Archive for June 4th, 2015

Lincoln Chaffee’s Big Idea

Lincoln Chaffee wants us to adopt the Metric System.

Because it’s European, I guess.  And because it’s already been officially “adopted” since the late 1800s.

When I was in elementary school, we learned the Metric System, because we had to, and because we were all solemnly and sincerely told that English units were on their way out.  And we promptly forgot about it.

In college, where I majored in physics, we did all our calculations in metric, because of exponents.  But that’s what it was – the system you did calculations in.  In real life, I don’t think I ever measured anything other than Imperial units.

I vividly remember a conversation with a co-worker where we discussed why we hadn’t gone Metric yet.

Cory: Because nobody knows how far a kilometer is.
Me: Sure, I do.
Cory: OK, how far is a kilometer?
Me: Six-tenths of a mile.

There’s a famous post out there about Fahrenheit vs. Centigrade vs. Kelvin, showing that 0F is pretty cold, and 100F is pretty hot, but people can survive in both.  0C is pretty cold, but 100C is dead, and 0K and 100K are both dead, so Fahrenheit is more useful for temperatures we’re likely to encounter.  The same is true with all the other Imperial units.

Then, there’s the layout of our cities.  Here in Denver, north-south blocks are 8 to a mile, east-west blocks are 16 to a mile, and most other western cities are laid out on some variation of that.  You can approximate that with 5 and 10 to a kilometer for a little while, I guess, but it doesn’t take long before the approximation breaks down, and anyway, why do I want to bother with re-adjusting my sense of scale to make Lincoln Chaffee happy?  There needs to be a bigger payoff than that for that kind of work.

Also, the distance that light travels in a nanosecond is almost exactly a foot. So there’s that.




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Media 101

When the PERA Pension Obligation Bond story was in its death throes, the Denver Post was writing a story about the political, rather than the financial angle, of the bill and its failure in committee.  Treasurer Walker Stapleton had testified in favor of the bill in the House Finance Committee, although most of his testimony was of a technical nature.

At the time Post reporter John Frank called me, I had not yet heard Stapleton’s comments on the Mike Rosen Show, where he appeared to try to walk back his support for the bill.  There’s no reason to rehash the controversy here, and that’s not the point of the post.

The point is this: Franks paraphrased what Stapleton had said, and asked me to comment on his on-air statements. I asked him to quote them to me.  He quoted to me a couple of sentences, and I was brought up short.  But this was a radio talk show, and Mike Rosen is one of the best interviewers around.  The actual on-air back-and-forth was much longer than that.

So I paused, said that, even though I had just asked him to quote Stapleton to me, I really would need to hear the whole thing before I could comment. And I went on to say something Franks probably already knew – that there were legislators without pension funding expertise who had probably been swayed by Walker’s support, and by the fact that the Republican Treasurer, Democrat Governor, and “impartial” PERA Board were all in favor of the deal.

Later, after thinking about it, I came back with what I expressed as a possible interpretation of what Frank had quoted me, didn’t offer an opinion on it, and suggested he go back and listen to the whole interview with that idea in mind.

Reporters often count on people liking to talk, and liking to talk to reporters specifically, because they may get to see their names in print.  But you don’t have to answer a question if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to offer an opinion when the only information you’re getting is from the reporter.

I doubt Frank was purposely trying to do a hatchet job on Walker, but there was no reason to fall into the trap of trying to offer an opinion based on an interpretation of one small piece of the story.

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