Thursday, January 7, 2010

Conversion immersion: feet to meters/Buddhist to Christian

I thought of old Mr. Barnaby, my fifth grade teacher, this week when I was immersed in tricky conversions involving feet to meters, dollars to Euros, and Buddhists to Christians.

I remembered how he used to whip chalk board erasers at me and scream, “Quit wiping disgusting things in Kim’s hair and pay attention! Pretty soon the whole world will be using the metric system and it’s something you’ll need to know every single day the rest of your life! Now learn!”

I learned all right. I learned a young boy can do a lot of critical thinking in hour after hour of solitary detention. And I clearly recall thinking, “Old man Barnaby’s off his rocker. Why would we drop a perfectly reasonable system of measurement for one that is just as hard to learn as the one we already understand?”

Now I can see Barnaby was right. I do use the metric system nearly every day. I use it every time I go to the grocery store and make the conscious observation that two-liter bottles of soda consume more square footage than the aisle that offers fresh fruit and vegetables.

That’s it. The lone dent the metric system has made in our vast system of measurements can be reduced to the familiar size of containers used to freight teeth -rotting soda from the stores to the mouths of our 200-pound 12-year-old boys and girls.

My wife never asks me to pick up a liter of milk, informs me that a meter of snow fell overnight or that going 95 kilometers per hour is too fast for the driving conditions. A golf course is still 7,000 yards long, it’s still about 146 miles from Pittsburgh to Cleveland and men still think 10 inches is a significant distance.

Why two-liter bottles stuck when nothing else did is a topic for another day. Right now I have work to do.

I was recently asked by the in-flight magazine for Singapore Airlines to do a story about the world’s must-visit amusement parks. The finishing touches have become a babel of tricky conversions. Somewhere Barnaby is probably chortling.

Well, sorry, but the fifth grade educator/seer failed to envsion that one day there would be the cerebral smorgasbord that is the internet.

I was able to convert all the numbers in about 90 minutes. Really, a more focused researcher could have done it in about four minutes, but the internet is also a smorgasbord of news, porn, funny cat videos and other distracting nonsense.

I wonder what Barnaby would say about Brit Hume’s suggestion that Tiger Woods convert from Buddhism to Christianity.

“He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith,” Hume said. “So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’”

He makes it sound as if it were as easy as finding a website that will with one click allow you to convert from feet to meters.

If Tiger does as Hume suggests, I think it will appear superficial and the last thing the world needs is another Born Again hypocrite.

I’d be more impressed if he announced he was switching from Nike to Callaway. That would seem, coming from him, a gesture of sincere commitment to true change.

I think it would be easier to go from Christianity to Buddhism, a religion of self-denial and universal brotherhood (I’m guessing Tiger’s somewhat of a lapsed Buddhist since he doesn’t seem to have the hang of that self-denial bit).

Buddhists certainly have the more cuddly deity and I respect that in any religion.

I admire men like Hume who believe change can be so simple. They are the same people who think homosexuality can be “cured.” Dig deep enough and I’ll bet men like that think you can “cure” people who were inconveniently born black.

I have stubborn trouble changing anything. I’ve always used Old Spice deodorant, prefer Macs to Windows, bourbon to Scotch, and heterosexual jollies to more offbeat versions. I’m a long, long way from changing any of those hidebound customs.

I’m talking thousands and thousands of miles.

You’ll have to find old man Barnaby if you want that converted to kilometers, but I think I’ve made my point.


Gutsy Living said...

Thanks for become a follower on my blog. Enjoyed your story and to be honest, I never thought about the 2-liter bottle of soda. Are you sure it's two liters exactly? I'm always surprised to listend to BBC news and hear them speak about cms and meters of snow falling etc. I remembered my boarding school in the UK when I thought the British would never change to metric, and yet if they can, so can the Americans.

Chris Rodell said...

Yeah, what's up with that, those little 2-liter anomalies? I guess if the Brits can do it then, cheerio, we can, too. But let's just start after my mental demise. Happy New Year!