ACERTAIN number among the multitudes that poured into the Coliseum in the days of ancient Rome were drawn thither solely by the true sporting instinct, which delights in witnessing feats of skill and endurance. The large majority went to witness the spilling of blood; for even the noble Roman matrons, we are told, in response to the inquiring glance of the victorious gladiator, would turn their thumbs down, indicating that they wished to see the life blood of the vanquished redden the sands of the arena. Can it be possible that a touch of the savage desire to look upon mangled bodies and hear the sob of expiring life, which slumbered beneath the superficial civilization of the Roman people, is responsible for the vast crowds which gather at our modern race tracks to witness the criminally dangerous automobile race, or watch the aviator straining for a fall with Death, 'a thousand feet in midair? There was a time when the automobile race, run over the highways of the country, possessed a distinct scientific and technical value. The supreme test of the strength and endurance of materials which was afforded by those contests, was one of the mostvaluable factors in bringing the automobile to its present perfection; and the brave fellows who lost their lives may be considered as having been sacrificed in a just cause, since they rendered possible the rapid advancement of a new means of transportation—possibly the most valuable that was ever introduced. To-day, however, any legitimate reason for the holding of automobile races, particularly on dangerous race tracks, has disappeared. That such races, in spite of their frequent and frightful fatalities, continue to be held is to be explained by the co-operation of what Mr. Roosevelt has recently denominated as “commercialism and hysteria.” If the possibilities of sudden death or horrible wounding were eliminated from these exhibitions, we venture to say that the promoters who trcde on this morbid taste on the part of the public would quickly find that such exhibitions were altogether unprofitable. The element of novelty has long ago passed from such contests. Every one knows that if 200 horse-power is crammed into a racing automobile the machine will skid around an ordinary race track at a speed of something under 50 seconds to the mile; and every one knows also that a crowd of twenty to thirty high-powered racing machines will average on a specially-prepared track over seventy miles an hour. Should the time ever come when tires no longer burst, nor steering gears give way, nor roaring monsters go hurtling through a crowded mass of humanity at the rail, we venture td say that automobile racing as a sport will be as dead as croquet or shuttlecock and battledore. The same argument holds as regards many of the so-called aviation meets. Continuous flying around a circular or oval course is monotonous. The public demands the spectacular in the form of “dives,” “spirals,” and other aerial gymnastics that are performed at imminent peril to life and limb. How often during the past year has the unfortunate aviator launched himself into the air under atmospheric conditions which he knew to be more than perilous—being driven to it by the jeers of a crowded grand stand and the importunities or threats of a professional promoter or the “local committee” of a bill-placarded and expectant city. The death of an aviator under such conditions comes very near to being homicide of the most atrocious character. Let it be understood that the Scientific American is now speaking of so-called “aeroplane meets” which are exploited purely for commercial gain. Such gatherings as were held last year at Belmont Park, in which the pick of the aviators of the world contested, and where everything that could be done was done to satisfy the public and at the same time safeguard the contesting aviators, fulfill a useful purpose. They encourage the art as the automobile contests of eight to ten years ago served to develop the automobile and build up a great industry. Of even greater value are well-organized cross-country races. We venture to say that the art of aviation receives more stimulus from such a flight as that of Atwood from St. Louis ,to New York, or the present remarkable and so far successful attempt of Rodgers to fly from the Atlantic to the Pacific, than it does from a whole season of the present irresponsible aeroplane exhibitions, with their shocking list of fatalities. The Scrap Heap ONE of the most marked distinctions between American and European practice in the technical arts is the free use (amounting in foreign eyes to positive extravagance) which we make of the scrap heap. Possibly the difference is due to the much greater cost of labor in this country; but whatever the cause, the fact remains that whereas in Europe there is a tendency to repair, rebuild or even largely re-design existing machinery, in the effort to keep it upon its legs as long as possible, here in America it frequently happens that a comparatively recent installation of costly machinery will be torn out and sent to the junk pile, to make way for an entirely new plant embodying the latest improvements. We do not have to go far to find cases in point. Many of us will recollect the pride with which it was stated in the English press a few years ago that such and such a locomotive had recently left the railroad shops, after a thorough overhaul, and was again in service, with a record of Heaven knows how many decades of continuous service behind it, during which it had covered some millions of miles of track. Now to American eyes, although such a fact speaks volumes for the well-known excellence of British workmanship, the mere existence of a forty or fifty-year-old engine in service indicates that conservatism is being carried too far, and that English railroad methods lack that flexibility which is necessary for the best results. Perhaps the value of the scrap heap has never been shown to better effect than among American rail., roads and in those vast industrial plants and organizations which are covered by the steel trade. Where one enormous locomotive can be made to do the work of two, our railroad men never hesitate to discard the smaller in favor of the bigger unit; and instances have not been wanting where, in the manufacture of steel, a vast and costly plant has been “scrapped” to make way for some improved machinery, which, by virtue of its reduction of labor costs and general speeding up of the process, gave sure promise of not only paying for the discarded plant, but producing the manufactured product at a lower cost. It is agreeably to this policy that certain older ships of our navy are put up for auction, or towed into shallow water, as was the old “Texas,” to serve as targets for rifle practice. We regret to note that not a few people have criticised the destruction of the “Texas” as a piece of wanton extravagance. As a matter of fact, this obsolete vessel is giving far more value to the navy as a target than she ever did during the palmiest days of her commission. The battleship or cruiser which has been “outbuilt” by the rapid march of improvement in naval material is more profitable as old junk than as lying in reserve at a navy yard. The money spent upon these ships in the endeavor to modernize them might just as well be poured into the sea. One dollar put into absolutely new construction is worth a million spent in tinkering up obsolete ships. As with the ships, so with the navy yards. The last report of the Secretary of the Navy tells us that we have several old yards which have outlived their usefulness and constitute a charge upon the country for which it gets practically no return. The policy of the scrap heap should be applied here with an unsparing hand. New Orleans yard, to which no large ship of our navy could be sent in war time, for fear of its being blocked in at the passes; Port Royal and Charleston, both absolutely useless for battleships because their channels are silted up with sand and mud; New London, barred from the sea by a railroad bridge—these and others should be scrapped and abandoned. The maintenance of these lesser and useless yards from motives of sentiment or politics is working decided harm to the interests of the navy at large by the diversion of money, time and attention from those fundamental objects at which the present enlightened policy is aimed. The Status of Agricultural Meteorology THE French Chamber of Deputies, at its session of December 22nd, 1910, passed a resolution calling upon the Ministry of Agriculture to undertake the development of work in agricultural meteorology—already carried on to a limited extent by the Department of Agricultural Hydraulics— and to take steps with a view to providing in the budget of 1912 for the organization of a special service devoted to this subject. By an order of April 10th, 1911, a committee of sixty-four members, having at its head M. . Violle, of the Institut de France, was organized under the direction of the Ministry of Agriculture to prepare plans for the proposed service. At the same time the French government sought the advice of organizations in other countries engaged in this class of work, including the United States Department of Agriculture. Apparently the new service is to be independent of the existing meteorological department of the French government, viz., the Bureau Central Meteorologique, which is under the Ministry of Public Instruction. It is noteworthy that France, following the example set a few years ago by Russia, is about to organize a separate and distinct meteorological service for the benefit of agriculture. In the United States, official meteorology is already under the direction of the Agricultural Department, to which the Weather Bureau is attached, and the act of Congress under which this bureau was organized provided that it should be “specially developed and extended in the interests of agriculture"; but in foreign countries an analogous affiliation does not generally exist. Apparently the European meteorological services, which for the most part have but meager funds at their disposal, are not able to be of much direct benefit to the tillers of the soil; and as a distinct group of problems, theoretical and practical, is involved in agricultural meteorology, it has seemed best to organize special services, rather than extend the scope and enlarge the resources of the general services already existing. This movement found expression at the last meeting of the International Institute of Agriculture, at Rome, when the French delegate, M. Louis Dop, presented an elaborate report on the work in agricultural meteorology now officially carried on in various countries, and offered a resolution, which was adopted, looking to the international organization of sucli work. This matter will be submitted to the International Meteorological Committee, which, it is expected, will appoint a “commission” on agricultural meteorology, co-ordinate with the commissions that have been appointed from time to time on aerology, atmospheric electricity, solar radia--tion, etc. The subject of agricultural meteorology, owing to the fact that it has not heretofore been looked upon as a distinct branch of science, has received far less attention than its immense economic importance entitles it to. The interrelations of weather and climate, on the one hand, and the life and growth of plants on the other—including such matters as the geographical distribution of plants, photochemical climate, phenology, the causes and effects of frost, the meteorology of soils, seolian geology, acclimatization, drought resistance, and such practical problems as frost protection, hail insurance, and weather forecasting for particular crops—should be recognized as a field of research requiring the attention of a numerous corps of workers, trained in both meteorology and biology. At present the workers in this field are very few. Particular problems have been studied from the meteorological or from the biological point of view, but no general survey of the field has yet been taken, and there does not exist, to this day, a textbook of agricultural meteorology worthy of the name. There is no greater desideratum, in the literature of either meteorology or agriculture.
This article was originally published with the title "The Spirit of the Coliseum, The Scrap Heap, and more"