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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/281

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267
EDITOR'S TABLE.

ress which this country has made in the matter of civil-service reform, and this in the teeth of the strongest opposition which could be made in the interest of the old, unregenerate idea that all offices were on a level with the abilities of the first comer, provided only he had the necessary certificates of political service, A powerful New York journal thought at one time to sneer the reform out of existence; but, the more it sneered, the more the idea seemed to gain in strength, and the more firmly it rooted itself in our system of government. This would seem to prove that the citizens of this country, however they might outwardly countenance the notion that anybody was fit for anything, felt in their hearts that the doctrine was a false and fraudulent one. That is precisely what it was and is; and the falsehood and the fraud have in many ways cost this country dear. It needs perhaps a little experience of administrative work in order to appreciate fully the difference in efficiency between a man in whom experience is united to intelligence and seriousness of purpose, and who is thus enabled to put a stamp of thoroughness on all he does, and one of mediocre or inferior intelligence who simply thinks he is big enough for any office, and that one way of doing a thing is about as good as another. It is always at the expense of the public that the latter type of official practices his crude and ignorant methods; but in general, though the shoe is sure to pinch, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the public to tell just where they are pinched or where the responsibility rests. We may set it down, however, for an unmistakable fact that, in so far as governmental methods are marked by inefficiency and lack of intelligence, the origin of the trouble lies in the idea to which we referred at the outset, that "anybody is fit for anything." The man who employs a blacksmith as a dentist when more skilled assistance is available has only himself to thank if he suffers a few unnecessary pangs; and precisely so in the public service: if we put into office men who lack the essential qualifications for their positions, we must take what we can get and, if not be thankful, at least have the sense to place the responsibility upon the right shoulders—that is, upon our own.

 

 

DECIMAL COMPUTATION.

The article from the pen of Mr. Herbert Spencer which we publish in this number will, we believe, open the eyes of many of our readers to the fact that whatever the advantages of the metric system of measurement now so widely vised in Europe may be, there are very considerable objections to its introduction in countries where it has not yet been established. Mr. Spencer, as usual, states his case in a very comprehensive manner; and it would be difficult to add anything to the arguments he brings forward. He makes it very clear that the only valid claim that can be urged on behalf of the metric system is that, on account of its correspondence with the existing system of notation, values expressed therein admit of easier arithmetical treatment than values expressed according to other methods. He shows, however, that this is quite a limited advantage. Express your values in the metric or decimal system, and you can add or multiply them with great facility; but the difficulty lies in getting those particular fractional values expressed which we have most occasion to use in everyday life, and which it is the instinctive habit of our minds to deal with—such as thirds, fourths, sixths,