Sunday, April 6, 2008

Standards of Measurement

More than parliament, the great London fire of 1834 destroyed the weights and measures which standardized units of economic trade in the United Kingdom. Departing Washington the first of June 1843, bound for her majesty’s kingdom, a complete set of scales and one large measure on board a vessel measured nothing but the random sway of waves and the refusal of inertia. Exactly 173 days, which are not invariable, prior to his death, Hassler, the craftsman of these scales permanently waves a white handkerchief to the parting ship while baring his dull wooden teeth. He is 74.

The federally commissioned scales present an irony of good will not only because they are passed across the Atlantic between shores of former enemies but that they were passed by a congressional joint resolution of good will. These replicas of scales replace scales Hassler once journeyed to see in London, but was arrested and held as an alien enemy for two years. Was Hassler smiling because he made the weights for export too heavy, and import too light? In London, July 24, 1843 Sir George Clerk performed an inventory which assured these scales were not swallowed by a slit in the skin of the scarless sea. Without a comparable standard, who is to say these scales were accurate?

Today, within a bunker some several yards beneath The Office of Weights and Measures, just across the street from the Capitol Building, a hand crafted foot rests beneath a glass casing within a vault. No loquacious fire may lick a nanometer from the imperial standard length. Water may press every seal, yet every seal denies entry. The silent vandal, invisible, passes through each wall and sets within them a calendar of collapse. Yes, even the federal standard foot possesses within it, a half-life towards obsolescence. Every scale and measurement available to our civilization finds its ultimate, it’s federal reference here.

TJ max, in his congressional address on standard measures once said, “There exists not in nature, as far as has been hitherto observed, a single subject or species of subject, accessible to man, which presents one constant and uniform dimension.” Thomas Jefferson, with a posthumous IQ of 138, predicated the creation of such standards for the United States. Yet, in the absence of uniform nature, TJ offers the following solution: “Matter, then, by its mere extension, furnishing nothing invariable, its motion is the only remaining resource.. a pendulum, then, becomes itself a measure of determinate length, to which all others may be referred to as to a standard. But even a pendulum is not without its uncertainties.”
But what of Hassler's teeth?

Overheard poetry: "You have to learn another language or else you're stuck." - a Dutch man speaking of the narrow size of his country.

And Franke, as I promised too long ago:
It is Not About Ruling The Young, Hoagland, Ruefle connection.

1 comment:

act robot said...

Coming down now. Back into realizing I know very little about what I've tried to learn for so many years of my passions. Food, Wine, Poetry, Women. After having a bout of vertigo with chicken broiled vs chicken grilled; the difference between the brix count of pulling grapes in September vs October; a women who sleeps with me topless asks for me not to touch her; writing and criticism and jockeying for a position in this art that I don't deserve. See: Coming Down From The Vertigo. I love and applaud the history of this post. How much it expresses our accuracy and inaccuracy of weight. What a pear weighs might only be approximate and, therefore, an inexact detail of the physical pear. But it is a pear right? And to taste it, no one would dismiss its sweetness.

Good stuff, said the stranger I gave a cigarette to. That's all he needed to say.