Friday, July 10, 2015

Take me to your liter

November 1995

We in the US have resisted the inevitable valiantly, but the handwriting is a meter high on the wall. We need to convert to the metric system. No industry has dug in any harder than agriculture, but let's face it - there is no way to kilogram.

Urgent Reasons for Converting to Metric:

1. Profiteering Opportunities - there will be a brief period of adaptation with some attendant confusion. During that period, occasions will abound for entrepreneurs to take advantage of a neighbor's relative ignorance. For example, I can imagine the following exchange between fencerow rivals:
Bob: Say, Warren, why don't we swap some ground and square up our farms.
Warren:  Swell idea, Bob. What do you have in mind?
Bob: Well, I'll give you 55 newtons of my south 80 for 16 hectares of your west 40.
Warren: Sounds fair to me, Bob.
[Warren, of course, is unaware that the newton is actually the metric unit for fig size.]

2. More Creative Statistical Atmosphere -  Stop in the elevator and put the word out that your beans are making well over 6 [tonnes/hectare].  Even if you are widely known as a yield inflator (not me, of course), your competitors won't know whether you are blowing smoke or not.  However, I did try this once, and one particularly surly comrade merely grunted and, without batting an eye, replied "Crumblin' cowpies, Phipps. [Author's Note: We talk this way to amuse the tourists.] The beans on my poor ground made over seven and a half."
3. Improved Fitness - Conversion will bring immediate rewards to the gravitationally challenged. My weight will drop from somewhere approximately in the vicinity of the neighborhood of 170 lb. to a svelte 77 kg. At the same time my height will soar to a towering 180 cm. All the artificial benchmarks that have taunted us all our lives, for example, running a 10-minute mile, will become meaningless. We will be able to drive at speeds over 120 with a clear conscience. Food critics will applaud the healthier portions, as the ubiquitous Quarter-Pounder will be a mere Tenther.

4. Simpler Calculations - Conversion to metric will aid our math-deprived populace by making thousands of everyday calculations easier. Here on the farm, for example, figuring out how many gallons of herbicide should have been used for a 4 ounce rate on 752 acres requires the use of a sing-song chant "Thirty days hath September...", no, wait - not that one, "A pint's a pound the world around", plus the added information of "2 pints equal one six-pack" and finally "If the sun rises in the east and it's four o'clock here..." to yield the following answer: The invoice is probably correct. In a world of metricness, for the same rate [1360 grams per hectare] and the same area [304 hectare], you simply multiply all available numbers together, including the price [$975] like this: 1360 x 304 x 975 = 403104000.  Then set the decimal point one place to the right of the largest amount you had imagined for chemicals, in this case $40,310.40. Try this one at home: You need to cut a board into three equal pieces. It measures 14'8¼" [450 cm].  How long should each piece be? (Answer: They will all be too short.)

5. We'll All Get Rich:  Gasoline prices will fall to about 25¢. Land selling for $2000 will soar to $5000. Corn could be $100, beans $220, cattle $1.65.
Compelling Reasons Against:

Don't Wanna. As card-burning members of what may go down in history as the most self-centered generation since Louis XIV, many people my age feel that sacrificing any personal ease of life is too much to ask. After all, this is the group that didn't want to 1) go to war or 2) cut their hair. If you listen carefully to the arguments put forward by the foot-pound-galloners, this is the underlying thought. The inconvenience of a switch to metric would be felt only by those making the change and not those who follow. My suggestion to fellow Boomers is: Why not play the martyr on this trivial exercise and then, claiming we have done our part, take a pass on important stuff like dealing with Social Security? Even whiners need to think ahead.

We can, of course, simply ignore the issue and let it happen, as anyone who has bought machinery, medicine, or soda pop has already realized. Besides, it is not as if we are all alone here in America defending a measurement system based on royal body parts. Nope, it's us and Burma against the world.  This is a battle we could afford to lose. How about this angle: we learn metric, they learn English.

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