August 2, 2014
THE ANGLOSPHERE IS MEASURED BY ITS OPPOSITION TO INTELLECTUALISM:
Book Review: 'Whatever Happened to the Metric System?' by John Bemelmans Marciano : Gerald Ford once proudly declared the country was 'miles ahead' in converting to the metric system. (SAMUEL ARBESMAN, Aug. 1, 2014, WSJ)
Anyone who grew up in the 1970s, as John Bemelmans Marciano did, was immersed in talk of abandoning this archaic system and replacing it with the pristine beauty of metric measures. The metric system, with its successive orders of magnitude, clear decimalization and consistent scheme of prefixes would sweep away the old ways. Schoolchildren learned the metric system and were told it was just a matter of time until it was finally adopted by the United States, a holdout in the march toward the standardization of measurement.It never happened. We never switched completely and might never do so. In "Whatever Happened to the Metric System?" Mr. Marciano explores what occurred during this period but also how we got there. How did the metric system arise and spread? And why do we, as Americans, still use our Rube Goldberg contraption of a measurement system?But "Whatever Happened to the Metric System?" is about much more than just the metric system. It's an indispensable guide for understanding our world's centuries-long process of inching toward standardization. We get a window into the standardization of temperature--thermometers once displayed more than a dozen temperature scales. We learn about standardization in postage, time, money, spelling; even legal codification is swept up into the story.In fact, though we often think of them separately, many of these standards are connected. Take money. While we now rely on fiat currency--money whose value derives from the government--for centuries coinage was a measure of a weight, such as the ancient shekel, acting as a physical amount of standard value. Early in Mr. Marciano's book, Thomas Jefferson begins to examine how to standardize our currency and champions one aspect of standardization: the decimalization of money, or 100 cents to the dollar. And there begins the author's entertaining romp through American and European history.The French Revolution ushered in the metric system as we might recognize it. It was advocated by the French Academy as a necessary logical structure, a way of marking progress but also sweeping away an estimated hundreds of thousands of distinct measures used throughout the nation.
We will have no truck with logical necessity.Posted by Orrin Judd at August 2, 2014 11:25 AM