30 April 2009

Regarding the Metric System

When America was new, there was something about our character that made us decidedly anti-European. It probably stems from Americans embracing a democracy, and rejecting the monarchies that dominated that continent's politics until the not-so-recent past. But there's a difference between pride in one's country, and being fucking ridiculous.

My fellow Americans, we will not be goose-stepping if we adopt the metric system.

Recently, I was helping a Soldier study for his ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) exam, and was dismayed to discover that the exam placed great emphasis on converting fluid ounces to pints to quarts and then to gallons. The Soldier was thoroughly confused, as was I.

In the 70s, Americans attempted to adopt the metric system, and it failed miserably. To be fair, though, most countries had difficulties adopting the metric system. For example, France has had a particularly tumultuous experience in adopting the metric system, being the country that initially created it. The system was adopted once during the French Revolution, causing much outrage. This led Napoleon, after he came into power, to reject the metric system, and replace it with the much simpler system of 5280 feet to the mile and 16 1/2 feet to the rod. But despite the difficulties, France was able to adopt the metric system. So was every country in the world, save for the US, Burma and Liberia. Quite the company we keep.

I have great pride in the fact that the US is the only country which can send men to the moon, and little rovers to Mars. But we're also the only country in the world which can't seem to keep things in orbit over Mars because, well, we sometimes mix up our metric and Imperial units.

The insanity fully hit me when I did pre-flight yesterday morning. The aviation community is filled with contradictions over metric and imperial systems. Altitude? Measured in feet. Airspeed? Well, that's measured in knots, which are nautical miles per hour--roughly 1.15 miles. Distance to the next waypoint? That's usually measurede in kilometers--1.6 kilometers to the statute mile, and 1.85 km to the nautical mile. Need to set your altimeter in an American aircraft? Well, sea level is 29.92 inches of mercury (inHg), as opposed to 3013 millibars in a European aircraft.

Every pilot has to know the limitations for every single gauge in the aircraft, which are often a strange mix of metric and imperial. Temperatures? Those are always in celcius. Pressures--well, now you're looking at pounds per square inch. You will raise the collective one inch before starting the engines to prevent droop stop pounding, but you will use the cargo hook to pick up howitzers placed fifty meters apart. We talk about targets twenty-five meters away, but we run two miles for our physical fitness test.

Christ, no wonder American kids reportedly keep falling behind Europe and Asia in math...

1 comment:

SJ said...

They should just hurry up and impose the system. I mean, come on. We're a lazy nation at heart. The metric system is much easier to work with than the old Imperial system. Let's hurry up and change already.