Friday, March 5, 2010

close enough

In a story about a 6.6 aftershock earthquake in Chile today, the Associated Press used both the these phrases, though not in tandem: "a few kilometers (miles) north" and "ravaged a 700-kilometer (435-mile) stretch."

Americans have not gotten the hang of the metric system used in much of the rest of the world. It's miles and feet and inches in the good ole U.S. of A. And AP caters to that market ... the Amurcan market. OK.

But as I read the story about the aftershock that hit in the wake of an 8.8 temblor that struck the region six days ago, I wondered what the excuse might be for using contradictory references to kilometers and/or miles. Why reference it at all if you can't get it right? Doesn't that just make you look stupid? Google offers some conversion (meters/feet, grams/ounces, etc.) tables that even a coke addict could use.

Maybe the stupidity of consuming Amurcans came into play. Perhaps the need to maximize profits by cutting staff and/or hiring cheaper/dumber staff played a role. Or maybe a la the internet, it was just "good enough." Close enough for folk singing.

But jumping AP's bones is not so much the point here. What interests me is the extent to which anyone might find something "good enough" or "close enough."

"Good enough" or "close enough" for what? "Good enough" to set aside, good enough to ignore, good enough to take as an assumption, good enough to take as a premise, good enough to stop investigating or questioning.

How many things in anyone's life are "good enough?" And what is the effect when the things that are "good enough" begin to pile up? Never perfect, never right on the gnat's ass, never complete? Isn't there a sense of compromise and loss and perhaps longing?

I'm a Buddhist ... close enough. I'm a Christian ... close enough. I love chocolate ... close enough. Two plus two equals five...close enough. Etc.

When do things become 100%? When does "close enough" stop being close enough? When does anyone draw the line and say, "not this time. This time I'm going the distance. This time I'm going to stop acting as if my life were a game of horse shoes and "close enough" was good for a few, but not all the, points?"

Spiritual endeavor, for those inclined, is a good realm in which to go the distance. If belief is good enough for some, is it good enough for you? If veneration is enough for some, is it good enough for you? If hope is held high as good enough for some, what do you say? ... and is that what you really say?

It's something to consider, I think. And something to make a decision about. In what way does anyone want to stop playing the good-enough card? How about "perfect" or "complete" for once?

How nifty might that be?


  1. The metric system, which is far from universal, was "invented" by the"Reign of Terror" during the French Revolution. It was instituted under penalty of death. It's purpose was to dehumanize measurements from the then prevailing feet and inches which were based of the human foot and fingers.

    Because "amurca" doesn't choose to walk in lock step with the "rest of the world" doesn't mean we are settling for "good enough."

    I find your assumptions to be quite arrogant.

  2. Pretty nifty...nod


  3. Thanks Kitewood. I didn't know that (French Revolution) about the metric system, which I, as an Amurcan, have to look up every time I want an accurate understanding.

    I was not trying to suggest that everyone get in lock step with the metric (or any other) system. What I was -- perhaps poorly -- trying to point out was that approximations and sloppy thinking tend to come around and bite us on the butt. If you can't get the little stuff right (as when writing a news story that includes distances), why should I believe you might get the big stuff right? And, more than criticizing some news organization or even my friends, I was wondering what the implications of "close enough" were for any individual's life and peace of mind.

    Apologies if my playfulness got in the way.

  4. The only nations to not adopt the metric system are Burma, Lyberia, and the United States. To call it far from universal is an exaggeration of bigoted proportions. To blame it on the French revolution sounds like the ignorance of a FOX news commentator.

    Adoption of the metric system by the various countries, or metrication, is shown by year on the attached map.
    In 1586, the Flemish mathematician Simon Stevin published a small pamphlet called De Thiende ("the tenth"). Decimal fractions had been employed for the extraction of square roots some five centuries before his time, but nobody established their daily use before Stevin. He felt that this innovation was so significant that he declared the universal introduction of decimal coinage, measures, and weights to be merely a question of time.
    The idea of a metric system has been attributed to John Wilkins, first secretary of the Royal Society of London in 1668.[7][8][9] The idea did not catch on, and England continued with its existing system of various weights and measures.
    In 1670, Gabriel Mouton, a French abbot and scientist, proposed a decimal system of measurement based on the circumference of the Earth. His suggestion was a unit, milliare, that was defined as a minute of arc along a meridian. He then suggested a system of sub-units, dividing successively by factors of ten into the centuria, decuria, virga, virgula, decima, centesima, and millesima.
    His ideas attracted interest at the time, and were supported by both Jean Picard and Christiaan Huygens in 1673, and also studied at the Royal Society in London. In 1673, Gottfried Leibniz independently made proposals similar to those of Mouton.
    The proliferation of disparate measurement systems was one of the most frequent causes of disputes amongst merchants and between citizens and tax collectors. A unified country with a single currency and a countrywide market, as most European countries were becoming by the end of the 18th century, had a very strong economic incentive to break with this situation and standardise on a measuring system. The inconsistency problem was not one of different units but one of differing sized units. Instead of simply standardising the size of the existing units, the leaders of the French revolutionary Assemblée Constituante decided that a completely new system should be adopted. It was felt that no country would accept standardizing on the units of another country, but that there would be less resistance if a completely new system made change compulsory for all countries.
    On 20 May 1875, an international treaty known as the Convention du Mètre (Metre Convention) was signed by 17 states. This treaty established the following organisations to conduct international activities relating to a uniform system for measurements:

    Sorry if my facts interfere with your prejudice.