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Squid #127
(published March 27, 2003)
Notes From The Giant Squid: On the James Madison System of Weights and Measures (An Almanac Item)

Who is Poor Mojo's Giant Squid?
My dear Friends, living your life in the Dry American:

I have of two things to note to you:

The First: We have acquired to here, our vaunted laboratory, an intern! She is of the loveliest sort, and quite the brainy one, and to many tasks importante and bearing significance we have set her. To this month, her first task was to complete a certain article Almanac(k)ian.

And to this, we have the Second of the notations, for she has completed this Almanac(k) piece forthwith and it is beauteous to behold.

I now present to you:

The President James Madison Standard Weights and Measures System, and Conversion Table (for handy reference)
prepared by Molly Reynolds (intern)

[A]s weight and measure are things in their nature arbitrary and uncertain, it is therefore expedient that they be reduced to some fixed rule or standard: which standard it is impossible to fix by any written law or oral proclamation; for no man can, by words only, give another an adequate idea of a foot-rule, or a pound-weight. It is therefore necessary to have recourse to some visible, palpable, material standard; by forming a comparison with which, all weights and measures may be reduced to one uniform size[.]
—William Blackstone, Commentaries

According to the very best estimates that science can offer us, James Madison, our fourth president and the prosecutor of the War of 1812, lived the majority of his adult life weighing in at almost exactly 100 pounds. This Princeton educated lawyer of English ancestry and bookish tendencies stood a mere five feet, four inches (or 64 inches) in height and weighed in at only two pounds ahead of Charles Atlas' typical beach sand victim.

It has occurred to us, therefore, that just as the English maintain the rather handy "fortnight" dating unit and "stone" weight system that we too might brew a peculiarly American system of measurement. I have therefore detailed a handy conversion table so that you can impress your friends with the colonial wit of the James Madison Standard Weights and Measures System.

I put it forth as a standard for science, industry and the curious layperson in need of exactitude.

(N.B. All Conversions Are Made by Standardized Items Kept at the Center for Presidential Measurement in Ann Arbor, Michigan)

The President James Madison Standard Weights and Measures System
  • One Pound: 0.01 Madisons in Weight
  • Examples
  • One College Text Book: 0.02 Madisons in Weight
  • One Bag "Baja Picante" Brand Doritos Corn Chips: 0.0093 Madisons in Weight

  • One Yardstick: 0.5625 Madisons in Length
  • One American Inch: 0.0156 Madisons
  • Examples
  • One Classic iMac DV Screen (diagonal): 0.2344 Madisons
  • One "Transformer" Brand Action Robot (Jetfire, provided by Rob): 0.1562 Madisons in Height

Monetary System
  • One British Pound Sterling circa 1850: 1 Madison Monetary Unit (MMU)
    (N.B. To have the same purchasing power as 1 in 1850 one would need $169 in contemporary U.S. funds. Therefore: $169 is 1 MMU)
  • Examples
  • One Copy Collected Stories of Franz Kafka: 0.0234 MMU

  • One Jimmy: 0.01 MMU
  • One James: 0.50 MMU
  • One "Mad Man" Madison: 1.00 MMU

The President James Madison Standard Weights and Measures System Conversion Calculator

Weight (in U.S. pounds)
Length (in U.S. inches)
Value (in U.S. dollars)

Examples in Action:

Johnny X— a strapping lad of 33— decides to purchase himself a new computer. Lacking an automobile or bicycle, he chooses to walk to the local computer merchant— a distance of almost 1000 Madisons (or a Kilomadison, abbreviated as K-mad.) This might be an arduous task for a smaller man, but Johnny X— the product of a nutritionally balanced and meat-rich American upbringing, is 1.2 Madisons tall, and has the long, runner's legs to prove it! In just 10 minutes he has made it to the computer shop, where he carefully selects a remaindered Classic iMac DV (Ruby), costing 5 Mad Men, One James and Five Jimmys, give or take a fraction of a Jimmy. He pays with an 8 Mad Men note (Eights clearly having a special place in the heart of all who love and embrace the Madison System, based upon the 82 height of our 8/2 president) and receives 2 Mad Men, a James and 95 Jimmys in change. Now encumbered by his delightful new Apple computer (weighing in at just 0.347 Madisons, which is impressive, considering the sheer computational force contained there-in), Johnny X chooses to hail himself a cab for the ride home, spending not much more than 2 Jimmys, including tip!

The most intriguing implication of all of this is the, as it were, "exchange rate" between weights lengths and values enabled by having a unified Madison. As such, you can begin to conveniently think about the height of a purchase, or the value of the weight you've gained, or the weight of a lengthy car trip. If only we could establish an absolute velocity of James Madison, and thus derive from that coefficient of conversion between distance and time an absolute Madison Time Unit.

Ah, 'tis a brave new world, with such things in't!

As I'm sure our readers quickly note, what this system lacks in convenience and easy-of-conversion, it more than makes up in Olde World CharmTM. And, tell the truth, is it really any less convenient than the "English" measurement system to which we cling?

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