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The Mystery of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea

Jules Verne was born at Nantes in 1828, and occupies a unique place in the history of literature because he was one of the first writers to make systematic use in fiction of accurate scientific knowledge. After his schooldays Jules Verne went to Paris to study law, but he gave more attention to writing plays than to his legal work. In any way, Verne was also a great traveller. At the beginning of the 60s he made a tour of Scotland, followed by a visit to London, and later he and his brother crossed from Liverpool to the United States. They also determined to go round the world in the shortest possible time, and not long afterwards this idea took form in Verne’s famous novel Round the World in Eighty Days, which achieved an extraordinary success.

Verne’s most famous books were based on scientific ideas, but his vivid imagination led him to describe achievements that seemed improbable at the time he wrote,  but  it is remarkable how many of his ideas have been realized almost completely. The most amazing book in this respect was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, in which the exploits of the famous Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus were vividly described.

I’ve often wondered where Verne has taken the idea for the title of his most famous novel. Perhaps the answer lies hidden in the equally famous novel of Miguel de Cervantes, when Don Quixote says he wanted to “travel fast, and get quickly to the place where this giant is.”

Don Quixote says:

“But what I propose to do,  is to travel fast,  and get quickly to the place where this giant is,  and,  presently after my arrival,  to cut off his head, and settle the princess peaceably in her kingdom, and that instant to return and see that sun that enlightens my senses; to whom I will make such an excuse, that she shall allow my delay was necessary; for she will perceive that all redounds to the increase of her glory and fame, since what I have won, do win, or shall win, by force of arms, in this life, proceeds wholly from the succour she affords me, and from my being hers.”

And Sancho replied:

“Ah! quoth Sancho, how is your worship disordered in your head!   Pray, tell me, sir,  do you intend to take this journey for nothing! and will you let slip so considerable a match as this, when the dowry is a kingdom, which, as I have heard say, is above twenty thousand leagues in circumference, and abounding in all things necessary or the support of human life, and bigger than Portugal and Castile together?”

Twenty thousand leagues “in circumference” became Twenty Thousand Leagues “Under the Sea.” So, I think, perhaps the mystery of the title of one of the most famous novels of Verne is revealed. Maybe it’s not a great mystery, but because Sancho quotes almost entirely the title of Verne’s novel, and it is related to the journey of Don Quixote “to the place where this giant is,” this makes the Spanish source not only possible but also highly likely.


The Life and Exploits of Don Quixote de la Mancha.  In Four Volumes, London, Smith & Holborn, 1840, Vol. I,  p. 52.




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Why Our Memory is playing tricks on Our Lives

The most reliable studies show that many people suffer from memory loss. Memory can play dirty tricks. Without any doubt,  individual memory  is the essential core of personal identity, and its alteration has serious consequences, and  we should  treat it with extreme caution, because,  “each year, million Americans sustain a minor head trauma that results in a brief loss of consciousness […] persistent headaches and memory loss.” (1).

Oliver Sacks’  The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat  is a book that became very popular when  it was first  published (2). Sacks is both a  well-known neurologist and a successful author of good  science  books. In  The Lost Mariner (3), he told the story of a 60-year-old sailor,   hospitalized in a nursing home in New York to treat progressive memory loss. The sailor remembered absolutely nothing, and he couldn’t even remember what the doctor had previously told him 10 minutes before about why he was hospitalized. The sailor had an amnestic-syndrome known as Korsakoff’s syndrome.  This syndrome includes degeneration of mammillary nuclei involved in memory consolidation.

The case reported by Oliver Sacks is certainly striking, but  we would like to  mention the case of a  young man,  19 years of age  who, after a motorcycle accident, had suffered a mild head  injury, which implied the absolute loss of memory . The young man was subjected to all kinds of testing (including the one about a possible simulation), but although much information has been furnished to him, he didn’t remember anything on his past life.

Another curious case of loss of memory is given in P. Turriziani et alii,   where some patients forgot both people’s names and the names of the streets. This type of memory loss has been studied extensively and is well documented.  Some studies report the case of a man who was literally unable to orient himself adequately in new environments. In this case, there was a man who suffered from Topographical disorientation, viz “a specific difficulty in storing the spatial-directional value of visual landmarks in novel environments.” (4).

A completely different case from that of memory loss described above was carried out by Professor Alexander Lurija, one of the most experts in the field of neuropsychology. Professor Luria’s told the story of a man who suffered from  hypermnesia (5), whereby he, instead of forgetting, remembered  all the facts  he live in  down to the smallest details. Apparently the hypermnesia would  seem to be  an advantage for humans suffering from it, but in reality,  he was deeply bothered by the inability to forget at least some events of his life. In this particular case, the excessive accumulation of memory had ruined the life of this exceptional man, who was condemned to remember everything.


1)      Archives of clinical neuropsychology, 1986, Vol. I,  p. 73.

2)      Oliver Sacks,   The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, New York, Touchstone, 1998.

3)      Ivi, The Lost Mariner, p. 23.

4)      P. Turriziani et alii,  “Loss of Spatial Learning in a patient With Topographical Disorientation in New Environments,” in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 2003 Jan, 74 , pp. 61-69.

5)      Alexandr Lurija, The Man Who Couldn’t Forget, 1968.




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Had Edgar Allan Poe a sense of humor?

Poe was both a man of inspired genius and the master of the supernatural and the terrible, and his Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque represent the best of his prose work. Poe was around 30 years old when became editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, where  he  published many amazing articles and lyrics, astonishing his readers with his fertile imagination and beyond one’s wildest dreams in a few years.  His work, culture and genius honored his country. His fame has grown since his death, not only in America, but among all foreign countries, and he showed extraordinary genius that elevated him above all his contemporaries.

Poe’s poems like The Raven and The Bells are good specimen of his poetry.  Poe’s idea of poetry is the result of the supreme power of the word, with which the poet creates any emotional effect on his reader. The Raven is the symbol of poetry, as a synthesis of Greek beauty (Pallas) and Romantic sadness:

The raven sitting on the pallid bust of Pallas.

The transient time was also well expressed in The Bells (1849), and like in Leopardi’s poetry,  life and death were inseparable words in Poe’s poems:

Oh, the bells, bells, bells ! What a tale their terror tells Of Despair!

The sadness of The Raven always floated on his life. It accompanied him: he was found lying on a bench by the wharf at Baltimore in a state of insensibility. He was taken to a hospital,  and there he ended his infernal life.

“If it be the office of poetry to intimate the divine, it must be confessed these works of Poe intimate the infernal; they are variations struck on the chord of evil that vibrates in all life, throbs of the heart of pain, echoes of ruin that float up from the deep within the deep.” (1).

Excellent. But, as far as we know, Poe seems to move among ruins, hells, ravens and death knells. Strange to say, but someone wondered if such a man also had a bit sense of humor. Apparently Poe had a surprising amount of humor, which had been noticed by some of his contemporaries.

So C. Alphonso Smith  wrote:

“A quality inseparable from personality and almost inseparable from Americanism is humor. Did Poe have a sense of humor? Did he ever smile or make others smile? There is little evidence of it in his poems and better known stories. Hence we find James Hannay  saying and others saying with him, Poe has no humor. But Poe’s best work did not call for humor; it excluded it.” C. Alphonso Smith  wrote a persuasive argument.

Then he added:

“ ‘Humor,’ [Poe] says, ‘with an exception to be made hereafter, is directly antagonistical to that which is the soul of the Muse proper; and the omni-prevalent belief, that melancholy is inseparable from the higher manifestations of the beautiful, is not without a firm basis in nature and in reason. But it so happens that humor and that quality which we have termed the soul of the Muse (imagination) are both essentially aided in their development by the same adventitious assistance — that of rhythm and of rhyme. Thus the only bond between humorous verse and poetry, properly so called, is that they employ in common a certain tool.’” (2).

For all these reasons, C. Alphonso Smith  handed down to us a few examples of Poe’s sense of humor:

“Poe was very far from being the stark, solemn, unsmiling figure that so many picture him. He could even laugh at himself. When he had won the hundred-dollar prize in 1833 and Mr. Latrobe, one of the committee of award, asked the unknown young writer what else he had for publication, he replied that he was engaged on a voyage to the moon. ‘And at once’ says Mr. Latrobe, ‘he began to describe the journey with so much animation that for all I now remember, I may have fancied myself the companion of his aerial journey. When he had finished his description, he apologized for his excitability) which he laughed at himself.’ Indeed Poe’s smile – it is not likely that he ever laughed boisterously — was a noticeable and memorable characteristic of his manner and expression.”

Poe  in his Marginalia wrote:

‘The Swedenborgians inform me that they have discovered all that I said in a magazine article, entitled Mesmeric Revelation, to be absolutely true, although at first they were very strongly inclined to doubt my veracity— a thing which, in that particular instance, I never dreamed of not doubting myself. The story is a pure fiction from beginning to end.’”

A born humorist!



1)      George Edward Woodberry, Edgar Allan Poe, Houghton, Mifflin, 1885,  p. 257.

2)      C. Alphonso Smith, Edgar Allan Poe. How to Know Him, Indianapolis, The Bobbs-Merril Company Publishers, 1921, pp. 50-51, pp. 55-56, and footnote.









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An Amazing Temple: the Oldest Bank in the World

Today there is much talk about banks and interest on loans. But how things worked in antiquity? Come on to ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq), and here we find the oldest Bank in the world that dates back more than 5000 years ago.

Archaeological excavations at Uruk ( modern Warka) in Mesopotamia  (Iraq) were conducted  at  the end of the 1920s,  bringing  to light the remains of a large  temple, called Red Temple by Julius Jordan (1928) (1), which was both a place of worship, and the oldest bank in the world. The priests-bankers of Uruk had two main roles. First the worship of the god   who lived in the inner temple ( sacred to the god), and, second,  the custody of wealth in  name of that same god. Immense wealth had been accumulated from the different gifts of the faithful, who offered to the god jewelry, cattle, large plots of land, houses and slaves. The priests-bankers of Uruk stored the non-perishables goods in the treasure room of the Red Temple, while temple slaves did work the land.

What’s really remarkable is that the assets held in the Temple had been used to support lending, charging interest on loans.  In reading Hammurabi’s Code we learn important things on the annual rate of interest in ancient Mesopotamia. The clay tablets show that the old Babylonians charged an interest rate of 30% payable annually in barley or other cereal grains. The ancient concept of interest differed substantially from today, but contracting parties did draw up a written contract,

“If a man purchase silver or gold, manservant or maid servant, ox, sheep or ass, or anything else from a man’s son, or from a man’s servant without witnesses or contracts, or if he receive (the same) in trust, that man shall be put to death as a thief”  (2).


Interest on capital “was not a product of capital from which it veered away as a stand-alone item Among the Babylonians,” Professor M. Caroselli said (3).  “The rate of interest was instead incorporated into capital, a key element in order to increase profit.”  Hammurabi’s Code had provided severe penalties to punish those who had not fulfilled  their obligations to the Temple treasury (the return of capital, and the payment of interest). In the event of late payment or non-payment of interest, the  interest rate charged by the Temple treasury went up to 100% on the whole of capital originally  lent. However,  the debtor could repay the annual amount of interest though different payment systems like animals, slaves and fruits of the Earth:

“If he [the agent] have not the money to return, he shall give to the merchant (grain or) sesame, at their market value according to the scale fixed by the king, for the loan and its interest which he has obtained from the merchant”  (4).

In the draft of the contract, the priest-bankers were flanked by scribes, who took care of the mandatory records written on clay tablets, where  there were both the names of those applicants who received loans, and the amount of the loan as well as interest on  loans. Hammurabi’s goal was thus a complete codification  of  existing business practices dating back to the most ancient peoples of Mesopotamia like the Sumerians (Uruk was a Sumerian city):

“If he [the agent] does not meet with success where he goes, the agent shall double the amount of money obtained and he shall pay it to the merchant”  (5).

Those were the days, and no one was better than Hammurabi! The world have known better days, when all the customers were pleased; but there is nothing more that can be done, alas. Today all the  bank’s customers appear dissatisfied; they are penniless, they are sick and tired of banks, because they are out of the pocket. Given how things go, have we not maybe reached a point where we will need a new Hammurabi? If only it were true!

Pious hopes, and a forgotten chapter in history of the world.


1)      Julius Jordan, Uruk-Warka nach den Ausgrabungen durch die Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, WVDOG, 51. Leipzig, J.C. Hinrichs, 1928.

2)      R. F. Harper, The Code of Hammurabi King of Babylon, London, The University of Chicago Press,  1904,  p. 13.

3)      M. Caroselli, “Miseria e grandezza della vita bancaria nell’antichità”, in Economia e Storia, gennaio-marzo 1977, pp. 5-7.

4)      F. Harper, The Code of Hammurabi King of Babylon, cit.,  Number 51,  p. 29.

5)      Ivi, Number 101, p. 35.








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Is the UFOs Issue a Philosophical and a Methodological Question?

In the late 1999 I read an interesting article about UFOs sightings appeared in the Daily Mail signed by Nick Pope, who, with a very engaging idea, entitled his article in such a way

Britain’s X Files (and yes the true is in these pages).

I have read carefully Pope’s article, and I found some important information worthy of mention. Nick Pope worked for more than three years for the English Ministry of Defense (=MOD) as a responsible “for investigating extraterrestrial visitations.” He worked in Secretariat (Air Staff) at the MOD, and, according to him, still at that moment several “sightings that couldn’t be explained in conventional terms” occurred.

One of the most important UFO sightings in Great Britain occurred around 1980 in the Rendlesham Forest, when two patrolmen saw bright lights in the sky and among the trees. At the beginning they thought “an aircraft had overshot,” but the event was a far cry from being a true explanation. In reality they discovered among the trees “a large metallic, triangular object.” Because of two nights later a new sighting occurred, the USAF Commander Charles Halt said that a systematic survey of the zone was need, stating that the UFOs seemed “metallic in appearance and triangular in shape.”

The MOD investigators reported that in their opinions “the lights appeared to explode in fragments of white light.” The same USAF Commander Charles Halt saw “three objects like stars” in the sky which were visible for almost three hours. According to Nick Pope, other mysterious objects were observed in the sky in 1956, when two RAF jets “were scrambled to intercept the mystery craft.” As a result, the unidentified flying objects eluded the pilots because they were “too quick and agile.” Other sightings occurred in 1993 and 1995.

In 1993 two soldiers described a UFO as “a vast triangular craft.” Finally, although the U.S. government’s denial, US army Colonel Philip Corso said that he was in possession of material and objective evidence about “the so-called Roswell incident from 1947” which was really due to “the crash of a UFO”. But Colonel Corso died “shortly after” of a heart attack and he “took the secrets to his grave”. After completing his military service, Nick Pope changed his own opinion about UFOs. He started “as a sceptic,” but then he must recognize that this experience “changed his life forever.”

How about that? Nick Pope seems to me sincere and a man of considerable experience. But Pope’s assertion that “ yes the true is in these pages,” has still to be demonstrated. Recently Pope, in his Foreword  to a book by Georgina Bruni,  dwells on what happened long ago  in the Rendlesham Forest. The impression is that the MOD wants to   minimize the phenomenon of UFOs, stating that it is not considered of strategic interest. Pope also mentions the presence of documents still Top Secret; which is definitely true, because classified documents relating to particular events never reached the newspapers.

In the present state of our knowledge, there is no magic solution, and I think that we may have the chance of finding   good solutions after more searching, and perhaps one day we will discover the truth that today still seems highly limited. I might be mistaken, but, in the absence of uncontroversial evidence, the problem of UFOs seems to move from an investigative task to a philosophical question, where the search for the truth becomes a question of method and of time. Only the method of searching and the passing of time probably will reveal deep secrets that still might exist about the phenomenon of UFOs.


Is it possible to accept a speech as true in the absence of scientific evidence?


From a methodological point of view, the problem of UFOs is strictly related both to the authoritativeness of the testimonies and to a substantial amount of reliable eye-witnesses.  I think Pope is authoritative because he, for more than three years, worked as a responsible “for investigating extraterrestrial visitations.”

But the authoritativeness is not enough.

We must be absolutely certain that those who try to persuade us to adopt their beliefs they reveal themselves to be absolutely worthy of confidence. Veracious eye-witnesses are an unavoidable necessity in the case of UFOs. This point is crucial, because, if the abovementioned premise will be satisfied (the authoritativeness of the testimonies), and if there are a substantial number of worthy people that say pretty much the same thing, it is very likely that such beliefs may be considered plausible, if not true at all. The maximum-likelihood method is a valid historical method largely implemented in oral-history.

For this reason, it is only a matter of time.




Nick Pope, “Britain’s X Files ( and yes the true is in these pages)”, in  the Daily Mail, Monday, November 15, 1999, p. 13.

Georgina Bruni, The Definitive Account of the Rendlesham Forest. You Can’t Tell the People, UFO Mystery, 2011. Foreword by Nick Pope.







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The UFOs Sightings, and Socrates’ Opinions

Document Signed Maxwell AF3 A / s 35112

August 8, 1958

In this document which bears the title UFO Program, the author gives a brief history about UFOs, and states that this history can help people better understand the problem of the UFOs sightings.

The author of the report states that  Flying Object Program started in 1947, June, when Kenneth Arnold claimed to have seen flying saucers near Mount Rainier, in the state of Washington. He knew the phenomenon as Flying saucers.

The sighting of flying saucers mentioned above was investigated immediately by the USA AIR FORCE and this project was called  Project Sign.  In 1949, the project changed its name, and was called Project Grudge, during which about 300 sightings were analyzed.

The report on these sightings was presented to the American authorities. From this report it appears that only 20% of the sightings would relate to the UFOs, while a rather large percentage would be essentially related to misinterpretations, simple atmospheric phenomena, or balloons,  radar malfunctions, mass suggestions, psychopathic persons, hysteria, and publicity seeking. The Department of Defense made known to the public these results, which were widely echoed in the newspapers of the time.  However, from 1951 there was an increase in UFOs sightings,  but  the Department of Defense  attributed them essentially to the “placed emphasis on UFO by press,” and  the project   changed its name, and was called Project Blue Book.


In relation to the increase of the UFOs sightings, General Samford (Director of Intelligence) directly intervened, and stated that “UFO phenomena were not of interplanetary origin,” and they did not constitute a danger to the U.S. why the phenomenon was rejected by a large number of UFO experts. As a result, General Samford instructed the CIA to train a group of experts, who concluded that UFOs were not a threat to the U.S., and that UFOs sightings do not presuppose any revision “of the current scientific concept.”

In 1950 the editors of Galaxy Science Fiction asked Willy Ley,  a “recognized authority” on the UFO phenomenon, “to open the Flying Saucer Season.” He wrote that, “If we say that the average number of witnesses per case was three, about 1,200 persons claim to have seen these objects. One has to assume, therefore, where there is so much smoke, there must be fire somewhere. ” He also added that the most common “explanations are: (1) that the witnesses saw phenomena which are known, but not known to them; (2) that the Saucers are a secret American development; (3) that they are spaceships from another planet.”

The fact is that the uncertainty pertained to the existence of UFOS is excessive and without an explicit criterion of truth. Willy Ley wrote in 1950, and today, after more than 70 years from the first sightings, the situation has not changed much . UFOs could be described as a kind of  radical uncertainty, and, despite their social, political and scientific importance,  Ufos problem was minimized or ignored by authorities in many countries. The most common expressions used for UFOS are:

We don’t know, I think, Bona fide, Disk-shaped, Fascinating, White light, Mysterious thighs, Paranormal, Ghost rockets, Strange glowing objects, UFO mystery and UFOs are real.

The opinions are quite far apart, and at this point I would say that the whole issue of UFOs is only a matter  of opinions: there is no question about it.  I do not know whether UFOs are real or not, but,  I know with absolute certainty that, according to Socrates, all opinions  are false but not true.

One day Socrates met Protagoras with whom he had a heated debate over human opinions. Protagoras argued that all opinions are true. Socrates replied that it was not true that all opinions are true, and that indeed they are all false ( from Plato’s Theaetetus).

“Prove it!,”  Protagoras said (he was furious for Socrates’ arrogance).

And Socrates, “if it’s not true that all opinions are false (that is, they are all true), so my opinion is also true: namely that, all opinions are false.”

His speech makes very good sense, but it’s a matter of opinion.




The documents on UFOs sightings  in Internet Archive. Document Signed Maxwell AF3 A / s 35112.


Willy Ley, “Flying Saucers, Friend, Foe or Fantasy?” Galaxy Science Fiction. October, 1950, Vol. 1, No 1, pp. 67-69. Willy Ley was “ vice-president of the German Rocket Society in 1927; technical advisor to Fritz Lang’s famous UFA science fiction film The Girl in the Moon […] and in 1935 he has devoted himself to research engineering for rocket development.” (p. 70).








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Two (unsuccessful) attempts to dethrone Sherlock Holmes

The  classical detective stories were originated from the work of the American writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849),  in which the readers are implicitly invited to solve the mysteries and identify the murderer  before the final denouement. But this kind of fiction became exceptionally successful thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose name became forever linked with  the immortal figures of  Sherlock Holmes and his intimate friend Dr. Watson.  The Sherlock Holmes stories were gathered together under the title Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in 1892 (1). They  put special emphasis on his  extraordinary mental faculties rarely to be met with.


When was Sherlock Holmes born?


Until 1876, when the eminent Italian scientist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909)  published  Criminal Man  (2), scientific Criminology did not yet exist.  We don’t know whether Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew Cesare Lombroso, but it is certain that he had heard or read   both Edgar Allan Poe and the French writer Émile Gaboriau (1835-1873).  We now accept the detective stories as a good example of a literary genre focused on a genial amateur detective who devotes his talents to the service of society,  but when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, the only amateur detectives were Auguste  Dupin,  by Edgar Allan Poe, and Monsieur Lecoq, another fictional character  invented by   Émile Gaboriau. But these two detectives did not possess the same characteristics of Sherlock Holmes, who was a real gentleman with  a  very human touch, and a sporty type.


Two attempts were made to dethrone Holmes.


The first attempt occurred  when someone suggested that Holmes imitated the reasoning methods described by Hans Gross (an Austrian jurist, 1847-1915). But the most important book on Criminology written by Hans Gross was published in 1893 ( 3), while most of the Sherlock Holmes stories were published before that date, and many of the techniques included in  Gross’ 1893 edition had already been long tested by Sherlock Holmes. So we can say with certainty that Sherlock Holmes  is an original creation of  Sir  Arthur Conan Doyle.

The second attempt to knock Holmes off his pedestal occurred in 1915, when Virginia Law Register published an article alleging that

“the marvelous exploits of Conan Doyle’s famous character have been surpassed. A new record in deductive ability has been established. The king of sleuths has been dethroned, and by a mere woman. Holmes can unravel a mystery with a footprint as a clue. Apparently this would be child’s play for a Miss Hatfield of Oregon. She can tell the speed of an auto by its tire marks on the pavement.” (4).

“Miss Hatfield of Oregon”  was not present when the accident happened, but she “observed two black streaks upon the pavement,” and so  she said that the car’s speed  was “about 30 miles an hour.” But she did not break Holmes’ record; in fact,  “the Supreme Court of Oregon ungallantly refuses to accept her testimony”, because “she did not see the vehicle in motion nor appear upon the scene until some time after the accident had happened.”

Besides,“ a variance in smoothness of either the tire or the pavement would produce different results. There was no testimony about any such conditions, or at least none of them were suggested to or mentioned by the witness. Consequently the foundation for expert testimony did not exist.”

And so Holmes remains the only one who knows how to find a solution for everything: he is one of the greatest geniuses of all time because his reasoning is flawless all the time.

Virginia Law Register put its money on an outsider, but Holmes is still the titleholder.




1)      A. Conan Doyle, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1892.

2)      The first edition of Criminal Man dates back to 1876: L’uomo delinquente studiato in rapporto alla medicina legale, del Prof. Cesare Lombroso, Milano, Ulrico Hoepli, 1876. In English: Criminal Man, According to the classification of Cesare Lombroso, New York & London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1911.

3)      Hans Gross, Handbuch fur Untersuchunsrichter, als System der Kriminalistik, Leuschner & Lubensky, 1893.

4)      Virginia Law Register, September 1915, p. 395.







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Top Ten Facts to Know About Tornadoes

Meteorology today is particularly interested in tornadoes.  This is a subject of growing interest to all the media, and, above all, because of the increasing devastations caused by variuos tornadoes all over the world.



10 The most important thing


The most important thing for people is to establish the real facts about the tornadoes, and an exhaustive knowledge of these terrifying phenomena is crucial, so that people may protect themselves for the best.  Several tornadoes are formed over an extended area, nearly five hundred miles in length and extent, where conditions appear to be favorable for their growth. In these regions the air is quiet before the tornado arrives. There is a wide cell storm about three-four hundred miles to the north-westward. The storm rapidly intensifies when south-easterly winds blow, and a tornado is approaching.


9) The clouds


The clouds usually move with the surface winds, from right to left, while opposite black clouds rapidly advance, and when they meet, they form the tornado. A marked feature of tornadoes is their most rapid translation across the earth, and the average speed of tornado translation is rarely under 40 miles per hour (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society). The clouds throw into the greatest confusion, breaking up, into small portions which dash pell-mell over each other and in every direction, now darting toward the earth, now rushing upward to considerable height or at moderate elevation, rolling over each other in a well-developed whirl, with turbulent dark-green boiling mass of clouds, a heavy shower of rain and a vivid display of lightning. Despite the fact that such phenomena are well known, it happens regularly, to the terror of those who have seen a tornado in action.


8) Tornadoes in the United States


In many regions of the United States tornadoes are very numerous, particularly in Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana and Georgia (2011), with vivid displays of lightning. The appearance of dark clouds serves as a warning. Although tornadoes have occurred in other parts of the world, nowhere do they match the violent and destructive twisters of the United States. These occur in every one of the continental states, although they are largely concentrated in the Midwestern states that stretch from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa are the states most often visited by the deadly twisters.


7) The violence of the Tornadoes


When the twisting tunnel of wind dips to the earth it heralds its approach with a terrific roar that may be heard twenty-five miles away, and the whole destruction occupies a few minutes. In that time the houses are demolished or damaged, and trees are uprooted by the tornado, while ruin spreads all along its path, and the devastation is all about. The violence of these most powerful of nature’s storms is unbelievable. Whereas the winds of a hurricane are believed rarely to exceed two hundred miles an hour, those of a tornado have been estimated to reach about five hundred miles per hour. In a populated area such power can wreak destruction at a terrifying rate.


6) The tornadoes are unpredictable


Fortunately their path is not very wide, averaging around four hundred yards, although they may vary from scarcely a hundred feet in width to a mile or two. Their speed also is unpredictable. On occasions, tornadoes have even been known to stop in their paths for a few minutes before resuming their normal movement.  Providentially, tornadoes, as a rule, will dissipate after only a few miles; twelve to sixteen miles being their average length. However, tornadoes are unpredictable. Some never touch the ground, others may touch and ascend and they do a kind of hop, skip, and jump across the countryside, destroying everything in their path when they come in contact with the ground. Still others will plow ahead mile after mile, leaving an unbroken path of utter devastation


5) Tornadoes occur in every month of the year


According to what is said by the Waste Management Activities for Groundwater Protection, in the Southeastern United States tornadoes occur in early spring and late summer and from March to June. In South Carolina they occur in April and May, and in August and September (20 percent). (Waste Management Activities for Groundwater Protection). Whereas tornadoes have been reported in every month of the year, about 50 percent of them occur during the four months from April to July.


4)  The instability of the atmosphere


Why there and at that time of year? The combination of the flat Midwestern plains flanked on the west by the towering Rocky Mountains and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico lends itself perfectly to the birth of tornadic activity. During spring and early summer cold, dry air slides down from the Rockies and moves southward over the plains eventually to meet warm moisture-laden air moving northward from the Gulf. It is the instability of the atmosphere produced when these two swiftly moving masses of air collide that gives birth to tornadoes.



3) Protective measures


Protective measures were implemented over the years in the United States, increasing the protection of the houses and people against the effects of high winds. There is no question that these alerts have saved hundreds of lives. So when tornadoes are on the prowl, keep alert, heed the warnings and avoid the terrifying experience of being struck by a deadly twister.


2) Take all the steps to preserve your life


In any way, if you should ever find yourself in the path of a tornado, do not count on escapes only. Take all the steps to preserve your life. Many people in the United States have built underground rooms. They are the safest place to be during a tornado; as far as is known no one who has sought refuge in one has been killed. If no underground room is accessible, the next best place to be is the southwest corner of the basement. This is because tornadoes usually move from the southwest and debris almost always falls in the northeast corner. If you are in a house without a basement seek shelter against an interior wall on the ground floor, underneath some heavy furniture if possible. Because of the sudden reduction of air pressure when a tornado passes over, buildings often explode outward, so being next to an interior wall affords a greater chance of survival. To equalize the air pressure, before the tornado strikes open the windows on the north or east of the house, the side away from the approaching storm.


  • The key to safety is advance warning

If enough warning has be given in advance, you may want to jump into your car and flee; tornadoes can be outrun, since they usually travel at only thirty or forty miles an hour. If you are caught in open country, move at right angles to the approaching storm; there is a chance you may get out of its path. But if you cannot, find a ditch or depression in the ground, get into it, and lie face down.  However, remember that the key to safety is advance warning. The first measure in order to save lives remains preventive information on the tornado’s arrival, and, in this sense, radar systems and other meteorological tools play a key role in providing protection for people today. In any case, radar systems are considered one of the best ways to track tornadoes.




Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, American Meteorological Society, 1957, p. 3.


Natural Disasters and Other Emergencies, What You Should Know: A Family Planning & Survival Guide, Edited by Gladson I. Nwanna, Frontline Publishers,  2004, p. 102.


Waste Management Activities for Groundwater Protection Savannah River Plant Aiken, South Carolina, U.S. Department of Energy, December 1987, Vol. I, Chap. 3, p. 10.























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Students and the Educational System During the 1960s

A key precursor of the student protest movement of the 1960s was the German philosopher Herbert Marcuse, permanently residing in the United States during the 1930s, after the rise of National Socialism in Germany. According to Marcuse, modern industrial societies are only apparently democratic:

“A comfortable, smooth, reasonable democratic  unfreedom prevails  in advanced industrial civilization,” and people  are not free”  (1).

The student protest movement arose in the second half of the 1960s, and a lot of students adopted a polemical stance against schools and Universities. Young people attacked   methods and contents for teaching, because they were deemed inadequate compared with their needs.  Besides, according to the protesters of the 1960s, schools were also accused of being conformist and of accustoming students to be passive auditors.

So in Tom Fawthrop’s essay (1969) we read:

“Last year 18 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women studying at British universities failed to complete their courses. At other further-education establishments the failure rate was 30 per cent for men and 25 per cent for women in the same year. These are the facts of failure in higher education today. Why is there this enormous wastage rate?”

“One common argument is that such students did not meet the required standards, and thus were justly failed. But when some universities have 30 per cent failure rates and others 3 per cent rates, the failure from one institution would clearly have been a success at another. The huge fluctuations between various failure rates indicate one thing clearly: that the existing system of examinations is a random process of selection.”

“Now most discussion of examinations has concentrated on the issue of what type of test to set the student. But the more pertinent question is: a test of what? So often educational aims are assessed in terms of examinations instead of examinations being assessed in terms of aims; the assessment system at present dominates the academic community. Examinations not only define for the student what his course is about, but further, what education itself is concerned with. It would be more rational if first the aims of a university education were defined, and an assessment system subsequently designed to coincide with these objectives.”

“The priority of the teachers is generally to ‘get them through’, of the taught ‘to get through’: the crammers cram as the final hour approaches Nervous breakdowns occur […]: all students, whether winners or losers, are subjected to the sale strains. And after it all, there is the final irony: that the individual student is held responsible if he fails, and not the system with its methods, teachers and advocates.”

“However lightly authority is imposed in the lecture room or tutorial, in the examination hall it is all-powerful. The exam is taken, and the student’s academic trial is over […] Examinations are […] the control center for the manipulation of the lives of the students.”

Among the more popular slogans during the Paris of May 1968 was Give in a little, and you’ll capitulate a lot, which symbolically alluded to the danger of being sucked into the wheels of consumerism. My impression is that, after both a lot of effort, and a lot of money,  the students have capitulated (a lot).  We have today in Europe two types (of graduated): a lot for the home market, the other for export.

That’s the lot.



1)      Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man.  Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, New York, Routledge Classics, 2002, (First Edition, 1964) p. 3.

2)      Tom Fawthrop, “Education or Examination?,” in Student Power, Problems, Diagnosis, Action, Edited by A. Cockburn & R. Blackburn, Penguin Books (and New Left Review), 1969,  pp. 99-102.





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Hugo Gernsback and Amazing Stories (Park Place. New York City)

In 1926 the first science fiction specialized magazine was born, Amazing Stories. It was founded by Hugo Gernsback, and “published on the 10th of each month. There are 12 numbers per year. Subscription price is $ 2,50 a year in U.S. and possessions. Canada and foreign countries $ 3 a year.”


The first issue of Amazing Stories had a sub-title, The Magazine of Scientifiction. Gernsback with this title  intended to indicate stories like those of Wells and Verne, namely where the plot merged with scientific facts and predictions about the future. In the first two or three issues of his magazine,  Gernsback published  authors already known, like Verne (A Trip to the Center of Earth) and Edgar Allan Poe (Mesmeric Revelation),  but then he began to publish works by new authors, like The Man from the Atom, by G. Peyton Wertenbaker, and The Green Splotches by T.S. Stribling, in which he narrated the story of the encounter between humanity  and extra-terrestrial visitors.  Stribling won the Pulitzer Prize in 1933.


The plot proposed here (written by the editors of Amazing Stories) refers to the events narrated in  The Man from the Atom, by G. Peyton Wertenbaker:


“Professor Martyn  was an inventor of genius, and Kirby — one of the very few friends he had — was always a willing test object for many of his inventions. Somewhat even to his own surprise, Professor Martyn invents a machine whereby anyone can at will, either increase or diminish in size, and Kirby agrees — with foreboding in his heart — to test the machine. It is put into operation by merely pressing the middle button on this little machine, which is attached with straps, over his chest. He is fitted with an elastic suit, specially made for the purpose of keeping out intense cold or heat and retaining an even degree of temperature. He begins to increase in size and soon is so large that he just naturally slips away from the Earth and goes off into ultra-planetary space.”

“ After the first rush of excitement, Kirby becomes alarmed about it all and decides to come back to Earth. He presses the right button and immediately begins to diminish in size. But he has traveled so fast and is so far away that he becomes panic-stricken and decides to press the “stop” button. The velocity of his motion is so great that he travels for hundreds of miles more before he can stop. Then he suddenly finds himself coming up out of water — floating. He swims ashore, but he is so exhausted, he falls right off to sleep.”


“ When he awakes, he gets into a state of utter despair, for instead of being on the Earth, he finds himself on some unknown planet. He rages and fumes around for some time and finally decides to decrease to a size small enough to enable him to go back to earth and forthwith sets out to find the same nebula through which he originally left the Earth. He cannot find it and does not reach the Earth, but lands instead on a strange planet, with strange inhabitants, so far advanced in intellect that he feels like a savage among them. He does not understand their language and cannot understand their customs. He is there alone in utter desolation and despair, ever pining for those he left behind, whom he can never hope to see again.”


  1. Peyton Wertenbaker intrigues the reader, creating an incredible suspense at the beginning of the chapter entitled The Return:


“ Never hoped — never dreamed, when I wrote the tale you have read, that I should ever see the earth again. Who in the universe could have hoped against all the knowledge of insuperable fate which had come to me? Who could hope to overcome Time and Space, to recapture that which was gone forever? Yet it is just this that I have done — or something very like it. And it is a story a thousand times more fantastic, more impossible, than the story of my journey. And like that it is true.”




G. Peyton Wertenbaker, “The Man from the Atom”, in Amazing Stories, Vol. 1, No 2, May 1926, pp. 97, 140-141.



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