The Metric System
"Walks like a foot, talks like a foot, but it's really 30.48 centimeters."

Admit it: America is really screwed up when it comes to measuring anything. We waste a ton of time in school learning our totally whack system. And of course nobody ever remembers how it all works. Who (besides me) knows:

How many ounces in a gallon? (128)
How many inches in a mile? (63,360)
How many acres in a square mile? (625)
How many scruples in a pound? (288)
How many minims in a pint? (7,680)

Okay, those last two were kind of cheating. They don't even try to teach you about scruples and drams and pecks in school. (But just so you know, there are 24 grains to a pennyweight.)

They do try to teach the metric system. But everyone acts like it's some kind of commie thing that only French people or scientists would use. This ignores the fact that everyone else in the whole world is down with it. Even the English, who invented our whack system and then ditched us with it.

Now, this is all fine with me. If we used the metric system, any normal daylight dweebhead could do the math:

How many grams in a kilogram. (Duh. 1000)
How many meters in a kilometer. (Duh. 1000)
How many milliliters in a liter? (Duh. 1000)
How many femtoliters in a yottaliter? (Um . . . )

Okay, that last one's tricky. But not that tricky. It's a one with 39 zeros after it. At least in metric, the answer's ALWAYS a one with zeros after it.

Now, of course, this would be no fun for math-heads like me, who in our whacko-US system rule the world like a colossus. We know all the answers while the math-impaired struggle with how many teaspoons in a tablespoon. (Um, oh crap. Four?)

Anyway, I was ranting about all of this to my Social Studies teacher, Mr. Ortega, and he let me in on this hilarious secret: In the United States we actually DO use the metric system. Not just when we buy a liter of coke or a gram of whatever, but ALL THE TIME. We've been using it secretly since 1959.

Here's what happened. By the 1950s, the rare but powerful smart people of the USA had gotten really tired of us being the measurement retards of the entire world. Everywhere else was happily being metric, but whenever anything crossed our borders it had to be converted from metric to USA-whacko units. And the very real problem with that was this very weird fact: Two different measurement systems can NEVER be converted between exactly.


Sorry to frazzle your brain, but it's true. Before 1959, when someone said that there were 2.5 centimeters to a US inch, they were just faking it. So was it 2.54? Still not exactly. 2.5417362519? Close but no cigar. In fact, you could have gone on adding a million digits past the decimal point and you wouldn't ever get there. It's like pi; you may get closer and closer, but you will never reach the cigar. Weird, huh? But true.

So in 1959, the good old USA surrendered to the French commie metric system. In the middle of the night, probably, President Eisenhower signed this law that changed the foot we'd been using up until then into something called "the international foot." This foot looks like a foot, talks like a foot, walks like a foot, but it's actually metric. It is EXACTLY 30.48 centimeters. The same quietly signed law redefined all our other measurements in metric terms as well.

That was that. The commies won, we lost.

Of course, we Americans still have to remember that there are 5280 feet in a mile. Only it's a metric mile now. Even if nobody knows it.