beautiful Nova Scotia. Perhaps
my guard was down, witnessing Nova Scotian pride, the Gaelic language,
Celtic music, bagpipes, kilts, and endless pubs. ("Halifax
has the greatest number of pubs per capita in Canada!", the
Haligonians claim, which is saying a lot.)

I
also noted the high ratio of Nova Scotian flags (a blue St. Andrew's
cross on a white field) to the Maple Leafs, which is similar to
the ratio of Lone Star flags to the Stars and Stripes found here
in Texas.

Somehow,
when one observes a culture that rich and proud, their use of the
metric system seems not so important. And, once the Maritimes secede,
they'll no doubt revert to the English system.

But
I've always thought the whole push to convert to the metric system
was very intrusive and largely pointless — even as a wee lad in
grade school, aside from being irritated, I sensed something was
being taken away.

It
wasn't until many years later that I learned the metric system was
first implemented by atheist French revolutionaries (talk about
being redundant!).

And
the revolutionaries weren't satisfied with "standardizing"
measurements of space and substance — they wanted to compromise
temporal measurement as well, which gives one a hint as to what
they were really up to (and probably also provides a hint as to
what my grade school was up to — that was way back when schools
could still post the Ten Commandments).

Specifically,
they wanted to "digitize" all forms of temporal measurement,
which included a ten-day week called the "decade."

It
has been observed that the week is the only unit of measurement
(temporal or otherwise) not based on nature. Indeed, the spiritual
implications are manifold:

Remember
the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour,
and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the
LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy
son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant,
nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For
in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all
that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD
blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exod. 20:8-11)

(About
one third of the space dedicated to the first Ten Commandments is
reserved for the Sabbath. It should also be noted that Revolutionary
Policy was in no way deficient in ignoring the other nine commandments.)

There
are also seven "feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations"
(Lev. 23), which outline God's plan of salvation, personally and
universally.

And,
these seven festivals span seven months. The holy year begins on
the first day of the first month (the first yearly convocation is
on 14 Nisan, Pesach, Passover, signifying, among other things,
the payment of our sins in the sacrifice of Christ, Lord of Lords,
head of the Church), but the civil year begins on the first day
of the seventh month (1 Tishri, Rosh Hoshanna, The Feast
of Trumpets, signifying, among other things, the return of Christ,
King of Kings, the eventual head of Government).

So,
the revolutionaries not only completed the brutal murders of the
crown and clergy, but by implementing a decimal temporal system,
they were removing the remembrance of God, and in turn worshiped
nature instead of nature's God.

The
nature and history of the metric system was perfectly crystallized
during a presentation I attended about five years ago. The presenter,
a Ph.D. no less, but an engineer of course, said, "You will
notice that I only use Good Christian Units."

I'm
not certain how literal he was intending to be, but one thing is
certain, I've gotten a lot of mileage out of that phrase.

Just
a few months ago I was submitting a few technical papers for an
international conference, when one of the conference organizers
reminded me to employ metric units whenever possible (it's often
extremely impractical to use metric units). Well, I laid the whole
Good Christian Units thing on him, and told him that I intended
to report values in English units, but would include the Pagan Units
in parentheses. (He laughed heartily, fortunately.)

Of
course, The Constitution does allow the Federal Government
to "fix the Standard of Weights and Measures." Certainly
among the primary motives was to remove hindrance to free trade
among the (sovereign) states. But why not the English standard?

I
understand the theory (and simplicity?) behind the metric system,
but frankly, I just don't see the technical benefit in most applications.
But, there are notable exceptions.

For
example, the Systeme Internationale (SI), which is an "improvement"
and expansion of the metric system, has its useful aspects. From
personal experience, I can affirm the SI chemical naming convention
is very useful in conveying the exact structure of a molecule.

Even
so, I really don't see the point in calling a commonly known substance
such as TNT (Tri-Nitro-Toluene) by any other name. If I remember
my organic chemistry correctly, the SI name would be 1-methyl-2,4,6-trinitro
benzene. But, I don't believe you would accomplish the desired level
of terror if you told someone they had better think twice about
messin' with ya u2018cause your packin' 1-methyl-2,4,6-trinitro benzene.

(Hmmm
… maybe the SI form actually is more intimidating; nevertheless
I'll bet he'd cold-cock you before you ever got the name out.)

Having
qualified my disregard for the metric system, I believe many have
misinterpreted the big goof regarding the mix-up of units associated
with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars Climate Orbiter.

It
was stated that "the u2018root cause' of the loss of the spacecraft
was the failed translation of English units into metric units in
a segment of ground-based, navigation-related mission software."
Well, yes … and no.

I
believe the real underlying cause is more cultural — engineers tend
to be more "conservative" (of the many hundreds of engineers
I've known, I've met maybe one that strayed far from
political conservatism), while (egghead) scientists tend to be more
"progressive." Thus, in general, engineers, like those
more likely to be found developing the navigation software, prefer
English units, and (non-engineer) scientists, like those more likely
to be found at JPL, prefer the metric system.

(It's
difficult for me to consider scientists in the field of astronomy,
like the late Carl Sagan, without remembering Swift's Laputians:
"Their heads were all reclined either to the right or the left;
one of their eyes turned inward, and the other directly up to the
zenith. Their outward garments were adorned with the figures of
suns, moons, and stars …")

I
would also like to add: In the first chapter in the first course
of any engineering curriculum are lessons in: conversion of units!
It's not that difficult — this is not rocket science!

This
incident says much more about project management than it does about
universal standards of measurement. (They did say they were
squeezed for time, money, etc.)

Now,
aside from the blasphemous and nihilistic aspects of the metric
system, forcing these units upon the populous is just plain silly.

For
starters, many of these units of measurement don't mean anything
to the vast majority of us. I've known how to convert from degrees
Centigrade to degrees Fahrenheit for a quarter-century, but I can't
tell you how many times I've said to myself after watching a European
weather briefing: "So, what's the real temperature?
Let's see … 23 C is … 1.8 times 23 … which is about 41 … plus 32
… Hey it's 73 degrees outside!"

Also,
since weather briefing temperatures and dew points are almost always
reported in integer numbers, and since degrees Centigrade are 80%
larger than degrees Fahrenheit, the values will always be 80% more
coarse when reported in Centigrade rather than Fahrenheit.

And
Pascals as a unit of pressure? Gimme a break. Yeah, 101,325 Pascals
is soooo much better than 14.7 lbf/in2.
(Poor Blaise Pascal — of course he deserved the honor to have a
unit of pressure named after him, but I have to wonder how thrilled
he would be to be associated with the Atheist System of Units.)

Plus,
I can just imagine the scene at the National Weather Service after
converting to the metric system, as the first killer hurricane of
the season bursts into the Gulf of Mexico: "Hey, this system
has sustained winds of 76 meters per second … is that bad?"

On
top of the cultural, comprehension, and safety issues, one of the
first things that crosses my mind when someone discusses converting
to the metric system is the nightmare it would be to convert (more
likely replace) billions of scales, meters, etc., costing
untold billions of dollars!

This
kind of conversion might be practical for Swaziland (though I doubt
it), but certainly not for us.

Anyway,
I've always suspected that the desire to convert to the metric system
was deeply Freudian — due to either anal-retentiveness or the insecurities
of short-changed bureaucrats who would like to measure in centimeters
instead of inches.

So
what's wrong with having more than one standard? One based on long-held
traditions and history, the other(s) employed by science, when it
so wishes?

Yes,
it is always a challenge to determine whether any given government
is more evil or more stupid.

A
superlative example is the saga of Steven Thoburn of Sunderland
and Peter Collins of Sutton, the English cause celebres who
have been dubbed "Metric Martyrs."

For
those unfamiliar with the story, the EU passed a law prohibiting
the sale of goods in anything other than metric measurements. Mr.
Thoburn (as well as other greengrocers) thought (first mistake)
that since many of his customers would be uncomfortable with the
new standard, a proper solution would be to install a scale that
weighed goods in both metric and Imperial units. Mr. Thoburn was
even so thoughtful as to price his items using both systems of measurement.

Ah,
but his thoughtfulness earned him the wrath of the local Procrustean
officials, so they prosecuted poor Mr. Thoburn. The judge said that
the case should never have been brought before him, commented how
hard-working and decent Mr. Thoburn is, but said his hands were
tied.

The
prosecution (not including an appeal) cost Sunderland taxpayers
over $110,000, and his defense cost over $50,000 (raised through
donations).

(For
tons (Imperial, not metric!) more on all of this, visit http://www.bwmaonline.com.)

The
words of Mr. Thoburn, before judgment was passed, are plaintive:

All
I did was sell a pound of bananas to a woman who asked for a
pound of bananas — what’s wrong with that? … I wake up at
night in a panic and try to work out how we got to this state
and how my mates and I could find ourselves persecuted for doing
nothing more than selling fruit and veg. It’s a nightmare from
a sci-fi horror movie and we’re living through it right here
in England.

Well,
it's a "sci-fi horror movie" that George Orwell and Aldous
Huxley would have sadly recognized.

Next
thing you know they'll be dragging Mr. Thoburn off to The Hague
for a show trial, citing Crimes against Humanity. But of course,
they'll first need to set up the International Criminal Tribunal
for The Former England.

You
know, that Old Tyrant King George is beginning to look like a dream
compared to Tony Blair — at least George didn't sell his subjects
into European slavery!

There
are many of us that wish you well, Mr. Thoburn.

I
lift my glass to you … would someone please pull me a pint?

August
22, 2001

Brian
Dunaway [send him
mail
] is a chemical engineer and a native Texan.

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