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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/447

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429
FRAGMENTS OF SCIENCE.

The flowering panicle or pole is a huge inflorescence sent up from the heart of the plant. It is fifteen to twenty feet high, and sometimes higher. From the base, which is about four inches in diameter, it gradually tapers upward into a fine, slender rod. The branches carry numerous greenish-yellow flowers, giving the whole a candelabral character. In Agave sisalana the flowers are seldom followed by seed pods; exceptionally, one or two may be produced. When the flowers have fallen off, at the ends of the branches in the axils near the flower scar there are produced numerous small bulbels, which eventually develop into plantlets of considerable size. These are locally called "pole plants," and the sisal plant is capable of being abundantly propagated, either by means of the "pole plants" or "root suckers," the latter of which, however, are preferred by the planters.

 

The. Toba Lake.—The most striking feature of the Batak tableland of Sumatra is the great sheet of water known as the Toba Lake, of which, though only as a name, geographers have been cognizant for more than a century. It lies, according to Baron Anatole von Hugel, about twenty-five hundred feet above the sea; and, trending from the southwest to the northeast, has a length of about fifty miles, with an average breadth of sixteen miles. It is oblong in shape, and has a considerably indented coast line. The natives call it by two distinct names; for the central third of its length is so blocked by a large and populous island as to divide it into two basins. The island consists of a compact mountain range of gentle contour, attaining its greatest height at fifty-two hundred feet. Of the narrow channels which separate this island from the mainland, one is navigable at all times, while the other is so shallow as to be fordable on foot when the water is low. The lake has a considerable outflow, which, after a short course, forms a respectable waterfall, and eventually joins the sea. No river, however, flows into the lake; and the insignificant rivulets and brooks that run down its steep shores are the only visible streams that feed its wide waters—a large expanse, indeed, considering that its water-surface area is three times that of the Lake of Constance. The frequent and regular changes in the hue of the lake are a peculiarity worth mentioning. "Of a morning, the surface being then mostly unruffled, it appears of a fine dark blue, which changes to a greenish tint along the shores; by noon it is of a leaden gray; and of an afternoon it is whitened with foam by a fierce wind, which here blows with strange regularity."

 

The Professional Criminal.—In a recent article in Blackwood's Magazine Mr. Anderson discusses the appropriate treatment by the state of the professional criminal, and the ineffectiveness of the present system. In speaking of the sentencing of a criminal of this class, who had previously spent several terms in the penitentiary, to five years' penal servitude, he says: "But have the interests of the community been adequately safeguarded in this case? It may perhaps be urged that such a sentence will be inadequate in deterring others from committing burglaries. But what others? People talk as though the masses of the population were kept from crime only by its penalties. As a matter of fact, crimes of this kind ('burglaries') are the work of professionals. Here, then, is a class of men who have deliberately outlawed themselves. They have had warning after warning, but on each occasion have returned to their evil courses, and now, having been once again brought to justice, the state shuts them up for a few years, and at the end of that time they are to be let loose on society once more to perpetrate a new series of crimes." To illustrate the absurdity of such a proceeding, Mr. Anderson suggests a comparison: If game preserves were being destroyed by a fox, and carefully arranged traps were set at considerable expense to catch him, it would be considered a trifle short-sighted if, after capturing and caging the fox for a time, he were again set free, and the same process gone through with at varying intervals for the rest of the fox's life; and yet this is substantially the process which is pursued by the state with the professional criminal. Most of his class are as hopeless, so far as individual reform is concerned, as is the fox. The whole trend of modern criminology points toward the conclusion that he is a criminal through nature, and is as much of