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What to Do with the Virgin Islands?
Condensed from The North American Review (December, '25)
holding the Virgin Islands. Bought during the war to shut Germany out of a possible submarine * base, it seems not unreasonable that we should now ask ourselves what we intend to do with them.
Our connection with the Virgins dates back to the Civil War. The blockade of the Southern ports would have been vastly more effective if the Government had had a base in the Caribbean. As soon as peace was declared, negotiations were opened for the purchase of the islands; Denmark agreed; the islanders voted almost unanimously their willingness to transfer their allegiance; but at the last moment Congress killed ratification of the treaty. After the Spanish War negotiations were again almost completed, but this time the Danish Parliament rejected the treaty, presumably because of German influence. The building and possible defense of the Panama Canal made the acquisition of the islands a constant subject of discussion, but the clinching argument was the sinking of the Lusitania. With such a base as the Virgins, German submarines could have done unthinkable damage to our commerce. Negotiations were put through quickly. For sovereignty we paid $25,000,000-or $300 an acre for land worth for peace-time purposes possibly $20 an acre.
Every move for the purchase of the Virgins has been in connection with war, but now that we have them we have taken no steps to develop them as a military outpost. St. Thomas is an unfortified Gibraltar. But with the desire of the American people to develop friendly relations with Latin America, there is little likelihood that public sentiment would permit any threatening
fortification; but until we give evidence of other policy every demagogue in Latin America can-and does-point to St. Thomas as an outpost of aggression.
If we are not to make the Virgin Islands a mere naval base, we have the alternatives of selling the islands to some other Power, of turning them loose, or of considering them a part of the nation and adopting a constructive policy which will make them eventually regular members of the national family.
To avoid any more complications than already exist we wish no new Power to acquire territory in the Caribbean. On a peace-time basis no nation is anxious to acquire the smaller islands of the Caribbean as none of them are revenue-producing. For this reason to turn the Virgins loose would not be an act of emancipation but a matter of turning them out, into a friendless world.
At the present time the Virgin Islanders are citizens of the islands only. In the absence of a stated principle as to what constitutes fitness for a people to be made a part of the nation, we may reasonably assume that the standards required of a people should be fairly similar to the standards of individuals who ask admittance to our shores. Suppose we apply such standards to the Virgin Islands.
As to disease the islands would probably pass muster today. Along with other improvements we have constructed reservoirs to provide a far larger water supply, so that proper sanitation is now possible and diseases caused by water contamination can be controlled. Yellow fever, typhoid and small pox have been wiped out; malaria has been reduced; and hookworm and trachoma are rare.
Crime exists in about the same proportion as in small communities in the States. With British islands within rowboat distance, bootlegging is inevitable, but drunkenness is rare. Crimes of colored men against white women are unknown. A day
in the police court is usually an airing of neighborhood squabbles before a judge, usually dismissed with a scolding all around. The administration of justice is hampered by the fact that some of the islanders are not unwilling to go to jail, where food is plentiful; and to avoid this complication fines are often imposed without alternative of jail sentence, and the court is frequently placed in the undignified position of running accounts with offenders, collecting its fines in 25-cent installments.
As to literacy, the census taken in 1917 indicated that 25 per cent of the islanders were illiterate, a percentage much better than the rate existing in Porto Rico after 20 years under American rule.
In considering the points of morality and self support we must remember that 90 per cent of the islanders are of African descent, held in complete slavery up to 1848. Behind
them they have a tropical lack of industry, and a dependence upon masters and a masterful government. Monogamy is not an African tradition, and the slaves were introduced into conditions which did not teach it. Partial censuses of former days show as high as 85 per cent of illegitimacy.
For the past 50 years the Virgin Islands have not raised enough revenue to pay for their own administration; and for their support next year Congress has voted $395,000.
If we are to hold the Virgin Islands in a form of political dependence until they can pass the tests of admittance, what type of control shall we exercise? At the present time they are governed by a naval officer assigned by the President to act as Governor, who has also a staff
of naval officers. Legislative functions are in the hands of the Colonial Councils, the majority elected by the islanders, and a minority-also islanders-appointed by the Governor. The judiciary, appointed by the President or Governor, are qualified lawyers and not naval officers. However, assignment to duty in the Virgin Islands is for a period of not more than two years, and much of the eight years during which we have owned the islands has been spent in educating the six Governors who have occupied that position.
The Virgin Islands are probably the only territory which we have occupied where the accusation has not been made that American corporations were unduly interested; but all the land and concessions are owned by Danes or Virgin Islanders, and virtually the only Americans on the islands are the officials, the detachments of Marines and the Navy people at the Navy Yard. The Danes complain that we are not paternalistic enough, but many Americans would consider that the free medical, maternity, hospital and dental services, the long lists of pensions given to islanders, the gift of water and sewer systems, and the general extension of school and public works Federal expense, were possibly too paternalistic.
To make the Virgin Islands, and the islanders individually, self-supporting, will be no quick and easy task. However, if we can give money outright each year, we can afford scientifically planned investments.
Denmark allowed the islands to run down; but Denmark was a small country with little money to invest. We have the islands now, with no chance of getting rid of them and excellent reasons for continuing to hold this strategic position, with plenty of money to invest in legitimate development, and everything to gain in prestige and friendliness with Latin America, if we can demonstrate our intelligence and sincerity in handling the problem.
Lighthouses Without Keepers
A Picturesque Character Is Vanishing
Condensed from The National Spectator (March 13, '26)
LASKA seems to reach out her
arm to pat Japan on the shoulder where the Aleutian Islands thrust themselves into the Pacific for a distance as great as that between New York and New Orleans.
Along that dreary, far-away, northern reach there are 210 lighthouses that the Government down in Washington, 10,000 miles away, keeps trimmed and burning throughout the endless nights that hang like a half-year pall over that part of the world.
Where the Hawaiian Islands sit in the mid-Pacific, further from any continental areas than any other land on earth, they are today trimmed as might be a Christmas tree with incandescents that blink out there in the vast to whatever wandering mariner may have lost his bearings.
There is a lighthouse at Rock Station, off the mouth of the Columbia River, in Oregon, that stands on a single bare rock and access to which can be gained only by swinging one ashore by the arm of a huge crane that lifts him from a choppy sea and deposits him on the tower-capped ridge.
There are lighthouses like that at Minots Ledge, just outside Boston, which stands on a rock that is submerged except at low tide and that knows only the eternal surge of the
In fact the Government's system of lighthouses is a far-flung agency covering half the world and rendering a service quite different from that of killing potato bugs for the farmer or testing brake linings for the automobilist.
Yet this ancient institution of the lighthouse is not altogether what it used to be. The isolation of it, for example, is being mitigated by that
entertainer, the radio set. Of late, in fact, a campaign has been on to secure radio sets for all isolated lighthouse keepers who cannot afford to purchase them for themselves.
When the lighthouse tender Cedar next spring begins the 5000-mile cruise along the Alaskan coast, carrying supplies to last those hundreds
of isolated stations through the
year, she will be well stocked with tubes, A and B batteries and other paraphernalia of the listener-in.
But more vital and revolutionary is the tendency to make lighthouses automatic, to set a light in such a way that it will go on blinking for six months or a year with never the touch of a human hand. The service will never become entirely automatic, for many large stations require constant attention. But every year considerable numbers of stations are converted to the type that works by itself.
The first lights burned on towers to guide the mariner were fires of wood or coal or pitch. Among the first of American lights was that at Boston, established in 1716. By that time the oil-burning lamp had found its place in a developing world. It consisted of a solid wick dipped in fish oil. It was surrounded by glass, somewhat inclined to become sootcovered of a windy night.
In a hundred years the light of the seaman had developed only to the point where whale oil had been substituted for fish oil and reflectors had been installed to direct the rays of light sea-ward. As late as 1877 lard was the chief illuminant in the lighthouse service.
Then came coal oil and revolutionized lighting. It was a much better illuminant, and cheaper and handier in use. This was not so long ago
yet it was prior to the discovery of the incandescent oil vapor lamp. In this lamp kerosene was still the fuel used but it was burned in the form of a gas, lighting an incandescent mantle such as is still used in gas lights. The vapor lamp has had much to do with the development of the automatic lighthouse.
The second element that has contributed most largely to the development of the lighthouse has been the lens. The first step toward it was the use of reflectors, concentrating the light and throwing it in any desired direction. The lights can be made to flash at stated intervals. Mariners know their position by the peculiarities of the lights.
In the great lamps of the tended stations kerosene is still the basic fuel. It is converted into a gas and burned within incandescent mantels. The lenses are so powerful that the light is thrown 20 to 30 miles to sea. The light at Navasink, N. J., 710,000 candle-power, is the strongest in the world.
Despite the tendencies toward automatic lights three keepers are still retained at Navasink and such stations of the first class. They work four-hour shifts day and night. The huge lens is revolved by clock work. Weights are wound up on drums to keep it revolving. The keeper has an opportunity to demonstrate at intervals the strength of his back in winding this gigantic clock.
The second grade of lighthouses are those at which there is a single attendant. They have no great revolving lenses but burn fixed lights. Yet they are strong lights at important points and no chance of their going out can be taken. They are tending strongly toward the mechanical light. They have a device, for instance, for calling the keeper out of his bed. If the light gets to burning too strongly, a mechanical finger creeps up until it makes an electrical contact. This contact sets off an alarm which arouses the keeper. In the same way, if the light burns too
low the mechanical finger makes an other contact and starts the alarn going. These one-man lights cal for help whenever anything goe wrong.
Acetylene, however, has done more to change the old-scheme of person ally-tended lighthouses than an other element. Acetylene, it will be recalled, first became well know when it was used three decades ago to operate the light on a bicycle. The gas is made by putting calcium car bide in a container and slowly dripping water on it. A gas is evolved which is burned as it passes off.
The lighthouse bureau installs a battery of acetylene cylinders at a lighthouse, and the light will burn automatically for half a year, even for a year. It is this development that is transforming lighthouses that have hitherto required attendance. The old and romantic figure which has hitherto held its place on many a jutting promontory along Our coasts is disappearing. The little lighthouse at the end of the jetty has become almost universally automatic. Even the ancient lighthouse at Sandy Hook, the entrance to New York Harbor, has recently gone on an automatic basis. So have 60 per cent of that string of lighthouses that mark the Aleutian chain. As many as 74 lighthouses have been changed from man-operated to automatics in a single recent year. As the old chaps come to the retirement age or die off adjustments are likely to be made that will make it unnecessary to put on new lighthouse-keepers. This romantic figure, long a favorite of the fiction writer, the parent of that popular melodramatic character, the lighthouse keeper's daughter, is tending to disappear. He will always remain at certain stations that are of major importance, but the isolated, stormbeaten watchlight is likely to burn in future largely because a patent contraption for generating gas is stored in the cellar and keeps dripping water into a sort of black dust.
On Being the Right Size
Condensed from Harper's Magazine (March '26)
J. B. 8. Haldane
OR every type of animal there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form.
To the mouse and any smaller animal gravity presents practically no dangers. You can drop mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object.
An insect, therefore, is not afraid of gravity; it can fall without danger, and can cling to the ceiling with remarkably little trouble. But there is a force which is as formidable to an insect as gravitation to a mammal.
This is surface tension. A man coming out of a bath carries with him a film of water of about one-fiftieth of an inch in thickness. This weighs about a pound. A wet mouse has to carry about its own weight of water. A wet fly has to lift many times its own weight and, as everyone knows a fly once wetted by water or any other liquid is in a very serious position indeed. An insect going for a drink is in as great danger as a man leaning out over a precipice in search of food. If it once falls into the grip of the surface tension of the water-that s to say, gets wet-it is likely to emain so until it drowns. A few insects, such as water-beetles, contrive to be unwettable; the majority keeps well away from their drink by means of a long proboscis.
- Tall land animals have to pump their blood to greater heights than a man and, therefore, require a larger blood pressure and tougher
blood vessels. A great many men die from burst arteries, especially in the brain, and this danger is presumably still greater for an elephant or a giraffe. But animals of all kinds find difficulties in size for the following reason: A typical small animal, say a microscopic worm, has a smooth skin through which all the oxygen it requires can soak in, and a straight gut with sufficient surface to absorb its food. Increase its dimensions tenfold in every direction, and its weight is increased a thousand times, so that it will need a thousand times as much food and oxygen per day. Now, if its shape is unaltered its surface will be increased only a hundredfold, and ten times as much oxygen must enter per minute through each square millimeter of skin, ten times as much food through each square millimeter of intestine. When a limit is reached to their absorptive powers their surface has to be increased by some special device. For example, a part of the skin may be drawn out into tufts to make gills, or pushed in to make lungs, thus increasing the oxygenabsorbing surface in proportion to the animal's bulk. A man, for example, has a hundred square yards of lung. Similarly the gut, instead of being smooth and straight, becomes coiled and develops a velvety surface, and other organs increase in complication. The higher animals are not larger than the lower bethey are more complicated. They are more complicated because they are larger. Just the same is true of plants. The simplest plants such as the green algae are mere round cells. The higher plants increase their surface by putting out leaves and roots. Comparative anatomy is largely the story of the