Down With the Metric System

I went to see Eddie Izzard the other night. It was a very funny show. He did one bit about how Myanmar, Liberia and the U.S. are the only countries that haven’t converted to the Metric System.  It was a funny bit.  And it got me thinking.  Personally, I’m glad there are three countries that haven’t switched.  I’m not just saying that as a U.S. citizen who is used to a different system.  I have actual reasons.

The first reason I like our system better than the metric system is because the units are related to actual human things.  A foot is about the size of a person’s foot.  A yard is about the size of a person’s waist.  A mile is about a thousand paces (two thousand steps).  An acre is about the amount of land a team of oxen can till in one day.  These are all things that I know (except the oxen) and can grasp intuitively.  This makes it much more useful for my day to day uses than the meter (which is either the one minute angle of the Earth’s median arc or the standard wavelength of krypton-86 emissions, neither of which does me any good).

The next reason I don’t like the metric system is because that whole, “The math is easier because everything is based on 10,” thing is just silly.  Yes, it makes it easier to convert centimeters to meters than inches to yards.  But, unit conversion isn’t that important.  If you drop a bowling ball and want to know how fast it is going after six seconds, 9.80665 m/s2 isn’t any easier than 32.174 ft/s2.  Unless you happen to be measuring the standard wavelength of Krypton-86 emissions, the math isn’t going to be any easier with the metric system.

Now, I do realize having a standard system for science and commerce is beneficial.  And if they like using the metric system, that’s fine.  But it isn’t a good reason to force everyone to use the metric system all the time.  And I’m not saying that everyone should switch to my system either.  Systems of weights and measures are like languages.  They teach us about the people who use them.  The fact that acres come from oxen plowing fields tells us about our history.  The fact that a yard is a little bigger than most people’s waists lets us know that most of our kings were on the chubby side.  I would love to see a world where forest dwellers measure height based on a certain tree species and desert dwellers measure distance based on how far a camel walks in an hour.  All this standardization has made us boring.

A Story About The Holmes Brothers

Update: Wendell Holmes died today from complications due to pulmonary hypertension. This isn’t surprising since he posted this open letter a few days ago. In honor of his life, I thought I’d re-post the piece I wrote in January when we lost Popsy.

Willie “Popsy” Dixon died on Friday of bladder cancer.  For those who don’t know, and I fear that is way too many people, Popsy was the drummer and one of the singers in the Holmes Brothers.  He was the non-brother, but he was a brother.  I spent the whole weekend listening to their music.  It’s really great.  They have been one of the most consistent bands of the last 20 years.  Every time they released and album, it was worth picking up.  They move effortlessly from blues to country to gospel to soul to rock to zydeco.  They do ballads and rockers and everything in between.  They do originals and very cool covers.  The covers range from the expected, like Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”, to the surprising, like Collective Soul’s “Shine”.  As I listened, I kept thinking about the one time I saw them live and got to meet them.

A lot of the details are kind of foggy.  I know it was sometime between 2000 and 2003 because I was working at the Simsbury Borders at the time.  The Holmes Brothers were playing a show in Bushnell Park.  I don’t know who, but someone was trying to start a blues festival or blues series.  My best guess is either Black Eyed Sally’s, a Hartford bar that specializes in blues and BBQ, or WCCC, a local radio station that had a weekly blues show at the time.  They might have even been working together.  Anyway, as always seems to happen in Hartford, the idea was solid, the intentions were good, but the execution was awful.

If you know anything about Hartford, this won’t be a surprise.  They didn’t advertise the event at all.  Hartford likes to keep their events secret.  There is a marathon in Hartford every year.  No one knows about it unless they listen to the traffic reports and get curious about why all the roads are closed.  I am a big fan of blues in general and The Holmes Brothers specifically, but I had no idea they were going to be in Hartford.  I found out when my regional events coordinator called me.  We didn’t have a booth at the event, or any lead time, because I know we didn’t have any large quantities of product, so I’m guessing the organizers didn’t order product or there was a shipping problem or something (Which reminds me of another story about the Mingus Band.  Maybe I’ll tell you sometime).  Or maybe we were just going to hand out event calendars.  Like I said, the details are a little foggy.  What I do remember for sure is that I was there for Borders in some capacity and almost no one else was there.

I was there a little while before the show was supposed to start and just kind of waiting off to the side of the stage for something to do.  There were a couple of other people involved with the show nearby when the Holmes Brothers came over and sat down.  This show was shaping up to be a complete disaster.  There was no audience to speak of.  The band had every right to be annoyed, if not furious.  But they were completely charming.  They were friendly and chatty.  They asked us questions about who we were and actually listened to our answers.  Then, it was show time and they went on stage and played.  And they really played.  It didn’t matter that no one was there.  They put on a show.

For me, that is what I’ll always remember about the Holmes Brothers.  And I think it’s why Popsy’s death hurts a little more than most celebrity deaths.  We didn’t just lose a great singer and musician.  We lost a consummate professional and a truly kind soul.

The Baseball Hall of Fame

The new class of the baseball Hall of Fame was announced today.  Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz were all elected.  I was a fan of all four players, so their enshrinement makes me happy.  Unfortunately, baseball writers seem determined to take all of the fun out of this.  Whether it is Jay Jaffe explaining to me why Jim Rice and Robbie Alomar, two of my favorite players, lower the standards of the hall, or Grant Brisbee making the case that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall, or Joe Posnanski making the case for Pete Rose, it makes what should be a good thing for baseball very tiresome.  The same is true of Jayson Stark, Brian Kenny and a host of others.  I like these writers.  I read their columns regularly.  But, they just don’t get why the Hall of Fame matters to us regular baseball fans.

There are a few basic types of arguments that the writers use to make their cases, and each one helps show why they don’t get it.  One argument is that the point of the Hall of Fame is to tell the history of baseball.  That being the case, it is absurd to tell the story of baseball without steroids, or gambling, or whatever.  The thing is, the Hall of Fame does tell the story of baseball, warts and all.  If you want to know who has the most career hits, the Hall of Fame has a display with Pete Rose’s name on top.  It even has memorabilia from players that no one remembers because they did something special one day.  That story gets told whether Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe have bronze plaques or not.  Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon are two of our most historically significant presidents.  We are not failing to tell the story of America because we aren’t naming high schools after them.

Another argument they make is that there are already liars, cheaters, racists, and probably a few steroid users in the Hall, so why should we keep these guys out?  This boils down to what your parents probably told you, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Just because the voters have made mistakes in the past is no reason to repeat those mistakes now.

A third argument is that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are arguably the best position player and best pitcher who ever lived.  Not having them in the Hall makes the Hall irrelevant.  See the first argument above.

A fourth argument is that everyone was doing it, and besides, baseball wasn’t policing it anyway.  See argument two above.

What these writers seem to want is to make the Hall of Fame into a sort of record book.  The want the top 1% of players, according to Wins Above Replacement or JAWS or FIP or whatever, to be enshrined and no one else.  But that’s not what the Hall of Fame is, and that’s not what I want it to be.  And I have a hunch it’s not what most fans want it to be.  The plaques in the Hall of Fame are a special honor.  Of course they should go to great baseball players, but they are not there to remind me who has the most home runs or strikeouts.  There are a million different places for that.  They are there so I can take my kid to Cooperstown and stand in front of Tony Gwynn’s plaque and say, “I saw him play, and man was he a beautiful hitter.” They are there so I can stand in front of Jim Rice’s plaque and say, “I used to wear number 14 on my little league team because of Rice.” They are there so I can stand in front of Jackie Robinson’s plaque and think to myself, “It’s amazing that a silly game can have such a big impact.”

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe would ruin it because of their lies, their cheating, and their general douchebaggery.  When I was a kid, I had a Roger Clemens poster on my wall.  He was standing on the mound, looking in at the catcher with the ball behind his back.  Only it wasn’t a ball, it was a rocket.  But if Clemens ever gets elected and I go to Cooperstown, all I would feel standing in front of his plaque is a sense of regret because he taught me that we shouldn’t have heroes.  That would devalue the Hall.

I’m not at all anti-stat, but the criteria for the Hall of Fame should simply be that for 75% of the voters a player looks and feels like a hall of famer.  Trying to dig deeper, to get at the truth, takes away the wonder and the joy.  I love baseball, so please, let’s just let the Hall of Fame elections help us celebrate the wonder and the joy we get from baseball and leave all of the ruiners out.