Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/December 1899/Fragments of Science

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 56‎ | December 1899

Fragments of Science.

The Dread of the Jew.[1]—The Dreyfus affair and the furious passions that it has awakened have their ultimate foundation in dread and hatred of the Jews. There is a Jewish question, more or less acute, in every continental country, and we are told by pessimists that before long we shall have an anti-Jewish movement in the East End of London. These facts naturally suggest an inquiry into the causes of the dread and hate which the Jews inspire, and the asking once again whether there are any good grounds for regarding the Hebrew race as a menace to the Christian world. The main fact about the Jews on the Continent which emerges from a study of the present situation is that for some reason or other they inspire terror. That this terror is as absurd and as unreasonable as is the terror caused respectively by Jesuits and Freemasons, we ourselves do not doubt for a moment, but that does not alter the fact that the sense of terror exists. It is hardly too much to say that the majority of people on the Continent honestly believe that unless the Jews are in some way or other curbed, controlled, and kept down, something very dreadful will happen. In Russia the vast Slavonic population and its leaders believe that unless the Jews are impounded in the Polish Pale they will swamp the true Russian, and utterly ruin and destroy the Russian nationality and the Russian ideal. In Austria it is believed that if the Jews are allowed to go on as they are going on they will get everything into their hands—the land of the peasants, the sources of public information and the press, and the nerves by which trade and commerce are moved. In Germany it is much the same story, and there the Jews are believed, unless stopped in time, to be about to monopolize the universities. In France it is thought that the Jews, if not put down with the strong hand, will capture the whole administration, as well as "strangle commerce by their octopus grip." The Jews are called a "parasitic race," whatever that may mean. It is said that the Jew never becomes an agriculturist, that he is a usurer and a bloodsucker, that he is a gross materialist, and that he has no ideals beyond the precious metals; and that they habitually act together to further their own racial interests and to injure those communities which have been foolish enough to trust them. To take the charge of want of patriotism first. How is it substantiated? We can not say that we have ever seen any real evidence of want of patriotism in the Jews. Look at the ease of France at present. There is something extremely pathetic in the way in which the French Jews cling to their nationality in spite of all the hatred they inspire. The truth is, the Jew is a sort of expert in patriotism. Did not the Maccabees teach the world one of its first lessons in patriotism? Depend upon it, if the Jew is only allowed to be a patriot he will not fail here. The charge, indeed, is like that so often made in Russia against the Jews. They are accused of not tilling the soil, their accusers ignoring the fact that no Jew is allowed to buy, or to lease, or to occupy land, and is, in fact, excluded by law from acting as a farmer. Take next the charge of "aloofness." Probably this charge is well founded, but what can be expected of a people so newly freed from the Ghetto? If you treat a race for centuries as lepers, and visit its members with dire penalties, if they do not keep "aloof" they are likely to remain for some time disinclined to free intercourse. The third charge is, in reality, that the Jews of the world, having obtained control of cosmopolitan finance, act together in the interests of their race, and inflict grievous injuries upon the nations. But what proof is there of this? Curiously enough, Mr. Arnold White—though in other ways he seems to encourage this charge—accuses the great Jewish financiers of not doing this very thing. He tells us that after the Russians had driven the Jews into the Pale they wanted to raise a loan. One would have expected the great Jewish loanmongers to have absolutely refused to help the enemy of the race. Instead they basely, as we think, found Russia the money she wanted. But though this was a base act, it certainly is not consistent with the charge that the Jews control the international money market for tribal ends. We believe, in fact, that this whole charge is a pure delusion. The great financiers, whether Jew or Gentile, look for a profit, and not to deep and mysterious racial aspirations. The charge that the Jews are steeped in materialism, and so are a demoralizing element in the community, is equally unfair and absurd. Many Jews may be fond of pomp of a vulgar kind, and may aflect what we confess personally to finding very disagreeable forms of Asiatic luxury; but these are externals. In essentials and as a race the Jews are no more materialistic than their neighbors. And can we say that they are a demoralizing element when it is universally confessed that the Jews are among the best fathers, sons, and husbands in the world?

 

Death of Professor Bunsen.—With the death of Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, at Heidelberg, August 16th, the world loses a student whose name is inseparably connected with nearly all the chemical work that has been done in the last fifty years, for it is safe to say that hardly a discovery has been made or experiment performed to the success of which some process, property, or instrument discovered, invented, or suggested by Bunsen, and usually named after him, has not contributed. A sketch of this illustrious chemist, with a portrait, and an enumeration of his principal works, each of which might be characterized as a milestone in the advance of the science, was published in the Popular Science Monthly for August, 1881 (vol. xix, page 550). One of the principal events in his life since that sketch was published was his election, in 1883, as one of the eight foreign associates of the French Academy of Sciences—the highest honor that that institution is competent to confer. Besides Bunsen's personal interest in the work and success of his students, one of his most salient traits, as described by a careful and appreciative biographer in the New York Evening Post, was his absentmindedness concerning what he had himself accomplished. He was afflicted with an "incipient aphasia," which made it impossible for him to talk about them. "He could not answer verbal questions, whether oral or written. He could not have passed a decent examination in his own discoveries. Let the question come in the shape of an emergency in a chemical operation, and a wealth of knowledge would be poured out, but let it be put in words and he could not answer it." He is said to have answered a student once, who asked him about some substance, that he knew nothing about it—"You will have to look up the literature." The student looked up the literature, and found that it consisted of a single article, and that by Bunsen! Professor Bunsen prized what would stimulate him to effort, enjoyed life, was fond of travel and interested in everything human, and was a good novel reader.

 

The Unprofitableness of Strikes.—The cost of a large strike is impressively illustrated in some of the results of the great colliery dispute of 1898 in South Wales, as they are set forth in the British Board of Trade returns and the reports of the consular service. In direct financial loss, the company suffered to the extent of $100,000, and the men of $300,000 in wages, besides the demoralization from being so long out of work. To a certain extent, other districts gained what the South Wales mines lost by the diversion of trade to them, but that simply aggravated the evil in the mines, for some of this diverted trade will stay where it went. It is sometimes said, indeed, that strikes have only a temporary effect on business, from which it will recover in time. This is true, however, as is suggested in Industries and Iron, only when the locality affected has a virtual monopoly of the trade, while in the competition of the nations instances of that kind are growing rarer, England especially has many rivals in these days, eager to take advantage of every opportunity to profit by its mistakes or misfortunes, and which, when they get their hands on a good thing, are not apt to let go. Notwithstanding some strikes at home, the coal trade in the United States derived benefits from the British strike by sending to markets which the Welsh mines should have supplied; Germany sent coal to Sweden, and Belgium increased its shipments to the Canary Islands. Other countries are induced, by conditions making the usual sources of supply inconvenient to them, to a more active development of their own resources, as Austria-Hungary, Spain, and France were in the present case. So it is more than doubtful whether the present strike paid.

 

The Scientific Spirit.—The study of science, especially of an experimental science, said Prof. R. H. Chittenden in an informal talk to students of the Sheffield Scientific School, is peculiarly adapted for developing the power of independent thought, and of training one in drawing logical conclusions from experimental data. In the laboratory is afforded an opportunity for making observations, but if real benefit is to be derived from the experimental work there must be a full realization of the necessity of careful thought in drawing deductions from the results observed. Broad generalizations built on a slender foundation of fact frequently topple to the ground, and sometimes carry destruction with them, all because of a lack of that critical spirit which prompts a careful and thorough consideration of all the premises. The man who has acquired the habit of careful thought, of reasoning out each step in a process, of weighing carefully each reaction involved, of seeking in his own mind the reason for this or that phenomenon, who looks at both sides of a question, and carefully considers all the facts available, will build much more surely and firmly than he who by specious arguments constructs a glittering hypothesis, only to see it fade away. Hasty reasoning, insufficient data, obscure facts, are the bane of modern science. The true scientific spirit prompts to thorough inquiry; it will have nothing to do with hasty generalizations that may glitter but do not convince; it puts a restraining hand on all immature conclusions, and demands, above all else, careful, thorough observation. It shuns all shams. Good, honest work is the only passport to the domain of science.

 

Constitution of the Funafuti Atoll.—In the boring of the coral atoll of Funafuti, Professor David, of the University of Sydney, reached a depth of 697 feet, and a subsequent boring was made down to about 1,000 feet. The core obtained by the David party was sent to England and placed in the hands of Professor Judd for investigation. The general statement is made respecting it that the material brought up presents much the same character throughout, and so far is regarded as supporting Darwin's theory. There are no layers of chalky ooze, such as Murray's hypothesis might have made possible, and no trace of volcanic material has been found. The later boring beyond 700 feet passed through a hard limestone containing many well-preserved corals. In a boring of the bed of the lagoon down to 144 feet, after passing through 101 feet of water, the first 80 feet below were found to consist of the calcareous alga Halimeda mixed with shells, and the remaining 64 feet of the same material mixed with gravel.

 

Metallic Calcium.—Metallic calcium, as prepared by Professor Moissan from solution in liquid sodium, separates in hexagonal crystals which have a specific gravity of 1.85 and melt at 760° in vacuo. On solidifying, the metal is somewhat brittle, is less malleable than potassium and sodium, and shows a crystalline fracture. When free from nitride it is silver-white in color, and has a brilliant surface. Heated to redness in a current of hydrogen, a crystalline hydride, CaH2, is formed. When pure, calcium is not acted upon at ordinary temperatures by chlorine, though at 100° C. the action is decided. But if the metal contains nitride, chlorine attacks it at the ordinary temperature. At 300° C. calcium ignites and burns brilliantly in oxygen. Gently warmed in air, it burns with brilliant scintillations. It combines with sulphur, with incandescence, at 400° C. At a red heat it unites actively with lampblack, giving a carbide, CaC2. It gives some brittle alloys with magnesium, zinc, and nickel. The alloy with tin slowly decomposes water. A crystalline amalgam is formed with mercury, which may be distilled in hydrogen at 400° C, but which forms nitride when heated in nitrogen. Heated to redness with potassium or sodium chloride, calcium sets the metal free. Water acts on calcium only very slowly, with the evolution of hydrogen. In liquefied ammonia at-40° C. calcium ammonia is formed—a reddish-brown solid.

 

Prosperity and Enterprise in Mexico.—The increasing prosperity of Mexico is one of the striking features of current history. In four years the imports of the country increased from $30,000,000 in 1894 to upward of $45,000,000 in 1898, the average for five years having been $40,000,000. The chief sellers to Mexicans are the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany, and the keenness of the competition for trade is shown in the fluctuations in the relative shares of it of the several countries. Spain has a small share of trade, which is growing. Industrial enterprises are being developed throughout the country with energy, enterprise, and success. Cotton and linen factories have been established, attention is given to the erection of woolen mills, and a noticeable activity prevails in mining industries. Under all these influences the railroads are prospering too.

 

A Question of Economy.—A paper, "Shall we grow the Sugar that we consume?" by Freeman Stewart, called out by an article by ex-Secretary Wilson, besides matter bearing directly on the question, embodies observations on general political principles. Thus, it seems necessary to observe "that the idea that republicanism requires our public officials to act as mere weathercocks for the transient waves of popular clamor and excitement is also a deplorable delusion, which, if persistently carried into effect, will soon utterly destroy republicanism. As free institutions depend on the recognition of correct principles by the people, it is primarily necessary that correct principles should be constantly impressed upon the attention of the people. The great need of the nation today is wise leadership—unselfish men, who appreciate the necessity of being governed by immutable divinely appointed principles, to act as leaders, to keep the minds of the people centered in the right direction." Coming to the main subject of the essay, we have, as to the expediency of taxing ourselves to have sugar made here: "If the farmer's profits must come from the consumers of sugar as a bounty or tax, and not from the inherent profitableness of the business, then the farmer's profits are the consumer's loss. The business is inherently unprofitable, and no farmer, or any one else, has a right, 'inherent' or otherwise, to carry on an unprofitable business, except at his own expense.… It may be assumed that the farmers who are growing the sugar are now growing crops which, if not as profitable as they desire, are at least sufficiently so to keep them from being burdensome to the rest of the nation. And how can the prosperity of the nation be increased by having these same farmers engage in a new business which will require them to draw on the productive capacity of the rest of the people to the extent of many millions of dollars annually, in order to keep their heads above water?"

 

Bacteria of the Dairy.—An investigation of the relation of acid fermentation to the flavor and aroma of butter, made by C. H. Eckles at the Iowa College Experiment Station, has given the results that the flavor is produced by the bacterial fermentations which have taken place in the milk and cream. The kind of flavor depends upon the class of bacteria causing the fermentation. The ripening of a good quality of acid cream is mostly a development of acid bacteria. Four species of acid-producing bacteria, tested in ripening pasteurized cream, were found to give the butter the typical flavor and aroma. Of the species tried, the most common milk-souring organism (Bacterium lactarii) was found to give the most satisfactory results in ripening cream. Cream ripened with common bacteria found in hay dust (Bacillus subtilis) gives a very undesirable flavor to butter. The superior flavor of summer butter is due to the greater number of bacteria of the acid class found in milk during that season.

 

For Outdoor Improvement.—The American Park and Outdoor Association has taken up and aims to nationalize the important work of the improvement of outdoors. Not that it expects to improve upon Nature, but it hopes to be able to neutralize or remedy the devastation and disfigurement which man has wrought upon her face. At the third annual meeting of the association, held in Detroit in July, 1899, preliminary steps were taken toward offering prizes for the improvement of grounds about manufactories and homes—both front and back lots—and especially about the homes of artisans. A standing committee was instituted to consider the best way of checking abuses of public advertising. A paper read by Mr. F. Law Olmstead, on the Relation of Reservoirs to Public Parks, concerned such construction of reservoirs and the surrounding them with suitable settings as would bring them into closer harmony with the park landscape and make them more a part of it. Another paper, by Mr. R. J. Coryell, of the Detroit parks, might be described as an effort to show how a similar service may be performed for the parks and the people—in other words, how to make the people at home in the parks. Its points were illustrated by citing what had been done in Detroit. Respecting means of preventing depredations, Mr. C. C. Lancey told of good results accomplished in Rochester, N. Y., by the distribution of circulars of information on the subject; and Mr. F. L. Olmstead, Jr., of the interest taken by the children in the school gardens in Cambridge, Mass.

 

Where Physical Investigation Fails.—From the discussion of the physical method, with its descriptive laws and applications and hypotheses. Prof. J. H. Poynting was led, in his address at the British Association, to the consideration of the limitation of its range. It was developed in the study of matter which we describe as non-living, and with non-living matter it has sufficed for the particular purposes of the physicist. Of course, only a little corner of the universe has been explored, but in the study of non-living matter we have come to no impassable gulfs, no chasms across which we can not throw bridges of hypothesis. Does the method equally suffice when it is applied to living matter? Can we give a purely physical account of such matter? Do we make any attempt to apply the physical method to describe and explain those motions of matter which on the psychical view we term voluntary? In practice the strictest physicist abandons the physical view, and replaces it by the psychical. He admits the study of purpose as well as the study of motion, and has to confess that here the physical method of prediction fails.

 

Honors to Sullivant and Lesquereux.—"Sullivant day," August 22d, was devoted in the American Association to the commemoration of the lives and works of William S. Sullivant and C. Leo Lesquereux, botanists, the former distinguished for his studies in the mosses and the latter for his researches in paleobotany, both of whom lived and did the work by which they became famous in Columbus, Ohio. Sullivant was born and passed the whole of his life in Columbus. Lesquereux, a Swiss by birth, lived in Columbus during many of his most fruitful years, and worked alongside of Sullivant. A considerable number of objects associated with the two botanists were on exhibition—rare botanical specimens, charts and pictures connected with their labors, and complete sets of their published works—and excellent and highly prized portraits of them were shown. The families of both were represented by the presence of daughters and granddaughters, among whom was Miss Arhart, a granddaughter of Lesquereux, who was associated with him in part of his work, and made most of the drawings for his later books. Prof. C. R. Barnes presided over the exercises. Prof. W. A. Kellerman read a tribute to Sullivant from Dr Gray's supplement to the Icones. Mrs. Britton gave a short review of the species named from Sullivant (including twelve North American mosses). Professor Barnes read a tribute to Lesquereux, taken from the Botanical Gazette. Remarks were made and papers read on the Progress in the study of the Hepatica, by Prof. L. M. Underwood; the Moss Flora of Alabama, by Dr. Charles Mohr (read by Professor Earle); the History of the Study of the Mosses, by Mrs. Britton; the Classification of Certain Mosses, by A. J. Grout; the Study of Lichen Distribution in the Mississippi Valley, by Bruce Fink; and Botanical Teaching in the Secondary Schools, by W. C. Stevens and Ida Clendenin. Among the exhibits, those of twelve species of hepaticæ from California, by Prof. F. E. Lloyd; forty-five photographs of American students and collectors made famous by their work in mosses, by Mrs. Britton and Professor Underwood; and six species of mosses discovered and collected originally by Sullivant and Lesquereux near Columbus, deserve special mention.

 

Rate of Evolutionary Variation in the Past.—Mr. Adam Sedgwick, speaking, in his address at the British Association, of variation, selection, and heredity, having raised the question whether the variability of organisms has ever been different from what it is now, answered it in the affirmative, because it would be absurd to suppose that organisms would remain constant in this respect while they have undergone alteration in all their other properties. According to the Darwinian theory of evolution, one of the most important factors in determining the modification of organisms has been natural selection. It acts by presenting certain favorable variations, and allowing others less favorable to be killed off in the struggle for existence. It will thus come about that certain variations will be gradually eliminated, while the variations of the selected organisms will themselves be submitted to selection, and certain of these will in their turn be eliminated. In this way a group of organisms becomes more and more closely adapted to the surroundings. It would thus appear that the result of continued selection is to diminish the variability of a species. Hence, as selection has been going on all the while, variation must have been much greater in past times than it is now. Following out this train of reasoning, we are driven to the conclusion that one of the most important results of the evolutionary change has been the gradual increase and perfection of heredity as a function of organisms and a gradual elimination of variability. This view, if it can be established, is of the utmost importance to our theoretical conception of evolution, because it enables us to bring our requirements as to time within the limits granted by the physicists.

  1. From an article In the London Spectator.