For Clarence the 75-year-old Galapagos tortoise, an extended visit to Moorpark College was going to be good. His mate had recently died and the College had an exotic animal training program. Clarence would benefit from the new temporary home while his caretakers observed him.
The LA Zoo told the college that Clarence weighed 250 kilograms. Misunderstanding, they assumed 250 pounds. Because his cage was far too small for a 551 pound reptile, it did not survive its first night. Clarence was found nearby, perhaps smiling.
Metric mixups are a wakeup call with a reminder.
The U.S. has been debating the merits of metrics for centuries. Its foes have emphasized the cost and inconvenience. There also has been a cultural inertia that says stick with what we have.
Perhaps one official perfectly summed up why metric initiatives consistently flop here. On 63 miles of Arizona’s Interstate 19, they needed 400 new signs for the switch to kilometers. “…imagine that times 1,000 for the entire interstate highway system, times a bajillion for everything in the entire country.”
This week, WSJ introduced us to the U.K.’s Active Resistance to Metrification. Composed of just 3 people, the group’s members have been sticking mile indicators over public signs for kilometers since 2001. Now though with Brexit, their movement has gotten a new life, Expressing what many more people believe, one member said, “We have our own very excellent system of weights and measures. We don’t need big institutions in Europe telling us what to do.”
Our Bottom Line: Standardization
Looming large, the plus side of changing to metric measurement is being like everyone else except Myanmar and Liberia. Further standardizing weights and measures, the U.S. would facilitate trade and diminish confusion. In a PBS NewsHour interview last year, writer Daniel Pink explained why he personally went metric. Convincingly, he says it is good for business, kids and “international harmony.” Similarly, Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chaffee was courageous enough to have expressed his support for the metric system in his platform. (But he did drop out of the race rather quickly.)
I can only conclude by saying in NJ it is now 12 degrees (Celsius).
And finally, for a smile about metric conversion, do look at this WestJet video:
My sources and more: Thanks to the always interesting 99% Invisible for the Clarence story and a good listen during my daily walk. Fortuitously, on the same day, WSJ had a story about anti-metric system vigilantes. Then to complete the picture, this PBS interview is persuasive as is The Huffington Post.
How does putting kilometres on road signs, changing bathroom scales, gas pumps etc improve “international harmony”?
Both systems have their strengths, why not use both? Metric for science and trade, customary for everyday things.