Multiple Metric Systems & Metrology

By Randy Bancroft

This is Chapter 5 of my Patreon experiment. If you like this work, please go to my Patreon page and contribute.

Here is all of Death By A Thousand Cuts-Chapter5 2018-09-11

If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page.

Some Thoughts on: “The Metric System is Anti-Human Central Planning”

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

A few days ago, a website called The Federalist published a polemic titled The Metric System is Anti-Human Central Planning. The essay is quite derivative, containing truthiness assertions about the metric system, and an understanding of it at a hearsay level. Examining some of its claims can be instructive.

The first claim is: “All of metric’s shortcomings come back to the same point: it is great for science, but does not fit with the way people live their everyday lives.” This is simply not the case. A casual observation of how I propose to use the metric system in the US, and the actual practice in Australia, makes this claim laughable. When using grams, millimeters and milliliters, no decimal point is required to interact with everyday measurements. One would purchase coffee in quantities of 500 grams, measure the distance across a desk as 750 mm, or drink a 350 milliliter soda. For everyday people, it is much simpler than the current non-system. It would be a world of integers.

Lincoln Chafee suffered from the same lack of understanding of the metric system as does the author of the anti-metric essay under discussion. Chafee just said the metric system was good, without any detail or explanation.

The second claim is “It would be easier if all seven billion of us spoke the same language, wore the same clothes,…….” Indeed, government after government over the last two centuries realized that trade would be more efficient using the same measurement system worldwide. The metric system was adopted because it is easy to use, not because it is hard. This is why out of around 195 countries in the world, we in the US are the single irrational standout.

The French were the first to adopt the metric system, and were also the first to abandon it. The utility of the metric system is what kept it alive throughout the political upheaval that surrounded its adoption. Dutch traders realized its benefits, and were some of the first to embrace it. The metric system itself has an English origin, John Wilkins (1614-1672) proposed it in 1668 in a publication to the Royal Society in London. The idea was utilitarian enough to survive until the French Revolution afforded an opportunity for a country to adopt it. From that time onward, the metric system was an idea so appealing that it has displaced a multitude of other “natural” measurements.

The third claim is: “That is the difference between the English system we use (also known as the Imperial System) and the metric system: one developed gradually from the ground up and was later codified, the other was imposed from above based on the ideas of a few radicals.” We do not use the imperial system in the US. We use a far earlier version that is medieval in origin. The English realized how bad their non-system was in the 19th century and implemented half-measures to reform it. Finally, they embraced the metric system starting in 1965. England is metric.

This third claim also implies that some manner of “technical Darwinism” brought the current non-system about. This is simply not the case. The measures throughout the world were muddled, and only the metric system brought technical order, as it was created by rational thought, and not through an imaginary, mysterious, mythological process. I recommend the author look at the book Measure for Measure by Richard Young and Thomas Glover to see the thousands of versions of measurements in use before the metric system. There was never a natural decrease in the number of units until the metric system. Why? because fraud loves diversity. Thomas Jefferson was clear on this point.

The third claim, claims that people were “forced” to accept the metric system. This old hackneyed assertion was leveled at John Shafroth (1854-1922), when his metrication bill was called the metric force bill. The imposition of the metric system was an imposition of honesty on trade.

Claim four is that the dimensions of the English system, are more natural. Does he mean the British Imperial System?—-or our medieval English units? First, the width of a hand is about 100 mm, That seems rather natural to me. A foot is about 300 mm or so, the length of your leg to the waist is about 1000 mm. Natural is what people grow up with, not the system itself. Did your grade school teacher, instruct you on measures?—or impose them on you? The rationalization that the measures we use in the US are natural comes afterward, when you’ve already incorporated the information.

The fifth claim is “Defenders of the metric system stress its decimal nature frequently. Because everything works in multiples of ten, they claim…..” No I don’t claim this, period. I’m pro metric by increments of 1000, so that decimals and errors can be minimized by the use of whole numbers. The author has clearly done little research on metric system usage, or the metric system in general.

The sixth claim: “Ten is divisible evenly by two numbers: 2 and 5. That means it can be cut in half evenly, and about that’s it. Smaller fractions (other than fifths) require decimals, which is the opposite of the ease metric promises. Meanwhile the foot, being made of 12 inches, is divisible evenly by 2, 3, 4, and 6. The pound with its 16 ounces is divisible evenly by 2, 4, and 8.” First, in situations such as metric construction, 400 mm is the module dimension. A 400 mm module is divisible by 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 16, 20, 25, 40, 50, 80, 100, 200. Yes, the metric system was created for simplicity. Also we use more than one pound. Gold is measured in Troy pounds and feathers are in Avoirdupois. Troy has 12 ounces in a pound and Avoirdupois 16 ounces in a pound. This is a muddle.  There is only one gram or Kilogram.

The seventh claim: “For scientific calculations, none of this matters, but if you’re building a house or cooking a meal, quick calculations of fractions is essential.” The false division between science and everyday measurement is conjured up out of thin air. The metric system does not require any fractions for cooking, or for the construction of a house.

His summary is no less at odds with the world at large:

“The metric system is a classic example of central planning gone wrong. While it is useful in a few ways, it has no place in the life of the average American. Traditional measurements require no coercion, because they make sense to us already. They measure our lives as they always have: on a human scale.”

The metric system, which has been of such utility in decreasing fraud, and simplifying measurement for the average person around the globe, has no place in the life of the average American? The author is right, we are exceptional.

Postscript: Peter Goodyear has brought to my attention an online petition to forbid the use of Ye Olde English units by science teachers. If you are interested in signing it, the petition is here.


The Swedish Chef of Metric

By The Metric Maven

I’ve always had a soft spot for Sweden, even though I have never been there. I spent some of my youth living in the American ersatz version called Minnesota. I liked living there enough that a local grocer in my Iowa hometown would say “we don’t allow Minnesota Swedes in here” to rib me about it.

I try not to read too many of the online comments in reaction to my views on the best usage of the metric system from Europeans. Generally I’m told how they are from long-time metric countries, and I, who live in perhaps the last non-metric country, have no standing to discuss metric. Italians tell me they happily use deciliters, and the French embrace centimeters like freshly baked bread. I don’t get that excited, and tend to yawn at their oral gesticulating. I’m only concerned about the US, and should a miracle occur and it become metric, would push it do so with the best metric implementation possible—by 1000. I also have no emotional connection with Italy or France.

Pierre, the master chef, machinist, woodworker and histrionic anti-metric warrior, loves to go for the emotional jugular when amiably pointing out the “difficulties” in using metric to test my mettle, but he did not have good knowledge of an effective European target. Point to the French all you want Pierre, I have no emotional entanglement. But as a stopped watch is right twice a day, Pierre managed to hit an accidental bullseye when he brought up the Swedes in an email:

Next, bad news for you, I’m afraid. But, maybe I can benefit, so it’s really good news.

As you can see from the book “Scandinavian Quilt Style blah blah blah” Scandinavia doesn’t use the metric system! I’ve deleted the part of the book actually related to the contents, except the important page, which I’ve thoughtfully highlighted for you to make it easier to read. You are welcome.

Money quote:

I work with inches. I have used inches for years, my instructions are in inches and the people I sew with all use inches. All the designs in this book were made with inches and the instructions were written while sewing.

Published by a European publisher. For Europeans.

The good news (for me) is that there may be an opening to be an Imperial measurements consultant in Norway. Somebody’s got to help them transition back into the civilized world. Don’t be afraid of inches tour ’18. Yah!

Well, I did my best to remind myself that the clothing and textile industry from the days of Samuel S. Dale onward have done their best to repel any logical implementation of the metric system. Indeed, for some reason woodworking Swedes also hang onto their non-Anglo-Saxon inches, like crayfish at kräftskiva, but I’m also told that woodworkers often don’t bother to measure anything. I kept averting my eyes from Pierre’s prose, as if I was watching Freddy Kruger chasing down teenagers. Then Pierre continued his schadenfreude laden monologue:

This whole metric system thing is soooooo easy, huh?

Here’s a page from noted Swedish food author Erica Palmcrantz Aziz …. In her brand new book Superfood Boost, she presents a lovely voice trying to convince us to eat raw kale as often as possible. Yum! She also has a page on growing your own sprouts.

Here is that page. I call your attention to that first paragraph. The rest makes more sense, if you don’t mind moving your sprouts around from container to container for no reason.

Now, …. I’m sure that you are just like me and measure out precisely 1.5 fluid ounces of mung bean seeds, each time you sprout. But, how handy to know that in Sweden, she would use, and correct me if I’m wrong, one deciliter of seeds. That sounds like about a pound, which would fill my kitchen sink with product.

I’d use a tablespoon or two per quart jar. Apparently, their metric jars must be much bigger in the festive, kale eating world of Stockholm. (Actual quote from her book, “Kale is not just for Christmas anymore” p.27)

Later she says this: “Massage and toss the cabbage (and by this, she means kale) with some olive oil, salt, and lemon, or

add it to a smoothie or juice, or enjoy it with a creamy dressing. “

So, slather that stuff with a traditional Swedish ranch dressing and it’ll help you get it down. You know, for health.

Another time she says a benefit of kale eating is, “To fill up on chlorophyll, which is said to purify and detoxify the blood”

Now, I have a liver for that function, but your shitty cold-weather desperation tundra food “is said” to detoxify my blood?

We’ll let’s have some of that.

Massage your kale, Maven. Embrace the deciliter. Purify your blood. A wealth of wisdom here. You might want to download it.

So 100 mL and 500 mL was too difficult to use in Sweden?—deciliters are a better idea? Oh…the pain “Børk! Børk! Børk!”

A point I have made over the years is that countries that adopted the metric system in the 19th century are at a disadvantage over those who waited until the late 20th century to convert. Sweden, showing their progressive nature, embraced the metric system in 1876, after ignoring it for 9 years of their 10 year conversion, but like most metric countries, they adopted it, and then never thought about upgrading its use. This lack of introspection really cuts me to the quick. The happy Sven jokes I heard in Minnesota, are not as fun when I think of this fact. The use of deciliters and such by the Swedes indicates they are Mormons Making Coffee when it comes to the metric system. New Zealand (1969), Australia (1970) and South Africa (1971) use millimeters in their housing construction. They fearlessly use milliliters and grams without the prefix cluster around unity to cook.

Please Sweden, don’t leave me bereft, measure your meatballs in grams, measure their diameter in millimeters, and express their volume in milliliters. Until you do, it will perennially feel as uncomfortable as a warm winter for me. Don’t make me wait until Fimbulwinter freezes hell over, although that might still happen before the US becomes metric.

If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page.