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Celebrate civic holidays: Happy Weights and Measures Week!

A truck bearing the Bureau of Weights and Measures' proud logo.
A truck bearing the Bureau of Weights and Measures' proud logo.
Umberto Brayj/Creative Commons CC by 2.0

Shark Week has its place, nobody's arguing that. But starting March 1 the County of Los Angeles takes part in celebrating National Weights and Measures Week: a week long celebration of the County's Bureau of Weights and Measures.  If you haven't owned a business or seen one of its employee in action, you might ask: what does a Bureau of Weights and Measure do, exactly?

Say you're making apple pie. You'll need two and a half pounds worth of apples. You head to the produce section at your local market and use the store's in-house scale to measure it out. But what a bummer! The scale's off and you end up buying 3 pounds of apples. You just paid for half a pound of apples you don't need. Your recipe is potentially ruined.

The Bureau of Weights and Measures aims to make sure that doesn't happen.

And remember this classic Norman Rockwell painting?

It's that Saturday Evening Post cover where a sweet old lady—buying a chicken—subtly pushes up on the scale, the butcher pushes down as they attempt to figure out the price. With a little wink here and a nod there, the customer and shop owner both are trying game physics in their favor. Cute, right? The Bureau of Weights and Measures doesn't think that's cute, and they're right. Quit messing with the scales, you cheats!

In all seriousness: how do you know a gallon of gas is really a gallon? Do you trust the pump? How do you your taxi driver really drove 4 miles? That dashboard meter? The Bureau of Weights and Measures operates like sort of a end-user level consumer protections agency. In a press release, the County acknowledged this year's theme: "Common Cents." Why?

Most consumers take for granted that they get what they pay for. As it may seem “common sense” that a gallon must be a full gallon or a pound a full pound, the “common cents” investments in these programs from funding partnerships with business operators and pennies per capita of County general funds ensure the confidence that can be held in commonplace transactions. Weights and Measures Week provides a reminder that equity in the marketplace exists largely through efforts of inspectors working behind the scenes. 

So next time you see one of the bureau inspector's white trucks, give them a nod. They're here for all of us.