Global News: September 2007 Archives

It still comes in pints!

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The European Union has given up trying to force Britain to conform to metric measurement:

Britain's citizens are now free to buy their ale and milk by the pint and their bananas and potatoes by the pound, then measure the distance they drive back home in miles -- all without threat of interference from the European Union.

The Brussels-based European Union, evidently exasperated, announced yesterday that Britain could carry on indefinitely using its centuries-old system of imperial measures.

Here's a link to the statement by EU Vice-President G√ľnter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, who seems to be saying that it was all a big misunderstanding, that it was the British government, not the EU, pushing for metrication. And there's some truth to that.

This announcement follows years of "metric martyrs" -- British shopkeepers being penalized for selling certain items using imperial measures. Many imperial measures were still in use -- miles for road travel and imperial pints for beer -- but were due to be banned as many already had been.

It is a fundamental conservative instinct to prefer systems and customs that have evolved over time to those that are artificially constructed and imposed from above, no matter how elegant and theoretically perfect. A conservative believes there is wisdom in tradition that may not be easily articulated or quantified. There are hidden interdependencies that a wholesale change to a system may unwittingly disturb or destroy. (See "Urban Renewal.")

George Orwell was able to articulate the benefits of traditional units of measure, as See Dubya notes:

In 1984, there's a passage about Socialist metricization being an extension of demoralizing mind control. I remember it concerned an old prole lamenting, over his beer, that a half liter was too little, and a liter was too much, and that he missed his old comfortable pints which had been just right. That's it exactly. Feet and inches are a likewise a useful, human scale. NOTHING is a meter long. (Or are we supposed to switch to one-third-meter hot dogs at ballgames?)

Another example: almost everyone is between one and two meters in height. Centimeters are too small. But five feet six versus six foot two is a useful gradation of measurement, and those gradations have survived because they are part of a system that describes the everyday world and its usual proportions pretty well.

One could say the same thing for acres for land, hands for horses, yards for cloth, and teaspoons and cups for cooking. One useful traditional unit that the British use but which isn't common in America is the stone (14 pounds) as a measure of adult weight. To those used to the system, it's a very natural way of classifying people by weight. For the weight-watcher, measuring in stone gives a plus or minus seven pounds range of fluctuation without inducing anxiety.

Even the European Union acknowledged the intuition of standard quantities appropriate to a given item, although they did it in their usual heavy-handed way. The EU requires (or required) certain products only to be sold in authorized sizes, for example, 330 ml cans of soda and 236 ml containers of fruit cocktail.

The about-face is a happy one, and Simon Heffer suggests it could be the first shot in a revolt against an oppressive and untouchable multinational regime:

Fired up by this victory on metrication, we should all realise how vulnerable this mendacious enterprise is to sheer, relentless opposition.

The question of Europe also has the power to destroy governments, and it could well do so again.

Whatever they believe caused it, the Conservatives are in their 11th year in opposition because of John Major's treachery at Maastricht and his dishonourable behaviour after our eviction from the ERM on Black Wednesday.

The anger Europe stirs up reminds us why Mr Brown wants to avoid a referendum on the new EU treaty, a document unacceptable to this supposedly free and democratic nation.

It should also, though, remind him why he should have one, to get the issue out of the way so he can get on with being Prime Minister. If I were in his shoes I wouldn't hang around, either.

Many more of these "pointless" interferences in our way of life, and much more evidence of our impotence at the hands of the international unelect, and it won't be a referendum on the treaty that we will be calling for. It will be one on whether we want to stay in this oppressive and unsavoury club at all.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Global News category from September 2007.

Global News: March 2007 is the previous archive.

Global News: March 2008 is the next archive.

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