Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Sense of Balance

Traditional Measures 'Saved' ?
I can't really say that I have a strong opinion on the subject of Imperial vs metric units. As I posted in the early days of this blog, I have a scientific background so naturally I'm somewhat more fluent in the metric system, but then I am still so many feet high, weight too many stones and pounds and drink a few pints after a half mile walk to a local pub.

Is it idiosyncratic? Yes of course it is. Does it really matter? Is it worth forcing change on a reluctant public? Of course not. It is true that the UK Metric Association manage to point to a few cases of engineering cock-ups due to different measurement systems and contradictory bits of law, but in the former case these would continue anyway, given that most involved the US which is unlikely to convert any time soon, and in the latter could just as easily be resolved in the favour of the traditional alternative.

Put simply, in those cases where the use of traditional units remains prevalent there is rarely, if ever, any need for conversion between systems as we view these quantities simply in terms of multiples of themselves. If I drink four pints, I drink four pints. The fact that equates to a rather cumbersome 2.272 litres is utterly irrelevant. I had a friend who owned a horse which I think stood at sixteen hands. Asking her whether a 'hand' was four or five inches, she wasn't actually sure, but it didn't matter - she knew that a horse of about sixteen hands was right for someone of her height, regardless of whether it was measured in meters or feet and inches; to me it was just 'big'.

What has irritated me is the politics of it all, and let nobody doubt it is all about politics. Was Lord "I'll never accept a peerage" Kinnock was a young man, I very much doubt that he was offended by the fact that he was served a pint rather than half a litre. Post his EU epiphany he has become a metric warrior, desperate to impose another symbol of European authority on the British people.

Of course though, it was never a European project, or so the likes of the UKMA were always eager to portray it not to be so. The impression that was always sought that it was a choice we had made for ourselves, that it was only our own national law that was responsible for the changes. Eurocrats scanned every pro-imperial statement for anything where a line had been marginally passed that could allow them to present the pronouncement as a 'Euromyth'.

Given the way metric enthusiasts promoted their system, they might find today's announcement by Gunther Verheugen, EU Commissioner for the Single Market, somewhat baffling. According to the Daily Telegraph:
Europe's Industry Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said it was time to end a "pointless battle" after decades of wrangling between London and Brussels over pressure to switch to the metric system.

Imperial weights and measures now face no further threat from Brussels: "It is entirely up to the British Government whether to keep pints and feet and inches, and the whole miles system, but as far as the Commission is concerned there is not now and never will be any requirement to drop imperial measurements," said the Commissioner.

Source: Daily Telegraph

He went on to try to secure further political advantage from his announcement:
Insisting that Britain’s traditional ways had never been targeted, he said: "Let’s get one thing straight from the off.

"Neither the European Commission nor any faceless "Eurocrat" has or will ever be responsible for banning the great British pint, the mile and weight measures in pounds and the ounces.

"These imperial measures form the part of the traditions that are the very essence of the Britishness that all Europeans know and love."

Source: Daily Telegraph

Mmm, well it is just about a truthful statement, but to pretend that faceless "Eurocrats" had no intention of doing so in the future is a bit disingenuous. Sorry Mr Verheugen, I don't think you deserve too much credit for this decision. That you may have decided to stop beating a dog is doubtlessly a worthy act, but the memories of the past beatings remain.

As for the warriors for the metric cause, their hysterical reaction to Mr Verheugen's announcement has put the lie to their claim that their objectives were only those of practicality and nothing to do with furthering European Integration.

For them these imperial measures form the part of the traditions that are the very essence of the Britishness that they dislike and abhor.

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