Popular Science Monthly/Volume 45/September 1894/Popular Miscellany


Social Factors of Crime.—Discussing the subject of criminology in one of the circulars of the Bureau of Education, Mr. Arthur MacDonald speaks of crime as seeming to be, to a certain extent, Nature's experiment on humanity. If a nerve of a normal organism is cut, the organs in which irregularities are produced are those which the nerve controls. In this way the office of a nerve in the normal state may be discovered. The criminal might be spoken of as the severed nerve of society, and the study of him as a practical way (though indirect) of studying normal man. The relation of criminology to society and to sociological questions is already intimate, and may in the future become closer. Just what crime is at present depends more upon time, location, race, country, nationality, and even the state in which one resides. But notwithstanding the extreme relativity of the idea of crime, there are some things in our social life that are questionable. A young girl of independence, but near poverty, tries to earn her own living at three dollars a week, and if, having natural desires for a few comforts and some taste for her personal appearance, she finally, through pressure, oversteps the bound, society, which permits this condition of things, immediately ostracises her. It borders on criminality that a widow works fifteen hours a day in a room in which she lives, making trousers at ten cents a pair, out of which she and her family must live, until they gradually run down toward death from want of sufficient nutrition, fresh air, and any comfort. It is criminally questionable to leave stoves in cars so that, if the passenger is not seriously injured but only hedged in, he will have the additional chance of burning to death. It has been a general truth, and in some cases is one still, that a certain number of persons must perish by fire before private individuals will furnish fire escapes to protect their own patrons. It is a fact that more than five thousand people are killed yearly in the United States at railroad grade crossings, most of whose lives could have been saved had the road or the railroad passed either one over the other. The excuse of the expense is pleaded for the lack of the improvements; or, practically, it is admitted that the extra money required to introduce them is of more consequence than the five thousand human lives. And yet, strange as it may seem, if a brutal murderer is to lose his life and there is the least doubt that the crime was premeditated, a large part of the community is often aroused into moral excitement or indignation, while the murdered, innocent railroad passenger excites little more than a murmur. There is no subject on which the public conscience is more tender than the treatment of the criminal. Psychologically, the explanation of this is simple, for the public have been educated gradually to feel the suffering and misfortunes of the criminal things it is easier to realize, since the thought is confined generally to one personality at a time. If the public could all be eyewitnesses to a few of our most brutal railroad accidents, the consciousness gained might be developed into conscientiousness in the division of their sympathies. The feeling spoken of is a sincere though sometimes morbid expression of unselfish humanitarianism.

The Arctic Sea.—In his address before the British Association on the Polar Basin, Mr. Henry Seebohm described the Arctic Sea, which lies at the bottom of the polar basin, as fringed with a belt of bare country, sometimes steep and rocky, descending in more or less abrupt cliffs and piles of precipices to the sea, but more often sloping gently down in mud banks and sand hills. These latter represent the accumulated spoils of countless ages of annual floods, which tear up the banks of the rivers and deposit shoals of detritus at their mouths, compelling them to make deltas in their efforts to force a passage to the sea. In Norway this belt of bare country is called the Fjeld, in Russia it is known as the Tundra, and in America its technical name is the Barren Grounds. In the language of science it is the country beyond the limit of forest growth. In exposed situations, especially in the higher latitudes, the tundra does really merit its American name of barren ground, being little else than gravel beds interspersed with bare patches of peat or clay, and with scarcely a rush or a sedge to break the monotony. In Siberia, at least, this is very exceptional. By far the greater part of the tundra, both east and west of the Ural Mountains, is a gently undulating plain, full of lakes, rivers, swamps, and bogs. The lakes are diversified with patches of green water plants, among which ducks and swans float and dive; the little rivers flow between banks of rush and sedge; the swamps are masses of tall rushes and sedges of various species, where phalaropes and ruffs breed, and the bogs are brilliant with the white, fluffy seeds of the cotton grass. The groundwork of all this variegated scenery is more beautiful and varied still—lichens and moss of almost every conceivable color, from the cream-colored reindeer moss to the scarlet-cupped trumpet moss, interspersed with a brilliant Alpine flora, gentians, anemones, saxifrages, and hundreds of plants, each a picture in itself; the tall aconites, both the blue and yellow species; the beautiful cloudberry, with its gay white blossom and amber fruit; the fragrant Ledum palustre, and the delicate pink Andromeda polifolia. In the sheltered valleys and deep watercourses a few stunted birches, and sometimes large patches of willow scrub, survive the long, severe winter, and serve as cover for willow grouse or ptarmigan. The Lapland bunting and red-throated pipit are everywhere to be seen, and certain favored places are the breeding grounds of snipe, plover, and sandpipers of many species. So far from meriting the name of barren ground, the tundra is for the most part a veritable paradise in summer. But it has one almost fatal drawback—it swarms with millions of mosquitoes. The tundra melts away insensibly into the forest, but isolated trees are rare, and in Siberia there is an absence of young wood on the confines of the tundra. The limit of forest growth appears to be retiring southward, if we may judge from the number of dead and dying stumps; but this may be a temporary or local variation caused by exceptionally severe winters.

Cayuga Lake as a Rock Basin.—In a paper entitled Lake Cayuga as a Rock Basin, Ralph S. Tarr, after describing the topography of the region and giving a summary of the opinions previously held, attempts to prove that Cayuga, and presumably other of the lakes called Finger Lakes, is situated in a rock basin, with a maximum depth of approximately four hundred and thirty-five feet. The nature of the proof is that the preglacial tributaries to this valley are found to be rock-incased, and that their lowest points are above the present lake surface. The paper presents also a brief discussion of the reason why a rock basin may be supposed to have been constructed with comparative ease in this region, and a rhythm of glacial erosion and deposition is suggested. The course of the preglacial Cayuga River is found to be northward, probably tributary to a river which drained at least one of the Great Lakes—Ontario. As the tributaries of Cayuga River prove the rock-basin origin of Cayuga, so also the Cayuga River tributary of the Ontario stream indicates that Lake Ontario is likewise a rock basin.

The Expert Witness.—As one of the embarrassing features in the situation of the "scientific expert" witness. Prof. Charles F. Himes mentions that he is legally a witness, an ordinary witness, but practically endowed with extraordinary functions and loaded with extraordinary responsibilities—sometimes, perhaps, with extraordinary and even absurd expectations. As a witness he is under the same liabilities, rules, and restrictions as other witnesses, yet, by the circumstances under which he is called, he "exhibits the character of a very willing witness, of a well-paid witness, combined with a great deal of the advocate. Now, he can not be held responsible for this position, but the system of jurisprudence, which not simply permits it, which has not simply taken him but has forced him in, and which, apparently cognizant of all, seems only able to originate complaints rather than to provide a different character for him; for there seems, indeed, in many of the adverse criticisms of experts, to be only a confession of weakness rather than a disposition earnestly to consider the whole question with a view to the radical remedy of the evils. The human nature of the judge is recognized and provided against. . . . The jury is selected so as to be free from bias, and is protected as well. Other witnesses are not expected to take the part the scientific expert is almost compelled to take. In fact, if deliberately planned, there could hardly be a network of conditions devised calculated to produce so many of the evils of scientific expert testimony complained of or to cloud this testimony of highest intrinsic value, having the highest degree of certainty, and in a field altogether its own." These witnesses are sometimes supposed to be selected on account of their ability to express a favorable opinion, when they are flippantly styled "adroit advocates of the theory of the party calling them"; but in how many cases. Prof. Himes asks, "does favorable opinion—or bias, if you please—precede the call of an expert rather than depend upon the call?" And the still more pertinent question, "How many experts are not in the particular case because their opinions are not wanted by the party who consulted them?"

Death Valley, California.—The principal features of popular interest in Death Valley, California, as described in Prof. Harrington's Notes on its Climate and Meteorology, are its excessive heat and dryness. The temperature rises occasionally in the shade to 122º, rarely falls at any time in the hot months below 70º, and averages 94º. It is not only hot in the summer, but consistently hot, and the heat is increased by occasional hot blasts from the desert to the south. The air is not stagnant, but in unusually active motion. Gales of a few hours' duration are very common, and sometimes produce sand whirls and sand storms. Rains may fall frequently in the mountains and occasionally in the valley. Clouds are by no means lacking, and water can probably always be found in the soil at the depth of a few feet, yet the heat and wind together keep the surface very dry and the relative humidity low. Animal and plant forms are comparatively few, and the former are usually nocturnal to avoid the heat. Both heat and aridity are increased by the character of the valley. It is narrow and deep, apparently the bed of an old sea, inclosed by high and dry mountains. The white and shifting sands become much heated under the noonday sun; the rest of the surface is in part salt and alkali, in part probably wash from the mountains, and in part a loose, spongy earth, over which it is difficult to move. With the exception of a few springs, the water is bitter and unwholesome. The meteorological features of interest lie, for the most part, in those modifications of diurnal changes which are due to the topography. The range of temperature is unusually great. The hourly progress of the wind shows enormous changes in speed, in direction, and in temperature. The diurnal change in the barometer is the most characteristic of the form found in continental valleys. It is of the purest single maximum type and has the largest amplitude known. With these features go sharp thunderstorms, limited to certain hours of the day, and daily gales and hot blasts. It is also noteworthy that the absolute humidity here is fairly constant, and is that belonging to that part of the world. The air in the valley is part of the general aëerial ocean, and this shows no sharp contrasts in its moisture contents, except when wind prevails across a mountain ridge. Here the prevailing winds are up and down the valley, and its relative aridity is due to its higher temperature. The winter climate is believed to be cool and salubrious, with an inch or two of rain.

The Vacuum Jacket and Liquid Oxygen.—Prof. Dewar protects his liquefied gases, in order to keep them in that state, from the heat of convection, by inclosing them in a vacuum jacket; and from the heat of radiation by silvering the surface of the containing vessel. He is thus able to keep liquid air for thirty or forty hours. The vacuum used contains a little mercury vapor, which, though present in very minute quantities, can be condensed into a bright mirror by cooling the outside surface of the vessel with liquid air. Among the experiments made in one of Prof. Dewar's lectures to illustrate the properties of liquid oxygen, alcohol, which freezes at 120º, solidified when dropped into it, and in that state would not take fire. Sodium burns with intense brilliancy in gaseous oxygen, but in liquid oxygen would not burn at all, the very low temperature (-180º) hindering chemical action. Liquid oxygen has an electrical resistance five or six times greater than that of the gas, which itself is strongly magnetic. Put under the poles of an electromagnet, the liquid leaped up to them when the current was passed, and a little piece of cotton wool saturated with it was strongly attracted. Ordinary air from the room was liquefied in the presence of the audience. A small tube of liquid oxygen, placed in a vessel of air, was put under the air pump, and in a short time liquid air began to condense on its surface. Although the nitrogen and oxygen of the atmosphere are liquefied simultaneously, yet nitrogen, being the more volatile, boils off first, and leaves liquid oxygen behind. This can be proved by holding a glowing taper over a vessel of liquid air; it does not burst into flame until about four fifths of the contents have evaporated. Liquid air is magnetic, but more feebly so than liquid oxygen. It is also blue, and the absorption bands in its spectrum are less dark.

Bohemian Graphite.—Natural graphite occurs usually in masses and veins in the oldest rocks, like granite, gneiss, mica schist, and porphyry. At Schwarzbach, in Bohemia, it is found in irregular masses in the gneiss, apparently brought there after the formation of the rock, and having been substituted for the mica, of which it in some places takes the foliated texture. Schwarzbach is situated on a grassy plain among the wild mountains of southern Bohemia, in the district of Krunian. The mines and surrounding country belong to the immense domains of the Prince of Schwarzenberg. The mines employ eight hundred workmen, and produce from six thousand to ten thousand tons a year. The graphite is mined in shafts sunk one hundred metres or more beneath the surface of the ground. Being impregnated with water, it is easily broken into small blocks by the pick. It is sorted by the miner into first and second choice—prima and raffinade. These piles are again sorted, a different process being observed with either kind. The prima, which is designed for pencil-making, is sorted by hand, and all impurities and hard particles are removed from it. The raffinade is passed under millstones where a current of water passing carries off all the richest parts, and, giving up the sand and pyrites in a series of pans provided for them, carries the purified graphite into another series of pans. If pyrite is present in considerable proportions, it is burned out by passing the matter in gratings over flame.

The Waganda.—Describing Uganda in the British Association, Captain Williams said that whatever the merits of the country, the people were worth keeping, for they were a wonderful race. The missionaries had done great good, notwithstanding the conflict of religions. The men were fine, well built, and athletic, and the women were active and intelligent. They were not universally black—indeed, in Central Africa there was a considerable variety of shades. They had a strange theory of transmigration of souls, which prevented the people from utilizing the food supply that lay before them. The people were simply dressed; the women were not allowed to wear white cloth, while the men wore white if they could get it. They wore "bark cloth," which was stretched out on pegs to the right length. The Waganda were polygamists, each man having seven wives. The women were very happy, and did the hoeing and other agricultural work, while the men built the houses and carried the food. A man as a rule bought his wives. In one case he met a man who had bought a wife for four cows. He had paid two of the cows and then the lady was eaten by a leopard. He thought it was very hard lines that he should be compelled to pay the remaining cows. The houses were, as a rule, mere slight, temporary structures, but the house in which the late King Mtesa was buried was a wonderful structure with twenty feet or more of thickness of thatch. The churches—both Catholic and Protestant—were extremely fine, but the former had unfortunately been burned. The cruelties of the people had been much exaggerated, and were not comparable to the atrocities which were once committed. In former days a king had all the people killed who passed along a certain road from morning to night, and a man's life was almost worthless. The love of music—especially the drum and the pipe and a sort of rude violin—was characteristic of the people. There was abundance of big game and the Waganda were capital hunters, and their method of hunting was quaint and original in the extreme. A huge crowd, armed with stout sticks, beat down the high grass level and tracked the leopard or lion to his lair, and, getting him inclosed within a space equal to a good-sized room, literally beat the beast to death, and it rarely happened that anybody was much hurt.

The Gothenburg System.—In summarizing his conclusions as to the advantages and disadvantages of the Gothenburg or company monopoly system of liquor traffic in operation in Sweden and Norway, Dr. E. R. L. Gould insists that the system was not originated with the idea of stopping the consumption of liquors, but to combat drunkenness and reduce the evils consequent upon inordinate indulgence in alcoholic drinks. It is founded, too, upon the principle that, since, taking human nature and practices as we find them, it is impossible immediately to eradicate the evil completely, it is better to regulate it through the higher rather than the lower elements of the community. Its strength lies along the line of preventive rather than of reformatory elements. Among the advantages named is, first, the complete divorcing of the liquor traffic from politics. Further, the company monopoly has been so administered that a general reduction of the number of licenses has been brought about everywhere, and, consequently, a lessening of the temptation to drink. "It would be a very strange condition of affairs indeed, in any matter of this kind, if, when the element of private gain was entirely eliminated, a resulting improvement did not take place." A series of effective checks is imposed against a breach of trust, supposing there may exist an inclination to commit it. The companies have, in some measure, gone beyond the legal requirements in the line of general interest, particularly in raising the age of minority from fifteen, where the law puts it, to eighteen, as regards selling drink to young persons, and also in insisting immediately on cash payments. They have gradually raised the price of drinks and reduced their strength. In Norway the saloons are closed on Sundays and at those times of day when the workingman is most tempted to drink. All men employed are paid fair fixed salaries, and there is no temptation to push sales. All taxes are paid under the company system without shuffling. The cause of temperance has been assisted financially and otherwise. The profits on sales of drink are expended for the relief of society. No community which has tried the system has afterward abandoned it. The measure is supported by the temperance party, though many of them would prefer prohibition. The disadvantages are laid mostly to defects in existing law, rather than to faults inherent in the system itself. The monopoly does not extend far enough, but should cover fermented drinks; the limit for retail sales is not fixed high enough; the sale of liquors is often connected with general business, from which it should be separated; a monopoly of production by the state does not exist; the question of profits is still too conspicuous; and, from the temperance view of the case, it is feared that the upper classes of society do not wish to go further than the Gothenburg system.

Volcanic Rocks in Eastern North America.—Mr. George H. Williams has insisted on the presence, in the oldest geological formations, of igneous rocks, disguised, perhaps, under a foliated structure, and has dwelt upon the methods by which their origin may be established. The object of a paper by him on The Distribution of Ancient Volcanic Rocks along the Eastern Border of North America is to show that igneous, and volcanic rocks as well, are widely distributed through the crystalline belt of eastern North America, and to direct attention to them as offering a new and promising field for work in crystalline geology. His review of the field leads him to the conclusion that this class of material is abundant. It has been identified from Newfoundland to Georgia. For many areas the evidence of surface or volcanic origin is conclusive, while in many others it is as yet only probable. The areas of these ancient volcanic rocks now known fall roughly in two parallel belts; of these, the eastern embraces the exposures of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy, coast of Maine, Boston basin, and the central Carolinas; while the western belt crosses the Eastern Townships and follows the Blue Ridge through southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, to Georgia. Further and fuller Studies of the subject are desired by the author, who remarks that the identification of truly volcanic rocks in highly or partly crystalline terrains possesses far more than a petrographical significance, since, by fixing what was the surface at the time of their formation, they furnish a certain datum for tracing out the sequence of later geographic changes and geological development.

A "Copper Age."—An account of the discoveries made at Tel-el-Heyi, the site of the ancient city of Lachish, in Palestine, gave rise, in the British Association, to a discussion concerning a probable copper age. The very high mound contains the ruins of several towns, built each (except the lowest) on the ruined remains of its predecessor The uppermost was an Israelitish town, and was very probably the remains of the Lachish which was besieged and destroyed by Sennacherib in the time of Hezekiah. Throughout the mound, from the bottom to the top, were found flint and metallic implements. Among them was a thick chisel made of copper, which had been hardened by mixture with red oxide of copper, from which it received a red appearance. Toward the top of the mound were bronze arrowheads, which probably dated back to between 1400 and 1500 years b. c. In the ascent of the mound a change was observed from copper to bronze and from bronze to iron, which was very common in the Israelitish town. Lead was found in the form of a thick wire, very pure. A silver bangle contained ninety per cent of silver, considerable copper, and an appreciable quantity of gold. Sir John Evans spoke of the evidences of a copper age preceding a bronze age, seen in North America, Ireland, Hungary, and other countries. Dr. Hildebrand said that several implements of pure copper had been found in Sweden. Prof. Boyd Dawkins thought the evidence from North America showed that the copper age was practically a side of the neolithic age. Prof. A. H. Sayce spoke of the absence of words for tin in the Egyptian and Assyrian languages, although the metal was known in Egypt as far back as the eighteenth dynasty, and although there are words in both languages for gold, silver, iron, copper, bronze, lead, and possibly metallic antimony. The word for iron in Egyptian meant metal from heaven, and in Assyrian, heavenly metal. This would indicate that their iron was meteoric.

Feats of Diving Birds.—Naval architects are credited with saying that the highest speed in navigation could be obtained by submarine boats. The principle is illustrated in the diving birds, which are capable of shooting through the water with amazing velocity. While these birds live by catching fish in deep water far below the surface, they present many differences in outer appearance. In the collection at the London Zoölogical Gardens are black-footed penguins, guillemots, "darters," a puffin, and a cormorant. The penguin can not fly in the air, can not walk, but hops as if its feet were tied together; and can not swim; and can only with any grace fly under water. When the keeper of their quarters appears to feed the birds, they each behave in their characteristic way. The fish thrown into the water, the penguins instantly plunge beneath, when an astonishing change takes place, thus described by a writer in the Spectator: "The slow, ungainly bird is transformed into a swift and beautiful creature, beaded with globules of quicksilver, where the air clings to the close feathers, and flying through the clear and waveless depths with arrowy speed and powers of turning far greater than in any known form of aërial flight. The rapid and steady strokes of the wings are exactly similar to those of the air birds, while the feet float straight out, level with its body, unused for propulsion, or even as rudders, and as little needed in its progress as those of a wild duck when on the wing. The twists and turns necessary to follow the active little fish are made wholly by the strokes of one wing and the cessation of movement in the other; and the fish are chased, caught, and swallowed without the slightest relaxation of speed, in a submarine flight which is quite as rapid as that of most birds which take their prey in midair." The head and shoulders may be brought above the surface for a second, and then disappear; but any attempt to remain on the surface leads to ludicrous splashing and confusion, for the submarine bird can not float. The movements of the cormorant are quite different. It does not plunge headlong, but "launches itself on the surface, and then 'ducks' like a grebe. Its wings are not used as propellers, but trail unresistingly level with its body, and the speed at which it courses through the water is wholly due to the swimming powers of its large and ugly webbed feet. These are set quite at the end of the body, and work incessantly like a treadle, or the floats of a stern-wheel steamer. Yet the conditions of submarine motion are so favorable that the speed of the bird below the surface is three or four times greater than that gained by equally rapid movements of the feet when it has risen and is swimming on the top." The "darters"—divers of the African and American lakes, compared to the survival of some ancient lizard—dive and swim much like the cormorant, except that the bird keeps its neck drawn back in the form of a flattened S when in pursuit of the fish. "Once within striking distance, the sharp bill is shot out as if from a catapult, and the fish is spiked through and carried to the surface. This ascent is made after each single capture. Sometimes the bird has great difficulty in disentangling the pierced fish from the spearlike beak, and its companion adroitly relieves it of the struggling victim and swallows the prize."

An Ominous Forecast.—A dismal future is foreseen by M. Leroy Beaulieu, with two new and exhaustive processes going on in Europe, and, we might add, demanded by large classes in America. They are the rapid increase of state and communal expenditure, which in France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain is augmenting by leaps and bounds, mainly for unproductive outlay on defense; and the other is the still more rapid increase of demands for grants-in-aid to institutions intended to benefit the poorer classes. More education, more guarantees, more "civilization" of all kinds—there is no end to the proposals. Every European state except Austria-Hungary has already a large deficit; besides which the communal expenditure is advancing Incessantly in France, and in a less degree in Germany, while in Italy it is menacing the foundations of society. It is impossible that the twofold expenditure, on the means of killing and on the means of philanthropy, should go on without new taxation, and every tax diminishes the fund available for the payment of labor. No prospect is seen of these two depleting processes coming speedily to an end. Formerly they were checked by the rage of the taxpaying classes; but universal suffrage disregards that, and may go on taxing until its mood changes, or its own sources of supply begin visibly to fail. The demands partly urged by actual necessities, and otherwise being in the line of modern philanthropy, "which desires improvement in everything except manly independence," and further promoted by the fact that reasonable wants increase more rapidly than the means of satisfying them, are likely to go on advancing. In view of these circumstances, men of M. Leroy Beaulieu's school think that a time of grave economic distress, producing great social and political changes, is at hand for western Europe.