Charles Berlitz and the Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle (1974) Charles Berlitz

Rating: ★★★★☆

Charles Berlitz, 90, the eminent linguist who wrote the bestsellers ‘The Bermuda Triangle’, ‘The Lost continent of Atlantis‘ and ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’, died Dec. 18th 2003 at Tamarac, Florida.

Mr. Berlitz was the grandson of Maximilian Berlitz, who founded the language schools that bear the family name. Charles was born in New York in 1913 and grew up in a household where he was encouraged to learn a new language every year. By age 3, he spoke four languages and had created his own.

I didn’t realize my family were speaking different languages,” he told The Washington Post in a 1982 profile. “I thought every person had their own particular way of speaking. Since I’d hear my mother switch to German when she spoke to my grandfather, I thought everyone had to learn everyone else’s way of speaking to communicate. I wanted my own language, too.”

Berlitz spent 26 years of his life in the US Army, half of that on active duty, serving as an intelligence officer. He served in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Over the years, he also did counter-intelligence and investigative work for the military.

The Washington Post reported that he married Valerie Seary Berlitz  in 1950, and he was also survived by a daughter, Lin Berlitz-Hilton; and two grandchildren. His daughter summed up the manner in which her father lived his quite extraordinary life, “He was the last of the real gentlemen. He taught me that every person you meet has the ability to teach you something interesting.”

He met his future wife when she was studying at a Berlitz school in Australia and asked for a refund. He said the encounter resulted in a marriage proposal but no money, explaining: “Hard company to get a refund from.”

During his life, he learned 30 languages from Arabic to Zulu. He wrote dozens of books about language, a subject he described as more than simply communication. Words also indicate how people of different cultures think, he said, citing as an example how the colour red in China symbolizes joy, celebration and marriage, while white is associated with death and mourning.

His book “Native Tongues” (1982) was a compendium of anecdotes about the development of language. He noted that the Italian greeting “ciao” came from the word for “slave,” schiavo, or “I am your slave..”

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The Mildenhall Treasure

Roald Dahl (1997)The Mildenhall Treasure

Rating: ★★★★★


During the last years of the Roman presence in Britain, in the late third and early fourth centuries, evidence in the form of buried treasures gives a picture of troubled times. A wealthy family living near Mildenhall in Suffolk, presumably at a time of panic, and intending to retrieve it later, buried a hoard of silver treasure for safety. It could have course already been stolen, and buried with similar intent.

Sixteen centuries later, during the Second World War, a ploughman, Gordon Butcher, set his plough four inches deeper than usual. He was on the lookout for coins, for this land had often produced them. He struck some encrusted metal objects which he gave to his employer, Arthur Ford. They returned to the field, retrieving more items.

In 1946, an inquest declared the find to be treasure trove, and their true significance came to light. The Mildenhall treasure is probably the most important collection of Roman works of art ever to be found in Britain. It consists of 34 pieces of highly ornamented silverware, priceless in value, with a total weight of about 25 ½ kilos. When cleaned, the pieces were found to be in an almost perfect state of preservation, made of the finest quality of silver, dating from the fourth century AD to perhaps as early as the first century, which assuming it was part of one collection at the time of burial, represents a collection accumulated over a considerable length of time.

The centrepiece, discovered 25 metres  from the remains of a fourth century Roman building, is a magnificent dish, two foot in diameter, andweighing 8 ¼ kilos. A relief shows the head of Oceanus, god of the sea, in the centre, with sea monsters surrounding him. Much of the decoration relates to Bacchus, Pan and female companions, common motifs on silverware of the Roman period. Other pieces of the treasure include a circular niello dish, two convex platters, goblets, a fine bowl with a lid, and eight spoons, five of which are of the kind that may have been used as christening gifts, with the Chi-rho symbol inscribed on the handles, and two with the names Pascentia and Papittedo. Altogether, the hoard forms a curious mixture of pagan and Christian elements. It is thought most of the treasures were either made in Rome or Gaul, but some items, such as the fluted bowl, may have been worked in Britain..

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The Gentle Tasaday

The Gentle Tasaday: A Stone Age people in the Philippine rain forest (1975) by John Nance

Rating: ★★★★☆

In the mid-1970’s, worldwide attention focused on a twenty-five-member tribe living in the dense jungle of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, said to have been living indefinitely in isolation. Their discovery led to the forming of several expeditions composed of Filipino and American anthropologists, news correspondents, television crews of the National Geographic Society, a cabinet minister of the Philippine government, and an American conservationist, the late Charles A. Lindbergh.

Discovery of the Tasaday was unremarkable. Sometime in 1962, a hunter from a town at the forest’s edge stumbled upon them while laying his wild-pig traps deep in the mountains of South Cotabato. As related, following a trail of strange footprints, he came upon three small men wearing only loin coverings made of leaves. With sharp sticks they were digging up a large root.

Although the tongue spoken by the hunter was related to that of the Tasaday, he resorted to sign language because of difficulty in communicating. The hunter’s tribe practically lives back-to-back with the Tasaday, but the difference in their languages was compared to that between early German and today’s English. Scientists deduced that this suggests an isolation of about a thousand years. Why, the very name ‘Tasaday’ (pronounced Taw-sawdai) was said to combine the Malay word sadai (“abandoned”) and the Malayo-Polynesian word tawo (“man”)! Tasaday is also the name of the forested peak rising above their hidden valley. So complete has been their isolation that, when first contacted, they knew nothing about a nation called the Philippines.

The existence of this tribe became known to outsiders through the efforts of PANAMIN, an agency working for the interests of cultural minorities in the Philippines. As in the Amazon and elsewhere, there is a desperate need for the right help. During early meetings between the hunter and the tribesmen at the forest’s edge, it was not known that they lived in caves, and there were no immediate attempts to go deep into the rain forest. The latter decision to visit the caves was made to protect the Tasaday from loggers, farmers, ranchers and miners who were nibbling away at their shrinking realm. They were to prove a very real threat. The Gentle Tasaday (1975) gives a comprehensive picture of the threat to the tribespeoples..

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The Long Walk

The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (1956) by Slavomir Rawicz


Rating: ★★★★★

The Long Walk, first published in 1956, is a gripping account of a Polish officer’s imprisonment in the Soviet gulag in 1940, his escape and then a trek of 4,000 miles (6,437km) from Siberia to India, surviving unimaginable hardships along the way, testing the seven men and their companion, a seventeen year old girl they came across on the way, to the limits. Its dramatic passages tell of extremes of exhaustion, starvation and thirst as they survived snowdrifts and storms and even the pitiless Gobi Desert.

In the shadow of death we grew closer together than ever before. No man would admit to despair. No man spoke of fear. The only thought spoken out again and again was that there must be water soon. All our hope was in this.”

Australian director Peter Weir, celebrated for contemporary classics such as ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘The Truman Show’, decided the account deserved filming. “As a feat of endurance and courage and the tenacity of human beings to survive, I thought it was superb. I asked, ‘Does it stay with you enough to want to pursue it as a film?’ And this was the case.” The film, inspired by the book, but not a straight re-telling, was released December 2010 as ‘The Way Back’.

The subtitle of the book is ‘The true story of a trek to freedom’ but there is a controversy over this. There was evidence that suggested that Rawicz had not told the truth about his past, and that although he had been a prisoner in the gulag, he never escaped, but was released under an amnesty in 1942, and the documents, discovered by an American researcher, Linda Willis, in Polish and Russian archives, also show that rather than being imprisoned on a charge of espionage as he claimed, Rawicz was actually sent to the gulag for killing an officer with the NKVD, the forerunner of the Soviet secret police, the KGB. This could of course, be a fabrication.

Peter Weir researched the controversy. “It was enough for me to say that three men had come out of the Himalayas, and that’s how I dedicate my film, to these unknown survivors. And then I proceed with essentially a fictional film.”

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Human Follies and Fallacies

Follies and Fallacies in Medicine (1989) by Petr Skrabanek and James McCormick

Books do not arise of themselves; they do not emerge from the primeval slime, but are grafted on to some bizarre selection of everything that has gone before, a selection which is determined by the past experience of their authors”.

The Interdisciplinary approach to science and human reasoning generally, has much to recommend it.* By this we mean new insights, or evidence weighing against established theories in one field, that may profitably be used to re-examine areas in another field of knowledge .There are books published that confine their criticisms to the field their writers are familiar with, or feel best placed to give examples, but which can often be applied in ways the authors themselves may not at first have reckoned with, or conversely, deliberately scattered seeds for others to cultivate elsewhere. One such book is Follies and Fallacies in Medicine. It is not easy to obtain.

The authors aim as stated, ‘is to reach inquisitive minds, particularly those who are still young and uncorrupted by dogma. We offer no solutions to the problems we raise because we do not pretend to know of any. Both of us have been thought to suffer from ‘scepticaemia’ (an uncommon generalised disorder of low infectivity. Medical school education is likely to confer life-long immunity) but are happy to regard this affliction, paradoxically, as a health-promoting state..’

Many examples of erroneous reasoning, obfuscation, faulty logic and accidental misinformation are given; they are not concerned with deliberate falsification, deception or fraud, which can at times pollute the scientific literature. It appears that there is a need to spell out cautions necessary to establish truth, for even the best intentioned author will have a personal bias, a tendency to form a conclusion or a belief before the evidence necessarily justifies it’..

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You feel feverish. Often taken as the first sign of an infection, you feel exhausted, and hot and clammy. The usual response is to go to bed, and take aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen- to lower the body temperature.

It has long been acknowledged that such drugs could, in theory, be counter-productive, they do after all, interfere with the body’s natural response to infection. These concerns have been largely set aside, however, for a variety of reasons, the need to relieve discomfort, fears about febrile convulsions in young children, simple habit, and some might add the psychological urge to do something rather than nothing.

Febrile convulsions, whilst frightening for parents, almost never cause lasting harm. In any case, they seem to be caused by a rapid climb in temperature, rather than a raised temperature as such. One paediatrician said: “I consider the thermometer a common source of undue parental anxiety. Physicians frequently are asked to ‘treat’ a fever, but this pressure to ‘do something’ should be tempered by the realization that, in most cases, fever is merely the body’s defence against a self-limited disease.”

The upshot is that the drugs, used as anti-pyretics, are routinely used in vast quantities for any feverish illness, from the sickest of patients in intensive care, to people using over-the-counter cold remedies at home. Standard medical advice for flu, for example, is to rest and dose up on paracetamol..

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Don’t stop the Carnival

Herman Wouk (1965) Don’t Stop the Carnival

Rating: ★★★★★

First it is only fair to say that since this book was written in 1965, you probably won’t find anywhere like Amerigo today. Caricatures maybe, but there are definitely Norman Paperman and Lester Atlas types still around. Paperman, the neurotic, over-worked, over stressed New Yorker enticed by Paradise, Atlas, the beligerent, asset-stripping moneyman (still likeable), and a host of other characters. Having lived a short while in the Bahamas, the attitudes of these people and their reaction to island life is authentic and hilarious! This is one of those books I will re-read when in need, and for that reason I recommend it. OK, its not a blockbuster, but is far easier on the eyes than some 800 pager. As a book to read for its own sake, or to get a taste of laid-back island style, give it a go!

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Henry II and Thomas a Becket

Out of the thirty four years of his reign (1154- 1189), Henry II spent twenty-one on the Continent. Socially and culturally, England was a backwater compared with the continental parts of the Angevin dominion.

Henry introduced several major reforms to England. Prior to 1166 trial by ordeal was a common way of determining guilt or innocence in criminal cases. Under this system, an accused person might have to pick up a red hot bar of iron, or pluck a stone out of a boiling cauldron. If their hand had begun to heal after three days they were considered to have God on their side, affirming their innocence. Henry gradually replaced this rather painful system with a jury of 12 men. He also introduced the first personal property tax. At the same time he forced Wales to at least nominally acknowledge the sovereignty of the English crown.

Henry was married to the forceful Eleanor of Aquitaine, the divorced wife of Louis VII of France, and in their squabbling she turned their sons Richard, John, and Geoffrey against him. The “Devil’s Brood” intrigued, fought, and rebelled against their father. By 1174 she was influencing the ‘young King Henry’ as well (see below). In the end, the crown went to Richard, while John “Lackland” received nothing, until 1185, when he was offered Ireland. Geoffrey received even less; He died before his father.

Henry desired to be absolute ruler of his dominions, both Church and State, and could find precedents in the traditions of the throne when he planned to do away with the special privileges of the English clergy, which he regarded as fetters on his authority. As Henry’s chancellor since 1155, Becket enforced the king’s traditional medieval land tax that was exacted from all landowners, including the churches and bishoprics, assisted by a force of 800 knights. This created both a hardship and a resentment of Becket among the English churchmen. To further implicate Becket as a secular man, he appeared an accomplished and extravagant courtier and a cheerful companion to the king’s pleasures. Thomas was devoted to Henry’s interests with a firm and yet diplomatic thoroughness.

It is not for his political successes that Henry is best remembered, but for his role in the murder of Thomas a Becket. In June 1162, Becket had been consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. In the eyes of many contemporaries, Becket did not deserve the highest ecclesiastical post in the land. Despite his clerical education, his appointment was without precedent (he was a secular cleric not monastic)..

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