01 August 2010

systems of measurement

begin rant

On the net one often encounters people who advocate preserving and revitalizing endangered languages, but who advocate abolishing the colorful Anglo-American system of measurements and replacing it with the metric system.

I submit for your consideration the idea that these are contradictory wishes. If we should help the Lakota people, for example, keep their language and culture alive, why should we fight the American people who want to keep inches, Fahrenheit and pounds alive? You cannot drive in two directions at once. Either you are in favor of letting localities keep their own culture, or you are in favor of a dumbed-down Euros and kilometers culture for all 7 billion of us everywhere including those in orbit.

By the way, the strongest argument in favor of keeping pounds and ounces, inches and feet, is the very argument often brought up in opposition to them: the math is harder. Yes, it's harder to add seven and seven eighths inches plus two and a third feet, THANK GOD. Stop thinking about sex and TV and Facebook for a minute and use your f--king brain for something other than a head-implosion-preventing placeholder.

end rant

For con-culturing I like to think of units of measurement based on things that are readily available. Why not a unit of length based on the height of the average human adult, and a unit of liquid volume based on average bladder capacity? And naturally these units have to be subdivided into halves, quarters, 8ths and so forth, rather than 10ths. When you are out in the real world it is much easier to fold a piece of paper into equal halves and quarters, than it is to fold it into 10 equal parts. And if you know that piece of paper is 1/6 of a human-height length-unit tall, you can use it to measure things.

Likewise you can divide a quantity of liquid into halves by pouring it alternately into two equal-size containers. Easier than dividing it into 10ths. You see, 8ths and 16ths are natural, like tropical rainforests and dolphins. Units that divide into 10ths are unnatural, like coal-burning power plants and nuclear weapons.


Yannis said...

[part one]

Sorry Mr. Harrison, but I must disagree with your views.

Yes, preserving endangered languages is very important. For one, you are American, not European and simply do not understand Euros and what good they have done to the people that live under them. You may think that in Greece (where I currently am, also is my homeland) people have quite a bit of trouble with Euros, but the people were happy after the switch from the old Drachma, which was thousands of years old... Greek culture was kept intact, and Greek people were happy to see low inflation as they had never seen before. There wasn't a single protest by any form of press against the Euro in most countries that accepted it, certain unusually racist northern European countries excluded of course.

And you say the metric system is silly and unnatural... have you ever thought about how your US or Canadian dollar, the Euro and most currencies (except the Thai Baht as far as I know) are actually divided into cents? That comes from a Latin word (I'm not too familiar with Latin, sorry) meaning one hundred, a subdivision of ten.

The dollar, like many other currencies is divided into 100s, but did you know that president Thomas Jefferson actually proposed a dollar divided into thousands which he called a milli, as well as proposing an overall switch to the metric system? The switch was very unpopular with his fellow politicians, rivals or not, and was rejected, although they did allow the dollar to become metric. And the US was one of the first countries to do so.

Also, go to any country outside the US, even Britain; any carpenter 'worth his salt' would use metric or measurements. The reason the imperial system works (just) in Britain for roads is because furlongs, chains, links and a bunch of other bullshit units have been abolished. It's just miles and feet, and it is just simple enough for people to understand. Still however, I don't understand why imperial units are so damn unrelated. 5280 feet in a mile... who the FUCK came up with that?! It is just such a random, fucking huge number! Excuse my language, but it makes precisely zero fucking sense to pick a number as big and... odd as that!

By the way, you are not fighting the American people by wanting to switch to metric at all. You persuade them to make bite the bullet and make the switch. And the Lakota people have unfortunately being defeated a long, long time ago through the reckless savagery that was the colonisation of the Americas, that it makes me reluctant to use the term 'American' about an English white man such as you... modern America is the land of the immigrants, and 'Americans' will simply not accept that – but stick to their ideals on democracy when they have a most undemocratic electoral system and their units of measurement are collectively called IMPERIAL, something early US history quite despises. America, all in all, is by far, culturally, the most globalised country on Earth, end of. Only that the metric system is not global because of them...

Dumbed-down. God I hate that phrase. Is that because, you, Mr. Harrison, are the overlord, the law of the land, the emperor, that you shan't let people use a system that accepts common sense and subjugate the ones not as fortunate as you, am I correct? Because you smarter and more had a more privileged education in (I suppose) some posh private school or expensive University, even? The imperial system clearly does not follow along with common sense, as I've said before, it all makes little sense in how units are related to each other in imperial (they are not)...

Yannis said...

[part two]

Americans have been raised to use fractions a lot more than decimal numerals. You would understand if you were raised in fully metric countries like Greece...

Also, as for the units that you propose at the end, there is a definite answer: they wouldn't work in a million years, as #1. all humans are different - averages just would not work especially among different race , #2. there are various sizes of paper - from the metric As,Bs, and Cs used worldwide to US letter paper, #3. no-one could care less about bladder capacity unless they were scientists or doctors, and most imporantly #4. people fucking hate change. Going against change is also one of the old theses of American conservatives too, so I'm not surprised at your slightly backward big mix of cultures. I personally am not a big fan of American conservativism as it's quite far-right in the political spectrum – but believe what you wish.

Not only that, but you actually don't seem like a huge fan of imperial – you propose your own system for heaven's sake to rival both! Incredible!

I should also say, feet, for example, are not a very natural unit of measurement. The average human foot is 24 cm versus 30.48 cm for the imperial foot – that's US size ~13 if I'm not mistaken! And again, feet can vary from place to place, from man to woman, from child to child... If an imperial foot is “natural” then by implication most people have unnaturally small feet!

Speaking of unnatural things, what device did you use to post this little article on your website? A computer maybe some sort of portable device. What are those (and Google's, as well as your ISP's servers) powered by? Electricity. While it is by all means a naturally occurring thing, it is unnatural for humans to produce it, yes? Anyway...
Not coincidentally, imperial, has no units to measure any sort of capacity, power, or pretty much anything to do with electricity. The Watt, Volt, ampere (AKA Amp), Ohm and a bunch of other derived units, etc. are all metric, so there is realistically no American or Briton who can remember a time completely before metric units.

Finally, I just want you to know... imperial units are DEFINED in metric. That means that the inch, say, is not defined as the size of the thumb of man X or something, it is defined as 2,54 centimetres in LAW, and has been so since 1955, I believe. In 1955, it was also decided or the first time that imperial would actually be standardised – over 150 years after metric! Even Canada had its own system of measurement back then – and that is a failure on the imperial system's part on how such closely related nations such as Canada and the US – culturally and politically – can have different systems of measure! It's simply astounding, I think!

I'd highly recommend you visit this website - http://www.metric4us.com/ - it is very good at breaking down myths about metric for Americans interested in why the metric system is so important.

Thank you very much for reading,

Γιάννης Α.

betsumei said...

Γιάννης Α., I think you might have missed the bit before the proposed alternative system where Mr. Harrison began the paragraph with "For con-culturing", which suggests that he's not seriously proposing a new system for day to day use (and not necessarily a system for human use!), but rather, suggesting that people creating con-cultures "think outside the box" a bit. Metric measures are a bit arbitrary too - the metre was originally intended as one ten-millionth of the distance from the north pole to the equator, along some arbitrary meridian (it's no longer defined as such - it's now "the distance travelled by light in vacuum in 1⁄299,792,458 of a second". I can't say I agree with preserving multiple systems of measurement for day to day use, preferring metric personally (and it seems to be the most widely recognized standard) and disliking unnecessary conversions, and frankly I prefer working in decimals to working in fractions.

Closer to the subject at hand, I'm glad this was brought up, as I hadn't given much thought before to creating units of measure (well, not for a long, long time, at least), so I'm glad to have read it.