Friday, November 13, 2009

Metric tyranny: does a 10 cm. piece of toilet paper wipe your ass more precisely than a 4-inch square?

I believe the Metric System is extremely valuable and accurate. I believe its discovery and implementation has been an undeniable asset and invaluable utility to the medical and scientific communities - and many others. Who could argue with that? However, I also believe it is mistaken elitism to assign a greater value or importance to a particular system of measurements than to the people who may or may not choose to use that system, and a mistake to denigrate those who choose to measure things using differing systems - or to assume or infer that those people are somehow backward and unable to think properly.

This post is not an attack on the Metric System of measurements. It is not even an attempt to say that the Metric System doesn't have unique attributes which make it superior in many ways and in many instances. This post is an attack on smug, superior-than-thou attitudes of many who think their way of doing things, their way of thinking, their politics, their interpretation of the world - their system of measuring things - is so well thought out and finely honed that it should be obvious to any intelligent person that their way is the right way. Any other way is therefore stupid, illogical, ill-informed and used or adhered to only by droolers of lesser intellect and assorted cretins.

All hail to the god of uniformity. May we all someday be the recipient of the cookie cutter award. The USA rose to greatness as a country because its citizens refused to think outside the box or dared to be different. Marginalize those who ask questions. Ostracize those who march to that different drummer. Keep in line there! Did you not wear your uniform today? Sameness and acceptance of the status quo is the mother of invention.

The leaders in both Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's Big Brother Society both used the Metric System. It was more precise and therefore more capable of controlling things, especially thought. But to demonize the Metric System is just as stupid a prospect as demonizing the other fellow's tools just because they have different markings on them, or demonizing a language just because you choose not to speak it. Uniformity in and of itself is not the cure-all end-all.

In researching this little post, I turned to Google as usual. My goal was to find out why the Metric System was superior to other systems of measurements. I wanted to find out what the great scholars have to say that would make me want to use it and forsake all others. You can do the same thing - Google away. If you do, you will find that the reasons for using the Metric system, according to all the experts on the web, at least, are only three in number:

1. Everybody else in the world uses it.
2. Scientists like it.
3. It is easier and more accurate.

And pretty much in that order. It was rare to find an article by a college professor or other expert that didn't start out with the words, "We are the only country in the world who doesn't use it. Except Liberia and Burma. Ha ha."

I ask you: are you really going to believe a dumbass who still thinks there is a country named Burma? And it would scare you to read how many of these superior folk think the U.S. is on the "Imperial System" of measurements. (The USA isn't on the Imperial System, and never has been.)

In case you missed it, I believe only number three, above, is the only valid reason to use the Metric System. Assuming it is true. Which it's not, in all cases.

Me? Well, I know the metric system well enough to express myself when I write for technical people, and I recognize its deserved place in our world today. But, since I am inherently one of those different drummer people, round-peg-square-hole people - and since I don't believe uniformity ever produced an original idea (or even a happy soldier - even soldiers sometimes were pink boxers under their uniforms), I'll just have to continue in my cretin ways.

Yep, as for me, I'll keep measuring my apple pies in slices, thank you very much, and the apples that go in them by the bushel. I will keep paying for those apples by the pound. Furthermore, I'll take my American football by the yard, my horse races by the furlong and my ale by the pint. And if I try to cook, you may be sure it will be with a cup and a tablespoon and not with a little scale. God bless.


  1. you must thank god you are not in europe then who will want you to do the opposite of what you need to waste your money in search of the unattainable and all in the name of measurements... lol

  2. You have the reasons in precise and opposite order. In fact, #1&2 are direct fallouts of #3.

    I'm going to have to dust off my post from November 2008 called, believe it or not, the magic of metric. If I can just find the damn thing.

    Call me smug if you want, but then I can calculate almost anything faster by converting, calculating, and converting it back.

    What kind of thinking wants something more complicated and less intuitive than that? By all means, stick with the abacus and slide rules.

  3. @Sage - It can't be quite that bad! (May I tell you a secret? You must not tell anyone else if I do. We use metric a LOT here. Honest!)

    @Stephanie B - I don't have them in the wrong order. I didn't put them in my own order. I only Googled and reported the order. Go ahead and do it yourself if you don't believe me. See what reason is mentioned first in almost all cases. I only said #3 was the only reason I liked and believed was important.

    Of course I would love to read your post, since I don't believe for a second (or millisecond or microsecond, even) that metrics have magical qualities with regard to students' performance. To draw the conclusion that American students perform poorly, and they don't use the Metric System, therefore it is the lack of using the Metric System that is causing the inferior performance, is bad science. But please republish that post so I can see what you are really talking about. I know it is hard to do it right just in a comment. Ok?

    I don't call you smug because you use the Metric System. :)

    Although I'll bet an Arab with an abacus could kick your ass with a pen and paper. Bet you've never tried to use a slide rule except for entertainment, either. Bet you couldn't take a math test without a calculator. Bet...

    Never mind. No more betting. :)

  4. Actually, I'm one of those people who can do considerable calculating in my head (although the vagaries and mismatches of "standard" units challenge that ability).

    Here's a thought that struck me. You listed three reasons to change.

    However, do you know the only reason cited NOT to change to a system that is inexact, clumsy, unintuitive (getting used to it doesn't make 5280 feet/mile intuitive), complicated and ambiguous?

    Everybody does it.

    And that's the only reason they got.

    I'll be putting up metric posts on both of my blogs this evening.

    Teehee. What fun!

  5. One of the things I lament these days is the conformity between countries. It used to be that you could visit a supermarket somewhere in Europe and marvel at the differences. Now it's all very much of a muchness. Yes, there are far more varieties of oils and vinegars in France, but on the whole things are very similar in the UK. So now we have to go metric. What next, I ask myself? Do I have to standardise on a Z and forget about my favourite U? Or, horrors, learn Spanish?

  6. I'm with you, and not, both at the same time. I'm able to work in both, both have their advantages and disadvantages. So I don't cry "down with metrication!", but I still think in feet and inches, miles not kilometres, (remember, 80 kph is exactly fifty miles per hour!), a mile is 1.6 km, near as dammit.
    Think of a metre as about thirty-nine inches and you'll not be far wrong,
    I could go on for far too long about rods poles, chains and furlongs, but i think I already did, long ago.
    I don't think in bushels and pecks. You know of course that a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold.
    Shall we get into why the old english pound of 240 pence was superior to the 100 penny-pound?
    If we did, we'd get into weights and measures. Some items, such as spices, and essential oils, and stuff sold by apothecaries, was often sold by the pennyweight. (dwt) (not "dead-weight-tonnage, that's DWT)...This penny was not the modern penny, nor the penny used for the previous couple of centuries, no, it was the roman, and post-roman penny, also called the denarius. (hence the d)
    12 denarii, or pennies, struck from the silver alloy known as "sterling silver" made one shilling, the weight of which was one troy ounce... Twenty shillings, or exactly two hundred and forty pennies, weighed one pound, sterling.
    A pound sterling is a troy pound. it is not as heavy as a pound avoirdupois.
    Gold is weighed in troy ounces. Carats are a different thing altogether, and too much beta-carotine is not good for you.
    An imperial gallon is not the same as a U.S. gallon, nor is a pint equal on opposite sides of the atlantic.
    (the U.S. gallon is a "wine gallon")
    Um... English pints have twenty fluid ounces, American ones have sixteen. We drink our beer in pints.
    A metric unit I absolutely hate and despise is the Newton Metre.
    The Newton Metre is the measure used to indicate the tightening force required on a screw-threaded fastener..Like the ones that hold your car wheels on. Now ever since I was a young whippersnapper, i knew how to use a torque-wrench to tighten cylinder-head bolts on an engine, in strict order, to x-many foot-pounds of force.
    Foot pounds. easy. imagine a weight of one pound, at the end of a foot long wrench.
    Or eighty four foot pounds. Or whatever.
    But now my car-manual gives me this in Newton-Metres. I have no mental gauge of a newton-metre, I can't visualise it at all.
    What is it? Well, one Newton-Metre is exactly one joule.
    Ha. "A force of 1 newton acting at a perpendicular distance of 1 meter from the specified axis of rotation. "
    So what's a Newton? "that force which, applied to a mass of 1 kilogram, gives it an acceleration of 1 meter per second per second."

    Oh. Thank you.
    I'll stick with Foot-pounds, if I may. I can see them in my mind's eye, feel them in my hand, I know when I'm exerting fifty pounds force.But what the f*** it is in NEWTONS I have no idea.

  7. Sobriquet, when you do foot-pounds, is that pounds-force or pounds-mass? Imperial foot or "standard" foot?

    I'd recommend not confuse familiarity with intuition. A Newton is one kg-m/s^2 or about 1/10 for force of gravitational force of 1 kg (since gravitational acceleration at sea level is 9.8 m/s which is easily rule of thumb 10 m/s).

    A pound (force)is effectively a pound mass times the acceleration of gravity (32 ft/s^2). Most people (in the US) understand what a pound force is because they've been taught what it is. A Newton isn't more or less intuitive, but it's childishly easier to use AND convert back into mass (which is important in space where "gravity" can mean different things but mass and inertia are unchanged). True, that isn't important to everyone, but inertia and things like kinetic energy require masses without the gravitational factor as well.

    I'm curious. You know what foot-pounds feel like. How about inch-oz or inch pounds (both of which I've also seen frequently)? Can you visualize them as easily? Do they feel intuitive as well?

  8. I've created a monster. With a metric neck bolt.

  9. @Stephanie B - "Vagaries and mismatches"? Like what?

    "Everybody does it". More like "everybody is USED to it". Since the 1600s. It is not only intuitive, it is second nature (to Americans. And it ain't broke so it don't need fixin' with a new system.)

    And we don't say 5,280 feet. We say "one mile." The number "one" is neat and clean and easy to understand. So is 10 miles or 100 miles. What is silly is to tell someone that one mile equals 1.609344 km. because 1.609344 km. Is awkward to work with. :)

    That was a joke, Stephanie.

    Why is it so wrong to just slip in and out of whatever system a person wants to use, or NEEDS to use for a particular job? I think we are blessed by having a choice. ::cue music. Stars and Stripes Forever:: So that people like me can happily torque a head bolt to 90 foot-pounds without worrying about force or mass ("twist" is all I personally pay attention to) or wondering if it is intuitive or not. Actually, just speaking for myself, once you've broken one of them suckers off in the block and had to get it out, next time you "feel" when it is tight enough. Yes ma'am. And you use a torque wrench instead of guessing. But I digress. I am mainly happy that in this wonderful country of ours, even with a wasteful and abusive federal government, you as a scientist have the right to be very precise, and to seldom get grease under your fingernails. So it works out in the end.

    May I admit something? I LOVE how you talk and how you explain things. It makes me think and try to figure out what you are talking about. And then I learn.

    Right now I am trying to find out how many kg. there are in 100 yards. Don't tell me.

    Stop making me learn, Stephanie. :) :)

  10. Relax Max, I find it deliciously ironic that your call to arms to fight the tyranny (your word) of metrication by doing the same thing we've been doing because we've always done it.

    Way to think outside that box.

    ::Standing ovation

    (That's a joke, Max).

    You asked me why not let everyone just use what they want? You can find answers to that and many other questions on my blogs - you ranked an answer on both of them (though I'm not finished with Ask Me Anything, yet - I came back to figure out which of your questions to answer). Give me 30 minutes or so and I'll have it all up.

    What fun!

  11. My husband insists that, given his level of dyslexia, if he tried to do any calculations in anything but metric, he would not have been able to learn math.

  12. I did warn you that this was one of my areas of expertise, didn't I, Relax Max?

  13. @Soubriquet - The only thing in this country still sold by the rod as far as I know is field fencing and barb wire.

    I DO know that a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold (though not more than a pound of lead or a pound of old slide rules.) I am sadly deficient in my knowledge of your old money. Or your new money, for that matter. But I did indeed know about the denarius, since I still measure my nails with that unit of measurement. I used a 10d nail just yesterday. I used it to hang up a metric conversion chart by my workbench. The old and the new go hand in hand. Or hand in glove as you would say.

    Ok, I'll bite: why was the 240 pence pound better than the current 100 pence pound?

  14. @Stephanie B - Yes. Yes, you warned me. :) I'm already regretting it.

    But I'm oddly having fun too. This is terrible. I am going to check your blogs now.

  15. Sorry I spoke, I shan't do it again. My eyes glaze over with the technicalities.

  16. Surely it's more an argument of conformity over non-conformity rather than which system is better. Yes, the metric system is easier to learn but learning the metric system doesn't confer automatic intelligence. It makes you wonder how early scientists ever managed with such a disadvantage as multiple non-metric systems.

    Non-conformity produces other advantages. It keeps your mind exercised. The fact that bilingual children perform better on tests is thought to be because they have learnt a dual system from the start. They have better reasoning skills from the understanding that there *are* alternatives.

    And anyway, isn't this argument producing a false dichotomy? All things metric are good, all things non-metric are bad? Or vice versa.

    Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

  17. We seem to have been managing very well with a non-metric circle until now.

  18. Relax Max made a lovely stirring speech, arguing that keeping with a mishmash of unrelated units of measure was a sign of rugged individualism. I have to ask, how is using an archaic and inconsistent measurement system (because it's what you've always done and the people around you are doing) nonconformist?

    The speech was beautiful, brought a tear to my eye. But it didn't mean anything if you think about what a unit of measure is supposed to do - convey unambiguous, a value and enable that value to be manipulated into telling you more values.

    I finally finished my "first" rebut on Ask Me Anything.

  19. Sheila, I might agree it would be conformity over nonconformity, if one system wasn't demonstrably better at doing what a unit system is supposed to do. Note that the US was party to SI's development (Ol' Tom Jefferson first proposed a decimal system back in the 18th century) and adoption was made a law in this country in 1866.

    Gotta love this country. Our unwillingness to follow our own laws is a sign of our greatness! Our unwillingness to use something that simplifies things drastically and reduces error rates and increases productivity is seen is proof of our individuality.

    I have to ask. Is asking a child to needless do no less than three conversions to calculate the area of a room (in mixed feet, inches) going to exercise their minds. Or make them never want to use math again?

    You asked about the impact on education of metrication: here's some data.

  20. I gotta ask, when is using the Imperial or English (sorry, you English folks), or "standard" system inherently better than using metric? You make this statement like it's obvious (almost as if you were smug and superior-than-thou), but is it demonstrably true? You said metric isn't better in all cases.

    Prove it.

    The closest example I can think of is the correlation between nautical mile (which is an accepted unit in SI because of that) and latitude/longitudinal distance. Of course, the distance you travel in degrees longitude chances depending on latitude, but that's an entirely different discussion and is unlikely to be of interest to most people.

    So, aside from that, whatcha got?

  21. It isn't a question of one system being better than another. English has more words than many other languages and could therefore be said to be "better" than others for expressing oneself. Welsh is not going to be a useful language to learn unless you live in Wales but children brought up using both English and Welsh have the same advantages as those brought up using any other two languages and more than those speaking only one.

    Yes, asking a child to perform three calculations *is* going to exercise his mind, that much has to be self evident, and if it's done properly, provide some transferable skills into the bargain. That, transferable skills or basic reasoning, is what we're talking about, not the particular facts learned in the process. I think more children give up mathematics because of poor (boring) teaching than because they were asked to do too many calculations. The children that are brought up in a bilingual household don't give up talking because they have to do too many translations. My personal experience of truly bilingual children is that they are more liable to go on to speak several languages, appreciate differences in cultures. Have open minds.

    And before anyone suggests anything different I consider, contrary to popular belief, being unable to add up is every bit as bad as not being able to read. I don't give a greater or lesser weight to either.

    I don't believe anyone has said that the English (British) system is inherently better at all. Non-conformity does imply a certain open-mindedness that conformists don't appear to have. Superiority probably doesn't lie with the system, but with the mind set.

    Wotcha mate. Gorra go.

  22. I won't argue bilingual advantages. I'm in complete agreement. I don't, however, think the analogy apt (perhaps because I'm truly bilingual in both systems). I'd say it would be better to compare English and Ebonics. You can likely understand them both, but one, with a different and inconsistent structure, can lead to misunderstandings. Languages have rules for a reason - because the purpose is to convey meaning. Language and rules that work against that are discarded over time.

    Units of measure are there to facilitate communication of amounts and use of the amounts to do useful work. How well a system performs these tasks is measurable and demonstrable.

    I've never met anyone who is truly bilingual in both systems that doesn't automatically use SI at every opportunity and think a single system would be better (and I have a wealth of examples of the damage done because we don't). They may exist, but, when I've run into someone who says they are bilingual, I soon discover that they're not really - they only know the one system period. (That's anecdotal, evidence, though, and does not mean necessarily reflect a wide swath. It is not a scientific deduction but a personal opinion).

  23. Six months of the year I live in France, and six months in the UK. I can drive a French car in the UK and convert the speed I'm doing to mph without even thinking. I can bake a cake in one country using a recipe from another. I can convert my weight from 57 kilos to 9 stone. Even French people use recipes with teaspoons and tablespoons rather than mls, and offer to sell you things by the "livre". They will sell you a house in old francs. It all works. It adds to life's rich pattern.

    Judging by what he is saying, this is everyday life Max is talking about here, not the rarefied atmosphere of engineering and science.

  24. Unfortunately, it has a direct impact on engineering and science.

  25. It certainly does, Stephanie, but I promise I won't mention the Mars Climate Orbiter....
    Ohhh dammit, I will, then.
    If I recall arightly, It sort of failed to orbit.............. in fact it didn't so much orbit, as plummet.
    Which was all due to a confusion of units, which a spokesperson at NASA tried to blame on me. Well, us, the English.
    Nasa's specification called for si units, newtons whereas Lockheed Martin sent data calculated in what NASA described as "english units".
    Pounds force.
    "English Units", indeed! A very neat attempt to throw the blame. Whereas we all know NASA is metricated, as, let's face it, did did start out with a load of data... and not a few scientists, whose expertise in rocketry was largely gained by lobbing ever bigger payloads in the general direction of England.
    And you can bet all those things were neatly metricated.

    Now I'm sure that it was absolutely not your fault that this very expensive lump of technology hit Mars somewhat earlier, and less scientifically than expected, and its sister ship, Mars Polar Lander, which went missing in 199, when attempting to land, was nothing to do with you, but I put it to you, if these wonderful machines had been put together in good old inches, bushels, firkins, roods, and aulmes, might they perhaps not have suffered such a premature doom?

  26. Oh puck! I should have proofread that, shouldn't I?
    Capitalisation running amok, all over the place, Mars Polar Lander went AWOL in 1999, but it's still being searched for, with ever better imagery becoming available.
    I'd imagine, if it's found, it will be punished severely for failing to carry out orders.

    All jesting aside, Stephanie, I am, in fact, overawed at the achievements made by you and your fellow rocket-scientists, and though I poke fun at the Climate-Orbiter debacle, it's amazing to me that it's possible to send probes across the solar system, to land on other planets, to orbit our earth, to have sent humans to tread upon the surface of the moon.
    Orville and Wilbur Wright's first flimsy machine that carried a man in crudely controlled flight in 1903 was followed in only sixty-six years, by the Eagle, landing ,under control, at Tranquility Base, upon the moon.

    I accept also that Newtons might be a better unit with which to work in your world, but, as Max says, when it's a matter of tightening a cylinder head or a big-end bearing shell, we greasy handed toilers don't need the accuracy needed to precisely intercept a planet's orbit. We just need to know that it's tight enough, but not so tight that the bolt shears.

  27. Inch pounds?
    Inch ounces?
    I suspect I'd cope.
    But no, they're not units I've ever encountered in real life.

    I generally use foot-pounds in tightening threaded fasteners. The vagaries of varying gravitational forces don't come into it.
    However, I'm well aware that in tightening bolts, the tightness relates to the tension that I impart to the bolt, and measuring the turning force required to rotate the head is a very crude and inexact way to do so. But for the applications in which I use a torque wrench, that margin of error is within acceptable limits.
    Some applications specify dry torque, other, lubricated torque. It's a start, but still doesn't account for the variations there may be in machined contact surfaces, nor is the lubricity specified...
    The last thing I had to tighten was bathed in Hypoid-90.....

  28. You won't get an argument from me on the Mars Climate Orbiter. Unfortunately, you're wrong in thinking NASA is all metricated (I wish!). Unfortunately, it isn't and the bulk of the work is still done in "Standard" aka (erroneously) as English units. Did von Braun (or WII infamy) design in metric. I have good information that he and his team did, though no one here will admit it (one neverending reason for not making the switch to metric despite the many advantage particular for guidance/navigation in space is because our heritage hardware was built in "English units - pfft!) The Lunar Lander was programmed (at MIT) to navigate by SI because it took so many fewer calculations even converting it back to English for the crew.

    But you highlight the real problem with the "why can't everyone just use what they want" philosophy. The problem isn't which system they used; it's that they didn't have one and only one system. One of the big problems with clinging to "standard" in the world of science and technology is that we're no longer setting the curve and, with science (even in this country) having kicked the "standard" habit decades ago, even going "all English" or "all standard" means you're converting all the damn time. I've seen pitches going to Shuttle management (all Standard all the time) where there were metric units on 30% of the pages, often sharing the page with unrelated English units.

    Every single conversion is a two system system is not only an opportunity for error, it's unnecessary. So, though I understand no one wants to be the one to change, I'll continue to blast this trumpet because errors eat up productivity, cost expensive equipment and waste lives. And, yes, I think that's more important than convenience.

    Though I appreciate that not everyone agrees with me on that.

  29. "Every decoding is an encoding."
    Every conversion is an opportunity for error, multiplying errors by using several different systems is stupid, you have to stick with one and use only that.
    For precision, and international conformity, standard units make sense.
    However, I'd hate to see the age-old measurement units die out. I know it's sentimental foolery, just as I like to read books made out of paper, and I foam at the mouth when a "Kindle" is mentioned.
    (A book can survive a fall into the bathwater....)
    (and no thank you, I don't want a "ruggedized" Kindle.)
    Werner Von Braun definitely used millimetres, they were standard issue in the Reich, tiger tanks used 88 millimetre guns, and the consumption of millimetres by the Reich led to a shortage in some other industries, leading to a desperate need to capture inches, which, as we all know, were being produced in America and shipped iin the atlantic convoys.
    I think there's a possibility that Werner sometimes used fractions of inches, when millimetres were in short supply.
    He aimed for the stars, but mostly he hit London. Or a circular area centred upon London.

    It interests me that the U.S. snapped up this man whose rockets were built on a foundation of dying prisoners, and NASA treats him as a saint.
    Of course, he was of incalculable value to the U.S. weapons of mass detruction program.
    Others believe he should have been hanged, as a war criminal,(not for his weapons of mass destruction, but for his direct responsibility for the slave labour and deaths of prisoners in the slave-camp 'Dora', which adjoined his rocket production plant).

  30. I can't apologize for von Braun. He died when I was ten years old and, if I had nothing to do with the successes he spawned, I'm equally innocent of his wrongs.

    In my opinion, von Braun was a genius when it came to rocketry with the single-minded devotion to that one dream (people into space) that enabled him to rationalize all kinds of wrongs, the kind of single-minded fanatacism that makes "mad scientist" a credible (though highly unlikely) notion. I have no idea if he deplored some of the horrors that fell out of his need to make rockets - I doubt it would provide solace to those killed by V-2s or dying in their making.

    I do know we would not be where we are today with regards to space without his involvement. However, even if one were four-square behind space exploration, I doubt that would be a comfort if you'd been bombed or tormented by his German activities.

    I wish we had his genius here and now. I wish we didn't have people willing to kill and fight to attain their ends. Unfortunately, I'm 0 for 2 on those wishes.

  31. Hello Max. Are you bemused by the way in which your posts sometimes inspire convoluted conversations?
    I certainly am.

    Since all of this I've spent a lot of time thinking about measurement, and the requirements in different contexts for varying levels of accuracy.
    Space travel is a rather extreme requirement, dependent on errors being minimal.
    Automobile engines, by comparison, are pretty lax, but precise enough compared to my grandfather's comment, as he hacked a tenon-joint onto the end of a rough-cut oak beam, "It's near enough for farming" And that was true for many of his woodworking exploits. Yes, it was necessary to get the fit good enough that the barn would endure a few hundred years more, but not necessary to get a joint like a regency furniture-maker's dovetail.
    Likewise, a tractor's steering could accept a level of slop and play that would be lethal in a race-car.

    Von Braun's guidance systems were good enough to make it likely that most of his rockets would fall somewhere in the south-east of england. Targeting individual factories or military sites was not achievable.
    Whereas some bombing crews, by that time, could take out a wall of a specific building in a town.
    However, for the most part, both sides were content to rain down enough high explosives on their opponents towns as to reduce them to piles of smoking rubble. Exactitude is not necessary, once you decide anybody in the general area is either 'a', an enemy, or 'b', expendable anyway.

    Rambling again? Yes, I suppose so. Were all SS officers evil? Is science achieved through torture and terror separate from its means of production?

    Much of what we know of the body's ability to survive or endure extremes of cold and heat derives from experiments in nazi germany, using expendable prisoners.
    Careful calculations of the amounts of nutrients needed to sustain life, vs the ability to work whilst starving were made by the same people.
    It was invaluable to allied scientists designing survival rations after the war.
    Britain and America entered into an ungainly tug-of-war to get the best chemists, engineers, and rocket scientists. Some of these were plucked from prison camps and given immunity from war crimes investigators, because they were so valuable.
    And then, of course, we all got into the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" race.
    Saddam was a mere dabbler.

  32. @Soubriquet - No, I hadn't expected this. On the bright side, as long as you and Stephanie keep commenting about things I don't understand, I won't have to go to the trouble of thinking up a new post. So there's that. :)

  33. You know this reminds me somewhat of the discussion behind Roman Polanski. Do we give a free pass for horrible wrongdoing to someone who is a genius at something, who adds immeasurably to mankind with his other activities (not sure that applies to Polanski, but one could make the argument for von Braun - but I'm prejudice)?

    I don't have the answer, but I'll tell you, I don't think the one dictates the other. I think you can be a horrible person and still a valuable genius. However, no amount of genius, in my opinion, should equate with a free pass when it comes to punishment for your crimes.

    Someone with a great gift should use said gift to repay his or her debts to society, not in lieu of prison, but as part of his or her sentence.

    Of all the arguments I've heard against capital punishment (and, I'm still for it), that is the most telling - could someone contribute as much or more with his or her life to justify not taking it. In general, however, I don't think the people on death row have or ever will contribute anything we need, so it's largely moot.

  34. Good point.
    In fact, despite the outrage at nazi atrocities, only a very few people received death sentences at Nuremberg, some received short-ish jail sentences, most were not really punished.

    If someone with a great gift were to use his abilities to pay recompense, as we might argue old Werner did, then, it's hardly a punishment.
    I don't have the answer, but I think it unforgivable that he should be hailed as a hero of the space race, with his inconvenient history as a Sturbannfuhrer in the SS airbrushed out, the fact that he personally was responsible for executions by hanging (not the quick, neck-breaking variety, the slow strangulation kind...). Werner claimed not to know about the slave labour, yet the survivors of Mittelbau/Dora told a different story,- he walked between the hanging bodies, talking to his wife.
    The official biography doesn't mention that, of course.

    As I said, I don't have the answer Polanski? Bang!
    Phil Spector?
    Mussolini made the trains run on time. Adolf Hitler built germany up from a wreck to a nation that led the world in many fields, he was a great orator. A great organiser. The rest of the world, America and Britain were deeply envious of German advances in medicine, chemistry, technology.
    Stalin, known well before the war to be a very cruel and dangerous mass murderer, became our best pal when war broke out.
    Saddam was our pal when he stood with us against Iran, we lauded the mujahiddeen of Afghanistan when they were battling soviet occupiers. We loved them so much, we sent our special forces and deniable "advisors" to teach them to build improvised explosive devices, to ambush convoys, to bring down helicopters. They were "brave freedom fighters" then, of course, now we've relabelled them as "insurgents", but they are, of course, just the same people doing the same thing, only we've swapped places with the Russians and having sown the wind, we are reaping the whirlwind.

  35. Vlaad the Impaler is still considered a folk hero in his homeland. By a strange coincidence, there has never been a lower crime rate than the 13 odd years he was in charge. And, of course, he repulsed the Turks in the name of Christianity.



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