Comment on: CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks, 8 Apr 95
History of the "Metric" System

Metric Megacity 1

The mandatory imposition of the metric system on the public for everyday usage a "triumph of science over politics"?

Bah! Humbug!

Maybe in 18th c. France but not in 20th c. Canada.

There have been well established definitions of the units of the English and American systems for a century or so. Now that we all have calculators and computers, conversion between systems is a trivial exercise. The following points are relevant:


< Paranoid rant mode on >

What was the first domain of mandatory application for the new, pseudo-metric standard in Canada and what was the political context?

The very first place where the new system was made mandatory was on road signs and at the GAS PUMPS! This occurred when the federal goverenment was artificially forcing the price of gasoline upward by 10 cents a gallon every few weeks. The public was outraged because they could see the numbers on big signs at the pumps. After the change, a 10-cent per Imperial gallon price increase appeared on the pumps as a mere 2-cent per liter increase. Indeed, a 4-cent/liter increase looked better than a 10-cent/gallon increase even though it was twice as big. At the same time, the change in road signs to kilometers made it more difficult for novices to compute their dollars/mile cost for comparison.

I submit that the whole exercise was undertaken explicitly as a distraction to relieve the government from the heat of gas-pump tax revolt!

< Paranoid rant mode off >

< Megalomaniac rant mode on >

I propose that, in order to make palatable the forthcoming increase in the federal sales tax to 20%, required to cover carrying costs on the national debt, we criminalize decimal aritmetic, impose the HEXADECIMAL number system and absolutely require it for all public numerical communications!

This can be justified by baldly asserting that all computers and computer programmers use base-16 calcualtions and that this is absolutely necessary to put us in the forefront of the Information Age and establish Canada as a dominant presence on the Information Highway.

An item that costs, say $120 now, and $128.40 with 7% tax will then cost $144.00 expressed in decimal notation but will be attractively priced at $90.0 in the new, salubrious, globally up-to-date system.

Better yet, a new car that sells now for $12,998, tax included, will carry a tag that says $38F.0 in base-16, totally confusing everyone and making palatable not only the newly inflated tax but a lot of profitable price jiggering by vendors and manufacturers.

Note, moreover, the single hexadecimal place after the hexpoint (as it will come to be called): A 1 in this place represents 1/16 of a dollar, or about 6 cents. With this numerical convention, pennies, nickels and dimes can be removed from circulation and the existing quarter established as the QQARTER (quarter of a quarter, or 1/16, of a dollar), thus saving the mint, well... a mint in manufacturing costs and deflating the purchasing power of outstanding quarters by 75%.

Young ladies will be spoken of as being "sweet 10", we can take early retirement at 3C, eggs will be sold by the C and the next $12.2 million government boondoggle will cost the taxpayers a mere $BADFED.

If, by some chance, this fails to keep the public sufficiently distracted from thorny issues such as NAFTA, globalization and unemployment, we can make the popular move to roll back the "metric system". But we'll replace it with the Firkin-Furlong-Fortnight system, the only shortcoming of which is that there is not yet any international standard for a firkin. While a microfortnight is comfortably close to the customary units (1.2 seconds), calculating your gasoline consumption in furlongs per firkin while driving at the posted speed in furlongs per fortnight and doing it all in base-16 arithmetic will ensure that no one has any excess time to frivol away on scrutinizing what the folks in Ottawa are doing.

< Megalomaniac rant mode off >

I suggest that the imposition of a non-standard simulacrum of the Meter-Kilogram-Second system on Canadian commercial transactions and public usage was, contrary to Ideas' theme, a triumph of political deviousness and coercive social policy over both public interest, public will and rational standards.


1. MEGACITY (meh GASS ih tee) n.; MEGACIOUS (meh GAY shuss), adj.

Since we're talking about ramming the metric system down Canadian's throats, we might as well ram a neologism down people's throats while we're at it, to replace that unlovely Canadianism, "to ram somthing down another's throat". "Megacity" means having the quality or character of ramming somthing down another's throat. The imposition of the metric system in Canada was a megacious act on the part of the government. Derives from the process by which the conflation of several independent municipalities into a single Toronto megacity was rammed down the throats of Toronto region citizens by the Ontario government.

Updated: Wed Nov 15 03:20:02 AST 2000