More Musings in the Era of CoViD-19

I’m musing again and today I’ve lit upon temperature

and the thermometers we use to measure it.

Celsius or Fahrenheit?

The 0 to 100 scale or the 32 to 212 scale?

These days, one can find a Fahrenheit thermometer in use only in

  • the Bahamas,
  • the Cayman Islands,
  • Liberia,
  • Palau,
  • The Federated States of Micronesia,
  • the Marshall Islands, and
  • the United States and her various territories.

Once again, we are bucking the international trend. Why? (I mused.) The rest of the world converted to Celsius (once called Centigrade) decades ago.

Thinking this is yet another way that the USA has gone off on her own (see my musings on dates and measurement), I got curious.

You probably already know the history of Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736), the first to figure out how to measure temperature, which was a pretty remarkable achievement in his day. There was once a world which had no standardization for things like length, or weight, or time, or temperature. Imagine!

So, Daniel served us well with his mercury filled thermometer. Until Anders Celsius (1701–1744) came along with his centigrade thermometer. His measured the same things as Fahrenheit thermometers, of course, but on a 0 to 100 scale (it was officially renamed in honor of Celsius in 1948).


My musing today is not so much on which way is “better” (Celsius’ rationality aside, some say Fahrenheit is more accurate.). No; my musing has to do with how we Americans don’t like anything “mandatory.”

We pride ourselves on our liberty, which too many lately seem to think means the freedom to do what they want, the rest of the society be damned.

You know those folks — the ones who refuse to wear a mask or a seat belt or a bike helmet (full transparency: I’m guilty on the bike helmets).  They bask in their Second Amendment “right to bear arms” or proudly refuse to get their children vaccinated. You get the idea.

Horror stories abound that having two systems in the world has had fatal consequences. Hear are the stories of when NASA lost a $125 million Mars probe or that Boeing 767 ran out of fuel midair — all because of errors between metric and non-metric units.

Click here for more conversion-error stories including the “escape of the 250-kg tortoise.”

Back in the ’70s, we had a chance to go along with the rest of the world, which had systematically converted to Celsius.  We refused.

writes in,

It made sense to switch over, both because the metric system is more intuitive and because adopting the same system as other countries would make scientific cooperation much easier. Congress passed a law, the 1975 Metric Conversion Act, that was theoretically supposed to begin the process of metrication. It set up a Metric Board to supervise the transition.

Unfortunately, Congress made it voluntary and Americans arose in protest.

Jason Zengerle in Mother Jones says it well:

Motorists rebelled at the idea of highway signs in kilometers, weather watchers blanched at the notion of reading a forecast in Celsius, and consumers balked at the prospect of buying poultry by the kilogram.

Change is hard, isn’t it?

I know we all like the familiar. That’s the basis of having musical favorites, or so I was taught way back when — those variations on a theme bring back the familiar and we like that.

But we seem now to be at a point in our ongoing history where a few changes could bring about massive improvement in the lives of so many.

You remember this poster from a few months ago?

It’s that # 4 that I’ve been chewing on since.

Be willing to change your life to end it.

I’ve been musing about the changes I might make that could help make my society a better place. Woody and I have made several, which I hope to write about at some point. For security and privacy reasons, however, that will have to wait. I’m hoping though that you can tell us yours.

Have you been giving that 4th point some thought?  What have you come up with?  


15 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Recently, a dear blog friend of mine was complaining with good reason about the temperature going up from 45 to 47 Celsius while on vacation in southern France. While I’m not looking at a Celsius-Fahrenheit conversion scale right now, I know she and her husband were roasting. Fortunately, as rain came the temps dropped.

    The crux of the matter in the USA is that in general we just don’t like to be told what to do. Mandatory is a dirty word to some. The wise ones know better. Fortunately, in my city, public places are requiring masks to enter. Stores and restaurants are insisting on social distancing.

    “Come on, people!” I say.
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Taking StepsMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      We don’t like to be told what to do. Indeed. I imagine that trait served us well in our old Wild West era, rugged individualistic cowboys that we were. I’d hate to be a politician these days, juggling so much.
      Janet Givens recently posted…More Musings in the Era of CoViD-19My Profile

  2. Arlene Smith
    | Reply

    As for point number four – be willing to change – perhaps it would be better written as “recognize and accept that you are changing,” because every second, we are! If we aren’t changing, we’re dead, and even then . . .
    As for Celsius, it was the most easily accepted change early on during Canada’s transition to the metric system because it is the most intuitive, the most logical and so easy to use and understand. The other metric conversions came slower, and some barely. We still talk about how tall people are in feet and inches, and how much they weigh in pounds. But Celsius, oh yes, it is the way to go.
    Another change we accepted with grumbling but came to LOVE was the removal of the penny from circulation currency. Now, when I travel to the States (which I won’t be doing for a while) I get all the pennies in change and think, “How annoying!”
    Arlene Smith recently posted…The power of +1My Profile

  3. Terri Lyon
    | Reply

    It does seem as if we are at a tipping point where major change can happen. Recognizing where we hold privilege and where we don’t is a good place to start our own changes. Thanks for the musings, Janet.
    Terri Lyon recently posted…This Expert Warned Us That Leadership Is ImportantMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Tipping point. Yes, I like that more than precipice, which is what I’ve been using recently. Thanks for that, Teri. And thanks for emphasizing the need to start with ourselves, look inward, check out our assumptions, and consider how the color of our skin has allowed us a life so very different from others. An important reminder.
      Janet Givens recently posted…More Musings in the Era of CoViD-19My Profile

  4. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    I wonder how much of our reticence to change in the U.S. is an extension of our over-inflated national ego, i.e., an outgrowth of old notions of American exceptionalism, and before that, perhaps, manifest destiny? It seems almost a corollary to entitlement — that we should be the ones who decide, and everyone else should follow us, not the other way around. It is rather fascinating how many examples there are of these sorts of things, where America has chosen to stand alone, despite better and more logical systems elsewhere. (I have to say, though, that I would rather miss “Fahrenheit”) 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I used to feel proud of American exceptionalism. That was when I thought it was true. I saw only the overtly good stuff: The Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Western Europe, the Peace Corps. As for missing Fahrenheit though? Celsius is certainly easier to spell.
      Janet Givens recently posted…More Musings in the Era of CoViD-19My Profile

  5. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    The only thing constant is change. If we don’t change we don’t grow. It can be hard but once accepted it is usually better. My dad taught us to go with the flow.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’ve always liked that adage, Darlene: the only thing constant is change. In thinking of the simple step of simply wearing a mask in public, the fact that this seems so very hard for a subset of people is striking to me. There was yet another news story this morning of a worker at Sesame Place (an amusement park north of Philly, with a Sesame Street theme) was beaten and required surgery because he tried to enforce the park mandate to wear masks. Some haven’t changed since the Wild West ruled the day. High Noon at the OK corral and all that. good grief. (and thanks for stopping by)
      Janet Givens recently posted…More Musings in the Era of CoViD-19My Profile

  6. Nancy
    | Reply

    I had a radio talk show in the mid-70s, and when the government was preparing the US to shift to metric/celsius, I studied and prepared a series of educational segments to ease the mind and assist in the change. There was a lot of humor involved, and, yes, folks were dug in not wanting the change, so the call-in lines rang off the hook… then the government backed down… as my dad would have said, “Never a Dull moment!”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      What a front row seat to history you had, Nancy. I had no idea. I wonder if you couldn’t rework those segments into podcasts for the 2020s. A fifty year retrospective? I’m glad you stopped by.
      Janet Givens recently posted…More Musings in the Era of CoViD-19My Profile

  7. Linda Hoye
    | Reply

    When we moved to WA it took no time at all to adjust to temperatures reported in Fahrenheit. It also took no time at all for us to not relate to Celsius temperatures friends and family reported from back home! It was the same situation in reverse when we returned to Canada. As one of your earlier commenters posted, with respect to other metric measurements for weights and measures many of us old schoolers are firmly entrenched in the imperial system of inches, feet, pounds, etc.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for this, Linda. I always like first person accounts. Interesting to me that some measurements are more malleable than others. But “inches, feet, pounds?”
      Janet Givens recently posted…More Musings in the Era of CoViD-19My Profile

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