Tag Archives: França

How France created the metric system (BBC)

One of the last remaining ‘mètre étalons’, or standard metre bars, can be found below a ground-floor window on the Ministry of Justice in Paris (Credit: PjrTravel/Alamy)
(Image credit: PjrTravel/Alamy)

By Madhvi Ramani

24th September 2018

It is one of the most important developments in human history, affecting everything from engineering to international trade to political systems.

On the facade of the Ministry of Justice in Paris, just below a ground-floor window, is a marble shelf engraved with a horizontal line and the word ‘MÈTRE’. It is hardly noticeable in the grand Place Vendôme: in fact, out of all the tourists in the square, I was the only person to stop and consider it. But this shelf is one of the last remaining ‘mètre étalons’ (standard metre bars) that were placed all over the city more than 200 years ago in an attempt to introduce a new, universal system of measurement. And it is just one of many sites in Paris that point to the long and fascinating history of the metric system.

“Measurement is one of the most banal and ordinary things, but it’s actually the things we take for granted that are the most interesting and have such contentious histories,” said Dr Ken Alder, history professor at Northwestern University and author of The Measure of All Things, a book about the creation of the metre. 

One of the last remaining ‘mètre étalons’, or standard metre bars, can be found below a ground-floor window on the Ministry of Justice in Paris (Credit: PjrTravel/Alamy)

One of the last remaining ‘mètre étalons’, or standard metre bars, can be found below a ground-floor window on the Ministry of Justice in Paris (Credit: PjrTravel/Alamy)

We don’t generally notice measurement because it’s pretty much the same everywhere we go. Today, the metric system, which was created in France, is the official system of measurement for every country in the world except three: the United States, Liberia and Myanmar, also known as Burma. And even then, the metric system is still used for purposes such as global trade. But imagine a world where every time you travelled you had to use different conversions for measurements, as we do for currency. This was the case before the French Revolution in the late 18th Century, where weights and measures varied not only from nation to nation, but also within nations. In France alone, it was estimated at that time that at least 250,000 different units of weights and measures were in use during the Ancien Régime.

The French Revolution changed all that. During the volatile years between 1789 and 1799, the revolutionaries sought not only to overturn politics by taking power away from the monarchy and the church, but also to fundamentally alter society by overthrowing old traditions and habits. To this end, they introduced, among other things, the Republican Calendar in 1793, which consisted of 10-hour days, with 100 minutes per hour and 100 seconds per minute. Aside from removing religious influence from the calendar, making it difficult for Catholics to keep track of Sundays and saints’ days, this fit with the new government’s aim of introducing decimalisation to France. But while decimal time did not stick, the new decimal system of measurement, which is the basis of the metre and the kilogram, remains with us today.

Prior to the French Revolution, at least 250,000 different units of measurement were used throughout France (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

Prior to the French Revolution, at least 250,000 different units of measurement were used throughout France (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

The task of coming up with a new system of measurement was given to the nation’s preeminent scientific thinkers of the Enlightenment. These scientists were keen to create a new, uniform set based on reason rather than local authorities and traditions. Therefore, it was determined that the metre was to be based purely on nature. It was to be one 10-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator.

The line of longitude running from the pole to the equator that would be used to determine the length of the new standard was the Paris meridian. This line bisects the centre of the Paris Observatory building in the 14th arrondissement, and is marked by a brass strip laid into the white marble floor of its high-ceilinged Meridian Room, or Cassini Room.

Although the Paris Observatory is not currently open to the public, you can trace the meridian line through the city by looking out for small bronze disks on the ground with the word ARAGO on them, installed by Dutch artist Jan Dibbets in 1994 as a memorial to the French astronomer François Arago. This is the line that two astronomers set out from Paris to measure in 1792. Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre travelled north to Dunkirk while Pierre Méchain travelled south to Barcelona.

Using the latest equipment and the mathematical process of triangulation to measure the meridian arc between these two sea-level locations, and then extrapolating the distance between the North Pole and the equator by extending the arc to an ellipse, the two astronomers aimed to meet back in Paris to come up with the new, universal standard of measurement within one year. It ended up taking seven.

The line of longitude used to determine the length of the metre runs through the centre of the Paris Observatory (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

The line of longitude used to determine the length of the metre runs through the centre of the Paris Observatory (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

As Dr Alder details in his book, measuring this meridian arc during a time of great political and social upheaval proved to be an epic undertaking. The two astronomers were frequently met with suspicion and animosity; they fell in and out of favour with the state; and were even injured on the job, which involved climbing to high points such as the tops of churches.

The Pantheon, which was originally commissioned by Louis XV to be a church, became the central geodetic station in Paris from whose dome Delambre triangulated all the points around the city. Today, it serves as a mausoleum to heroes of the Republic, such as Voltaire, René Descartes and Victor Hugo. But during Delambre’s time, it served as another kind of mausoleum – a warehouse for all the old weights and measures that had been sent in by towns from all over France in anticipation of the new system.

But despite all the technical mastery and labour that had gone into defining the new measurement, nobody wanted to use it. People were reluctant to give up the old ways of measuring since these were inextricably bound with local rituals, customs and economies. For example, an ell, a measure of cloth, generally equalled the width of local looms, while arable land was often measured in days, referencing the amount of land that a peasant could work during this time.

Paris’ Pantheon once stored different weights and measures sent from all across France in anticipation of the new standardised system (Credit: pocholo/Alamy)

Paris’ Pantheon once stored different weights and measures sent from all across France in anticipation of the new standardised system (Credit: pocholo/Alamy)

The Paris authorities were so exasperated at the public’s refusal to give up their old measure that they even sent police inspectors to marketplaces to enforce the new system. Eventually, in 1812, Napoleon abandoned the metric system; although it was still taught in school, he largely let people use whichever measures they liked until it was reinstated in 1840. According to Dr Alder, “It took a span of roughly 100 years before almost all French people started using it.”

This was not just due to perseverance on the part of the state. France was quickly advancing into the industrial revolution; mapping required more accuracy for military purposes; and, in 1851, the first of the great World’s Fairs took place, where nations would showcase and compare industrial and scientific knowledge. Of course, it was tricky to do this unless you had clear, standard measures, such as the metre and the kilogram. For example, the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and at 324m, was at that time the world’s tallest man-made structure.

The metric system was necessary to compare industrial and scientific knowledge – such as the height of the Eiffel Tower – at the World’s Fairs (Credit: robertharding/Alamy)

The metric system was necessary to compare industrial and scientific knowledge – such as the height of the Eiffel Tower – at the World’s Fairs (Credit: robertharding/Alamy)

All of this came together to produce one of the world’s oldest international institutions: The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). Located in the quiet Paris suburb of Sèvres, the BIPM is surrounded by landscaped gardens and a park. Its lack of ostentatiousness reminded me again of the mètre étalon in the Place Vendôme; it might be tucked away, but it is fundamental to the world we live in today.

Originally established to preserve international standards, the BIPM promotes the uniformity of seven international units of measurement: the metre, the kilogram, the second, the ampere, the kelvin, the mole and the candela. It is the home of the master platinum standard metre bar that was used to carefully calibrate copies, which were then sent out to various other national capitals. In the 1960s, the BIPM redefined the metre in terms of light, making it more precise than ever. And now, defined by universal laws of physics, it was finally a measure truly based on nature.

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) was established to promote the uniformity of international units of measurement (Credit: Chronicle/Alamy)

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) was established to promote the uniformity of international units of measurement (Credit: Chronicle/Alamy)

The building in Sèvres is also home to the original kilogram, which sits under three bell jars in an underground vault and can only be accessed using three different keys, held by three different individuals. The small, cylindrical weight cast in platinum-iridium alloy is also, like the metre, due to be redefined in terms of nature – specifically the quantum-mechanical quantity known as the Planck constant – by the BIPM this November.

“Establishing a new basis for a new definition of the kilogram is a very big technological challenge. [It] was described at one point as the second most difficult experiment in the whole world, the first being discovering the Higgs Boson,” said Dr Martin Milton, director of the BIPM, who showed me the lab where the research is being conducted. 

As he explained the principle of the Kibble balance and the way in which a mass is weighed against the force of a coil in a magnetic field, I marvelled at the latest scientific engineering before me, the precision and personal effort of all the people who have been working on the kilogram project since it began in 2005 and are now very close to achieving their goal.

The BIPM houses the original standard metre and the original standard kilogram (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

The BIPM houses the original standard metre and the original standard kilogram (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

As with the 18th-Century meridian project, defining measurement continues to be one of our most important and difficult challenges. As I walked further up the hill of the public park that surrounds the BIPM and looked out at the view of Paris, I thought about the structure of measurement underlying the whole city. The machinery used for construction; the trade and commerce happening in the city; the exact quantities of drugs, or radiation for cancer therapy, being delivered in the hospitals.

What started with the metre formed the basis of our modern economy and led to globalisation. It enabled high-precision engineering and continues to be essential for science and research, progressing our understanding of the universe.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the placement of the meridian line in the Paris Observatory. We regret the error and have updated the text accordingly.

You may also be interested in:
• How India gave us the zero
• The island that forever changed science
• The clock that changed the meaning of time

Palavra de Médico (Site de Sonia Zaghetto)

14 de abril de 2020 – publicação original

Palavra de Médico

Dia 1

“O hospital em que eu trabalho, em Paris, está cheio de pacientes infectados pelo coronavírus. Vai se tornar uma referência para a doença. Só hoje eu internei 10 (cinco deles com menos de 50 anos).

Esta semana e na próxima estaremos no pico da infecção. O governo francês está pagando hotéis próximos aos hospitais para que os médicos e demais trabalhadores da saúde não contaminem suas famílias. Eu estou num hotel confortável, a três minutos de carro do hospital.

Os restaurantes da região têm enviado refeições de graça, no almoço e no jantar, para toda a equipe de plantão. Comemos por turnos, juntos: médicos, enfermeiros e soignants – técnicos, maqueiros, secretárias e seguranças.

Aqui na França, muita gente vai morrer. Já estamos enviando pacientes para a Suíça, Alemanha e Luxemburgo, pois faltam leitos de UTI. No nosso hospital há muitos jovens infectados.

Todo mundo aqui está trabalhando a todo vapor. Foram canceladas todas as férias.

Até o fim da semana teremos 400 pacientes POR DIA intubados na Île-de-France (a província onde fica Paris). É muita gente! Nosso hospital tem 120 pacientes com Covid-19. A previsão é que, daqui a 15 dias, os 692 leitos sejam ocupados por pacientes infectados pelo novo coronavírus.

Todos os outros casos (infartos, AVCs, fraturas etc) são encaminhados a clínicas privadas. Cidade vazia. Polícia e exército nas ruas, multando quem não tem permissão de trafegar. Peguei a minha autorização hoje no hospital.

Dia 2

Mais um dia de confinamento em Île-de-France. Talvez o dia mais difícil de todos na minha vida como médico.

No texto anterior eu expliquei que a previsão era que se esgotassem todos os respiradores da província até o fim dessa semana, com uma previsão de 400 pacientes por dia.

Previsão errada.

Hoje praticamente todos os respiradores foram tomados. Em nosso hospital, por volta das 15h30, já não tínhamos como ventilar pacientes que precisavam ser intubados. Conclusão: desabou um desespero em nossas cabeças porque sabíamos que teríamos que escolher a quem salvar e a quem deixar. E foi isso o que automaticamente fizemos. Fui julgado por um grande amigo, de fora da área da saúde, quando lhe contei isso. Mas era isso ou deixar a peteca cair e não salvar ninguém! Ou tomar a decisão errada de salvar quem não teria chance.

Como na Itália (e acredito que na Espanha também), somos obrigados a decidir. O regulador do plantão telefonou para o que chamamos de Proteção Civil e o exército se encarregará de distribuir tendas com respiradores em volta dos hospitais estratégicos localizados ao redor de Paris. Medida de medicina de guerra (e foi este mesmo o termo utilizado aqui). Isso já acontece na Alsácia (leste da França, fronteira com a Alemanha).

Vi colegas com lágrimas nos olhos. Minha chefe ligava de hora em hora para saber o fluxo de pacientes no Pronto-Socorro. Sim, aqui, geralmente, a chefia é mais que um posto. E a chefe se mostrou uma verdadeira líder, compadecendo-se conosco pela situação.

Os mais graves eram encaminhados a unidades de internação Covid-19 para morrer com dignidade. E a cada 15 minutos, em média, recebíamos ligações da enfermagem dessas unidades confirmando que tal ou tal paciente não deveria ser reanimado. Todos eles com máscara facial de oxigênio a 15L/min e dessaturando.

A conduta era sedar e oferecer conforto e dignidade. Fomos tomados por uma sensação de impotência frente a uma doença nova. Esta é a minha primeira pandemia (e de quase todos aqui). Os rostos dos que atendemos à tarde passam por nossos pensamentos. Vimos, um por um, eles descansarem.

Sinto um misto de alegria por participar de um salvamento coordenado e, ao mesmo tempo, uma tristeza imensa por saber que, em muitos casos, estávamos e ainda estamos perdendo a batalha para esse vírus.

Às 20h se ouve o barulho de aplausos nas janelas. Mas só quem estava no front sabia o que estava acontecendo. As mortes se seguiam. O telefone não parava de tocar. A desesperança e as lágrimas eram visíveis nos olhos de todos. Só quem não participava eram os colegas já contaminados pelo vírus, pois estavam fora de combate. Sim, tenho colegas em casa esperando se recuperar pra voltar. Ou não.

No meio do massacre, a solidariedade era sentida como um mexer numa ferida aberta. A realidade sangrava aos nossos olhos. Os pediatras suspenderam o atendimento, uma vez que as crianças têm sido, quase na sua totalidade, poupadas da infecção. E esses pediatras se dispuseram a gerenciar as UTIs recém-criadas em várias unidades no hospital.

Parei no meio do dia, por alguns segundos, para mandar mensagens a familiares e pessoas mais próximas. Tanto pra desabafar como para prevenir de que o pior está por vir.

Os restaurantes continuam a mandar comida de graça para que não percamos tempo em escolher e telefonar. Não falta comida, nem máscaras N-95 (aqui chamadas de Fpp2), nem oxigênio. Nem falta vontade de exercer nossa sagrada vocação de salvar vidas. Mas o avanço da doença está mais rápido que a nossa capacidade de responder à altura.

Nunca me senti tão médico quanto hoje. E também mais ser humano. A experiência nos deixa saber, numa situação dessas, quem vai partir e quem vai lutar por três semanas (esse tem sido o tempo médio) intubado, pronado, sob diálise, para ressuscitar e enfrentar um longo caminho de fisioterapia e reabilitação até uma vida normal.

Agora as pessoas pararam de chegar (são exatamente 04h23). Meu colega, chefe de plantão como eu, foi descansar por volta das 2h30. Daqui a pouco é minha vez. Mas eu disse aos residentes que não consigo descansar. Eles também não. A realidade da medicina já é dura pra quem cai no ritmo de trabalho logo depois da faculdade. Nesse clima de guerra então… Vejo seus olhos assustados e desejo que não tivesse sido assim… Estamos no pico da infecção nesta semana e na próxima. Terei plantões dia sim, dia não – assim como muitos colegas por aqui. É a vida.

Às 10 da manhã a vida recomeça. Inicia com o que chamamos de Reunião Covid-19. Minha chefe reúne todo o pessoal do PS e nos posiciona sobre as últimas notícias, na França e no mundo, quanto à pandemia. Tomamos decisões, discutimos protocolos… e a guerra continua.

Uma enfermeira liga perguntando se pode quebrar o protocolo e deixar uma família entrar no quarto para se despedir do familiar (um pai, marido, avô). Não autorizo. Pela proteção de todos. Desligo o telefone. Lágrimas caem pelo meu rosto. Vou deitar e agradeço a Deus por estar vivo.

Recado aos brasileiros

Vocês, brasileiros, especialmente idosos, terão de ficar em casa por pelo menos dois meses, se quiserem viver. É que o pico aí no Brasil será daqui a um mês e o vírus é mais ativo em temperaturas baixas. Na minha opinião, isso vai se arrastar por aí se não forem respeitadas as medidas de confinamento.

Por favor. Levem isso a sério.

France’s top weatherman sparks storm over book questioning climate change (The Telegraph)

Philippe Verdier, weather chief at France Télévisions, the country’s state broadcaster, reportedly sent on “forced holiday” for releasing book accusing top climatologists of “taking the world hostage”

Philippe Verdier's outspoken views reportedly led France 2 to send him on a 'forced holiday'

Philippe Verdier’s outspoken views reportedly led France 2 to send him on a ‘forced holiday’ 

 By , Paris

Every night, France’s chief weatherman has told the nation how much wind, sun or rain they can expect the following day.

Now Philippe Verdier, a household name for his nightly forecasts on France 2, has been taken off air after a more controversial announcement – criticising the world’s top climate change experts.

Mr Verdier claims in the book Climat Investigation (Climate Investigation) that leading climatologists and political leaders have “taken the world hostage” with misleading data.

In a promotional video, Mr Verdier said: “Every night I address five million French people to talk to you about the wind, the clouds and the sun. And yet there is something important, very important that I haven’t been able to tell you, because it’s neither the time nor the place to do so.”

He added: “We are hostage to a planetary scandal over climate change – a war machine whose aim is to keep us in fear.”

His outspoken views led France 2 to take him off the air starting this Monday. “I received a letter telling me not to come. I’m in shock,” he told RTL radio. “This is a direct extension of what I say in my book, namely that any contrary views must be eliminated.”

The book has been released at a particularly sensitive moment as Paris is due to host a crucial UN climate change conference in December. 

 par Editions_Ring

According to Mr Verdier, top climate scientists, who often rely on state funding, have been “manipulated and politicised”.

He specifically challenges the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, saying they “blatantly erased” data that went against their overall conclusions, and casts doubt on the accuracy of their climate models.

The IPCC has said that temperatures could rise by up to 4.8°C if no action is taken to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Verdier writes: “We are undoubtedly on a plateau in terms of warming and the cyclical variability of the climate doesn’t not allow us to envisage if the natural rhythm will tomorrow lead us towards a fall, a stagnation or a rise (in temperature).”

The 330-page book also controversially contains a chapter on the “positive results” of climate change in France, one of the countries predicted to be the least affected by rising temperatures. “It’s politically incorrect and taboo to vaunt the merits of climate change because there are some,” he writes, citing warmer weather attracting tourists, lower death rates and electricity bills in mild winters, and better wine and champagne vintages.

Asked whether he had permission from his employer to release the book, he said: “I don’t think management liked it, let’s be honest.”

“I put myself via this investigation on the path of COP 21, which is a bulldozer, and we can see the results.”

The book was criticised by French newspaper Le Monde as full of “errors”. “The models used to predict the average rise in temperatures on the surface of the globe have proved to be rather reliable, with the gap between observations and predictions quite small,” it countered.

Mr Verdier told France 5: “Making these revelations in the book, which I absolutely have the right to do, can pose problems for my employer given that the government (which funds France 2) is organising COP [the climate change conference]. In fact as soon as you a slightly different discourse on this subject, you are branded a climate sceptic.”

He said he decided to write the book in June 2014 when Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, summoned the country’s main weather presenters and urged them to mention “climate chaos” in their forecasts.

“I was horrified by this discourse,” Mr Verdier told Les Inrockuptibles magazine. Eight days later, Mr Fabius appeared on the front cover of a magazine posing as a weatherman above the headline: “500 days to save the planet.”

Mr Verdier said: “If a minister decides he is Mr Weatherman, then Mr Weatherman can also express himself on the subject in a lucid manner.

“What’s shameful is this pressure placed on us to say that if we don’t hurry, it’ll be the apocalypse,” he added, saying that “climate diplomacy” means leaders are seeking to force changes to suit their own political timetables.

According to L’Express magazine, unions at France Television called for Mr Verdier to be fired, but that Delphine Ernotte, the broadcaster’s chief executive, initially said he should be allowed to stay “in the name of freedom of expression”.

O problema de Benzema, o craque da França que não canta a Marselhesa (Diário do Centro do Mundo)

Postado em 20 jun 2014

por : 

Ele

O melhor em campo na partida em que a França atropelou a Suíça, Karim Benzema perdeu um pênalti, fez dois gols (o segundo não valeu por que o juiz caprichosamente havia apitado o fim da partida), deu duas assistências — e não cantou o hino.

Não é um detalhe. Ele não estava nervoso e atrapalhado. Benzema não entoa a gloriosa “Marselhesa” jamais. “Não é porque eu canto que eu vou marcar três gols. Se eu não cantar a ‘Marselhesa’ e marcar três gols, não acho que no final do jogo alguém vai reclamar. Zidane, por exemplo, não cantava. E há outros. Eu não vejo isso como um problema”, disse ele.

Benzema, como Zidane, seu ídolo e amigo, é filho de imigrantes argelinos e é muçulmano. O silêncio é um protesto a uma letra que fala: “Às armas, cidadãos/ formai vossos batalhões/ marchemos, marchemos! / Que um sangue impuro / banhe o nosso solo”. É duramente criticado por essa atitude. A Frente Nacional, de extrema direita, fundada por Jean Marie Le Pen, o chamou de mercenário desleal e pediu seu banimento. “Ele não vê problema nisso. Bem, o povo francês não veria nenhum problema se ele não estivesse mais no time”.

É uma falácia. Benzema, que também cravou dois contra Honduras na estreia, faz toda a diferença para a França, uma equipe majoritariamente de filhos de imigrantes. Além dele, o time tem Valbuena (descendente de espanhois), Cabaye (de vietnamitas), Matuidi (angolanos), Sagna (senegaleses), Varane (os pais são da Martinica).

Há três anos, o ex-técnico da seleção, Laurent Blanc, chegou a sugerir que se limitasse o número de atletas não-brancos. Blanc queria uma cota de 30% de descendentes de africanos na federação. Para sorte dos franceses, a ideia não foi adiante.

Na Espanha, Benzema costuma ser chamado de “vendedor de kebabs”. “Se marco gol, sou francês. Se não marco, sou árabe”, afirma. Karim Benzema e seus colegas são um problema, sem dúvida, mas para os adversários. E uma lembrança perigosa para o Brasil, cujos jogadores estufam o peito para cantar a capella o ouvirundum.