Saturday, April 24, 2021

I Would Walk 804.672 Kilometers, and I Would Walk 804.672 Kilometers More

Today's post is brought to you by two of my best friends-I've-never-met, Bill the Butcher and Allie Cat, who have no clue that they both gave me the same idea. Great minds, etc.


The phrase "Great minds think alike" - shortened above with the "etc." to show that I'm one of the Internet cool kids - is itself abbreviated from its original form, which is "Great minds think alike, though fools seldom differ." That happens to be a sentiment I love - "Agree with me, but not too much, because that's highly suspect and makes you seem weird and creepy." The longer saying is great relationship advice, the more common shorter version is how pundits on all points of the political spectrum manage to convince themselves they're relevant even though they're actually emotionally stunted, attention-starved bores.

See also: "Money is the root of all evil," which it's totally not and I'll prove it to you as soon as I have some.

Anyway, back to our post. Last week in this space I wrote about the mystery of the four-ounce Camembert cheese. To which Bill the Butcher - who claims to live in some place called "India," if you can believe that - commented "What is an 'ounce' in human-comprehensible units?"

How rude. Everyone knows that an ounce is the amount of weed that a cop will "confiscate as evidence" instead of just pouring it out on the ground in front of you. Or so I've heard. 

But it was 14.17 grams of oregano for my mom,
I swear, officer.

So then I saw a post from Allie Cat on Facebook, talking about how we Americans look stupid because we stubbornly refuse to adopt the metric system. STUPID? I take umbrage with that. When it comes to our decades-long resistance to adopting the measuring standards of the entire rest of the world, Americans may look willfully ignorant, uneducated, unenlightened, hidebound, parochial, narrow-minded, and obtuse. But we are not stupid.

Some of us are stupid for myriad other reasons.

And by the way, we don't completely eschew the use of the metric system. For instance, you can buy weed in either grams or ounces. In fact, the average stoner is fairly expert in converting metric to imperial measurements. Weed is magical that way. And America has been buying its cocaine and heroin in grams and kilos since before disco was a thing, which is a long time, children. 

The point is, if it's something important, of course Americans use the metric system.

But Allie and Bill did get me thinking of my own history with learning the metric system.  I was brought up in the Shiny Seventies, which means I was subjected to the U.S. government's sustained and hilarious attempts to indoctrinate American children into adopting the vernacular of meters, grams, and Celsiuseses. We were going to be the vanguard, the ones who would help the citizens before us and the citizens yet to come to shed the archaic shackles of acres and bushels and hogsheads and barleycorns. We would eat 30-centimeter hot dogs and wash them down with 1.18-liter malt liquors. For the good of America.

Looking back, it was one of the earliest examples of Baby Boomers expecting Gen X to do the heavy lifting for the rest of society. And in true Gen X fashion, our collective response was "lol wut."

If our parents had just gotten us one of these bikes
for Christmas, the world might be very different today.

But the government tried, it really did. It tried to be hip and with-it and speak to us kids in the language we best understood. Which was cartoons. Hey, they weren't wrong. The government wisely chose to emulate the framework of "Schoolhouse Rock," aka the only reason I can recite the Preamble to the Constitution and multiply by eight in my head.

We got off on our new math tricks,
and we liked it.

So throughout the 70s, my peers and I were shown various short animated films about the metric system. But instead of being broadcast on network television, like "Schoolhouse Rock," we watched these during school hours, on the giant TV rolled out on the magic cart. And instead of enjoying them over a bowl of Froot Loops on a Saturday morning, we were a captive audience that didn't get to go to recess until we had absorbed government-approved ditties about how the U.S. was going to lead the world by doing what the rest of it was already doing. So the metric system had a distinct disadvantage over, say, "Conjunction Junction," passive-learning-wise.

I found the two metric system videos I remember best on YouTube for your enjoyment. Now, I'm not gonna lie: On playing these clips, I found I was able to sing along with them, word for word, after 40+ years. To this day, the only reason I have any clue how long a meter is or what 25 degrees Celsius feels like is because these little jingles play in my head when I need to retrieve that knowledge. So on that level, they were quite successful.

On the other hand, after 40+ years the sum total of my knowledge of the metric system is that a gram is "the weight of a single raisin." And in the real world, the ability to quickly convert ounces to raisins is not as useful as you might imagine.

So instead of a raising a generation of metric-fluent adults, America created a generation of chronic  underachievers who can win at bar trivia as long as a significant portion of the questions involve the metric weight of dried fruit or the history of white Americans, set to music.

And that's why America still doesn't use the metric system. 

Here are the clips, in case you want to know what my inner soundtrack sounds like. You can thank Allie Cat and Bill the Butcher for the earworms.

1 comment:

You're thinking it, you may as well type it. The only comments you'll regret are the ones you don't leave. Also, replies to threads make puppies grow big and strong.