Saturday, March 22, 2008

BOOK: Lorenzo Valla, "On the Donation of Constantine"

Lorenzo Valla: On the Donation of Constantine. Translated by G. W. Bowersock. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 24. Harvard University Press, 2007. 0674025334. xvi + 206 pp.

The Donation of Constantine is a forgery, probably made around the year 800; it claims to be an edict of the Roman emperor Constantine, in which he transfers his authority over the western part of the Roman empire into the hands of the then pope, Sylvester. In the middle ages and the Renaissance, popes occasionally tried to use this forged document to bolster their claims to temporal power. Eventually a 15th-century humanist, Lorenzo Valla, wrote a short treatise in which he thoroughly demolishes the claims for the authenticity of the Donation. In addition to Lorenzo's treatise, this book also contains the text of the Donation itself as an appendix.

This was quite an enjoyable read. Lorenzo writes in an interesting style, parts of the book read like a speech, parts like a dialogue or a courtroom trial, and parts like a delightful rant. The use of the various standard rhetorical techniques, which was so greatly appreciated by both ancient and renaissance authors, often leaves me cold, but not in this book, where they are deployed judiciously and in moderation.

As for the contents, Lorenzo attacks the Donation from several angles and demolishes it so thoroughly that it's difficult to imagine how anybody can ever have taken it seriously in the first place. He points out how unimaginable it is that an emperor such as Constantine would simply give up half of his empire just like that; how pope Sylvester, who was not a power-hungry worldly pope like those of the renaissance, wasn't the sort of person who would accept such a donation anyway; how, even if the text of the Donation was authentic, there is no evidence that the actual transfer of power ever really took place; how, even if the actual transfer of power really had taken place, there is then no evidence that would explain how Sylvester or his successors eventually came to lose the control over the western Empire that Constantine had supposedly granted them.

I must admit that there's another thing that really surprises me about the Donation, namely: even if it were authentic, so f**king what? I mean, just try to imagine what this must have looked like: it's the year 1400 or so, and some feeble bearded old pope comes up with this 1000-year old piece of sheepskin proving that his predecessor of a thousand years ago was invested with the rule over the western Roman empire. Obviously, the German emperor, the kings of France, Spain, and England, and the two dozen or so petty Italian princelings will, upon hearing this joyous news, hasten to acknowledge the pope as their temporal liege-lord and master and start acting as his nice obedient little satraps (to use a word that the author of the Donation was so fond of; see below), right? Yeah, I didn't think so either. Did anybody on the papal side seriously believe that, even if the rulers of western Europe were to acknowledge the donation as real, that this would have any effect on their policy? People aren't going to care whether something gave you control over a territory a thousand years ago unless you can also back up your claims with an army now, in the present time. And if you can do this, then the thousand-year old claim isn't all that important anyway; at best it can be the icing on a cake.

Lorenzo also criticizes the text of the Donation from the point of view of language as well, pointing out many examples of strange, infelicitous or even outright wrong usage of the Latin language, things which you wouldn't expect in a document written in Constantine's imperial chancellery but which perhaps aren't too surprising in the work of some half-illiterate 9th-century cleric. This is the sort of thing that is hard to translate into another language, I guess, and I must say that the translator is making a very valiant effort to try to reproduce in English the same sort of contrast that Lorenzo points out in the Latin original, i.e. the difference between the clumsy text of the Donation and what you would expect in a genuine, well-written imperial edict. Despite this effort, I couldn't help feeling that some of Lorenzo's arguments in this section of the treaties don't make that much sense in the translation; I imagine that to really appreciate them, one would have to read the original. Occasionally I also felt that Lorenzo was fulminating against phrases that could have been legitimate — there isn't always just one correct way of saying something.

But anyway, many things do come across in the translation nevertheless, e.g. when Lorenzo points out how the author of the Donation is clearly trying to bluff his way through the details of things with which he is unfamiliar (e.g. the imperial and papal regalia, §§49–51), and how he is trying to cover up his ignorance by writing in a style so pompous and overblown that it's just silly (§§43, 53, 55). Lorenzo also points out concrete examples of words that weren't yet in use in Constantine's time; one of the more blatant examples is how the Donation refers to certain Roman officials as “satraps” (§42). According to the translator's note on p. 190, this word started to be used in this way only in the 8th century. But I must say that even this amazes me — Rome and Persia had been at each other's throats for a thousand years, and then the Romans go and borrow a term from the Persians, as if they couldn't come up with their own word for some kind of provincial governor? It makes about as much sense as if the Americans decided to refer to their state governors as gauleiters from now on :)

A pleasantly bizarre factoid from the translator's notes (p. 193, n. 101): “the elder Pliny (Nat. Hist. 26. 8) reports that in Egypt elephantiasis patients were put in bathtubs warmed with human blood.”

All in all, I liked this book a lot and it's certainly one of the most interesting ITRL books I've read so far.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

BOOK: Ivan Sanderson, "Invisible Residents" (cont.)

Ivan T. Sanderson: Invisible Residents. London: Tandem, 1974. (First ed.: NY and Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1970.) SBN 426138805. 254 pp.

[Continued from last week.]


“[A] ridge 50 miles long by 15 miles wide rose 2¼ miles overnight in South Atlantic in 1924” (p. 22). He cites “Zodiac, staff magazine of Cable and Wireless, Ltd., October 1923; Daily Mail, 22 August 1923; Evening Standard, 28 August 1923.” I don't know how reliable these newspapers are, but I doubt that such a thing is possible. But I am very impressed that he fished out such obscure articles about obscure events, and all that in an age without Google and similar search engines :)

“[D]uring the past year, as of writing this [. . .] we now do have a working plane [. . .] that can go into and come back out of water.” (P. 58.) That would be very cool, but I have no idea what he's talking about. I've never heard of any such thing. He also mentions this on p. 98: “not merely on the drawing board, but in fact, as reported in Popular Mechanics. It is also thought that a prototype of such a plane, named the ‘Flying Fish,’ was built by the Douglas complex for, and on the specs of, the O.N.R.”; the first one supposedly crashed but the next model, after some adjustments, “performed as required”. In a footnote, he cites Popular Mechanics, September 1967, pp. 114–5.

I found chapter 6 to be particularly interesting. It's about a small artefact found in Colombia, dating from the pre-Columbian period. It could be representing a (quite unusual) fish or insect, but it could also be a delta-wing airplane. (“[T]his bloody thing does not look like any kind of known animal but it does look astonishingly like some kind of small airplane,” p. 92.) Sanderson showed casts of the object to various aviation experts, who say that it does look like an airplane but also differs in some important details from what a real plane would have to be shaped like (“Perhaps it is an artist's ‘impression’ ”, p. 92).

Another very interesting chapter is ch. 7, about underwater ‘lightwheels’: long and slowly rotating rays of light underneath the water, emitting from a common centre and their tips suddenly terminating at a certain distance away from the centre. See e.g. p. 107 for a description, written by one Comdr. J. R. Bodler (USNR). Sanderson also cites a proposed explanation of the phenomenon by one Dr. Wally Minto, who suggests that underwater sound waves may be activating the bioluminescence in certain kinds of plankton (pp. 115–7); but it isn't clear what could be causing such sound waves.

In ch. 9 he mentions examples of airplanes whose pilots found that they had covered a distance in an amazingly short period of time. He concludes that this cannot be explained just by strong tail winds, because meteorological stations on the ground would have detected these winds as well; thus perhaps “the planes slipped into areas wherein time ran slower” (p. 162). Oh dear. I think it's much more plausible that some unusual wind-related phenomenon is at work than that time somehow slows down in a certain area...

He mentions his ‘vile vortices’ several times without clearly explaining them, as if he assumed that the reader already knows them (pp. 134, 147, 151); but then in ch. 11 he describes how he got to define them. They are conveniently located around the world so that, if you also count the poles among them, you get the vertices of an icosahedron. And this despite the fact that he says “I don't like such neat patterns emerging in anything in nature; it looks far too much as thought somebody had got the idea first, and then tried to fit the facts into it. You can fit almost anything into almost anything else if you try hard enough” (p. 165). This is amazing — he is aware of all this, and yet he pursues his ridiculous vortex theory?!

An instance of amazing honesty: “[T]here is as of now totally insufficient evidence even for the existence of these vortices, per se.” (P. 177.)

He claims that in the Bermuda Triangle and a few other areas, the number of disappearances is unusually large, even if you take the amount of traffic into account (pp. 166–7); that's interesting, if it's really true.

Apparently the surface of the ocean is not perfectly level, but forms ‘depressions’ in some areas: “There is even a story, which I have been trying for four years to have confirmed or disproved, that some old freighters sold to Japanese scrapyards had failed to make the grate up the slope out of one of these patches and had to be helped out by ocean-going tugs.” :))))

In the last few chapters of the book, which try to present theories and explanations for the unusual events described earlier in the book, he has an annoying tendency to devote space to half-kooky ideas recently proposed (recently from the point of view of when he was writing the book) on the fringes of physics. The problem is that undoubtedly dozens of such ideas are proposed by physicists every year, with most of them soon discarded or forgotten, so that it's silly to take one from the last year and hint, in your paranormal book, that this one may turn out to be the explanation behind your paranormal phenomena. In practice what is more likely to happen is that in five years nobody will remember that theory anymore. Have you ever heard of Dr. John Carstoiu and his “Gravity II” (p. 173)?

“[T]here is currently considerable speculation as to whether there may not be a sort of counter-time that flows fromour future to our past” (p. 179). I don't doubt that there has been such speculation, but where? Among drug-addled new-age kooks?

“There is a theory that disturbs many geomorphologists. Briefly stated, this is to the effect that the earth is really a sort of vast crystal and is trying to adopt a tetrahedral form — namely, a three-sided pyramid with an apex at the Antarctic and a flat triangular base around the North Pole.” (P. 186.) ROFLMAO!!! I don't doubt that it disturbs the geomorphologists. They are probably laughing so hard that they cannot get any work done :)

I wonder if the book originally had a section of plates between pp. 192 and 193. It looks as if something has been cut out at that point.

He has a silly obsession with the idea that it's better to build underground than above the ground (or above the ocean floor, if you're a mysterious but advanced underwater civilization), presumably because above the ground you are more exposed to the elements (such as “vile currents (winds)”, p. 196 — he sure was fond of the word ‘vile’ :)). But why does he pretend not to notice how much more difficult and expensive it is to dig rooms from the bedrock than to put up walls and a roof above the ground?

One of the obvious problems with his idea that there's a super-advanced underwater civilization that we're mostly unaware of is of course that civilizations in general have a tendency to make themselves noticed. He suggests: “why it should not be so far in advance of us technically that we would neve have even noticed it until we started to develop a few really sensitive gadgets” (p. 199); earlier on the same page he emphasizes that, since life first evolved in water, there has been much more time for advanced species to evolve in the water than on dry land: “we have only just now achieved this after some 300 million years. What might intelligent entities, having had more than twice as long to evolve [in water] [. . .] have achieved?” But I think this line of arguing is completely implausible. Surely nobody doubts that (unless we destroy our civilization with some kind of ecological disaster or nuclear war or something of that sort) we will colonize the oceans in a few thousand years' time, let alone in 300 million years. Thus, if an advanced aquatic civilization had evolved that had 300 million years head-start on us, it would have colonized dry land long before our ancestors had ever even climbed the trees, much less came back down from them.

He makes a good point on p. 203: “It has always seemed strange to me that almost everybody not only believes in, but almost casually accepts, the existence of a Universal Power, God, [. . .] without a single iota of the sort of concrete evidence for His existence that they so clamorously demand before they will even ‘believe in’ anything as concrete as a lake or sea monster.” (P. 203.) But actually, it doesn't seem so strange to me. A person's beliefs aren't guided just by truth and evidence, but also by the consequences of those beliefs. Believing in the existence of lake monsters doesn't help you much, but believing in some kind of god might provide you with consolation and a sense that at least somebody cares about you and has this chaotic and messy world of ours under control. At least that's what I imagine that the good sides of believing in a god might be, although of course I don't know for sure, seeing as I don't believe in any myself.

A touching, and hilarious, glimpse of the good old days when it was believed that artificial intelligence was just around the corner: “We have ‘invented’ devices that we call computers. Some of these, such as those, for instance, developed by Drs John C. Loehlin of the University of Texas, Kenneth M. Colby of Stanford, and the Gullahorns of Michigan, are now already not only ‘thinking’ but developing personalities and showing characteristics such as we call emotions.” (P. 216.) ROTFLOL :))))

He suggests that, as our technology grows more and more complex, people are less and less able to really understand it: “Soon machines will be teaching the next generation of our species [. . .] Might it not be that at least some OINTs [= other intelligences] are so far ahead of our present status that they have completely lost controls of themselves and just plain given up thinking [. . .]? Take poltergeists, for instance. [. . .] the ‘work’ they do is, at least according to the record, 100 per cent stupid, mischievous, and for the most part both logical and insane.” (P. 217.)


  • Sanderson's Abominable Snowmen, a book about the yeti, sasquatch, and similar legendary beings.

  • Apparently Jung wrote a book the UFOs: Flying Saucers, A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1959). (Mentioned here on p. 244.)

  • Sanderson says on p. 127 that a radio commentator named Art Ford “has now spent many years investigating” the case of Flight 19, “and he has run into some really very extraordinary and disturbing facts concerning the affair. His book on the case is to be published shortly” — however, I couldn't find any such book mentioned on the web, nor in the LOC catalogue. I did find several web sites mentioning that it was Ford who reported that the Flight 19 leader, Lt. Taylor, was heard to say things like “They look like they're from outer space — don't come after me.” This perhaps gives us a hit of what Ford's book is probably like, if he did get around to publishing it.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

BOOK: Ivan Sanderson, "Invisible Residents"

Ivan T. Sanderson: Invisible Residents. London: Tandem, 1974. (First ed.: NY and Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1970.) SBN 426138805. 254 pp.

Sanderson was a biologist and wrote several popular-science type books about zoology, but nowadays he's chiefly remembered for his interest in paranormal subjects. Probably the first time I've heard of him was when I read Berlitz's The Bermuda Triangle, which mentions Sanderson's theory that the Triangle is just one of twelve “anomalic regions” (Sanderson's phrase — he was quite fond of unnecessarily using words that end in -ic), situated around the world at regular intervals; he calls them “vile vortices”, and the whole thing is of course just as silly as this name would lead you to believe.

The only thing I've read by Sanderson before this book was a short article of his that was included in Mysteries and Monsters of the Sea, a collection of articles from the Fate magazine. I was rather disappointed by that book as a whole, and Sanderson's article (“Sea Serpents and Whachamacallits”, from January 1964) didn't particularly impress me either.

Anyway, I recently bought Invisible Residents very cheaply along with about 20 other books about paranormal topics, which explains the recent predominance of such books on this blog :)

The basic idea of this book is that there must exist a very advanced (and hitherto unknown to us) civilization living at the ocean floor (or even beneath it, pp. 84–5, 196). The main argument in favour of this theory are the supposedly numerous sightings of UFOs coming into or out of the water, and of unidentified submarine objects exhibiting patterns of behaviour beyond the reach of human technology. Just like with UFOs, I of course cannot quite believe such an incredible claim, but I'd be curious to know what these sightings (if they really occured as they are reported here) were all about; he tells a few interesting stories along the way, and he has a very peculiar style of writing, quite unlike any other paranormal author I've read so far. All of this taken together has made this book quite a pleasant and charming read.

His style

His unusual style is perhaps partly a result of his British origins; in addition, he comes across as a highly irritable person who doesn't mince words when he is annoyed, which he is much of the time :) The other paranormal authors I've read so far (not very many, admittedly) come across as calm and bloodless in comparison, even when they are *trying* to be lurid and sensationalist.

“I will not bore you with a reiteration of the so-called ‘flying-saucer’ nonsense, as it is now extant in more books and papers than I would care to enumerate.” (P. 15.) “The term ‘flying saucer’ is an abomination, preposteriously facetious, false, and irrelevant.” (P. 16. His complaint seems to be that they are hardly ever really saucer-shaped. He also complains against the term “UFO’: “that they ‘fly’, as we know flight, is rubbish”, p. 16.) “Heyerdahl is a perfectly splendid fellow [. . .] but he clings to an outmoded orthodoxy in a manner that is incomprehensible.” (P. 33.) “One does not wish to be grossly impertinent, but one is constrained to ask just what the heck is the matter with all the classes of skeptics, stuffed shirts, and other experts? [. . .] These two items are highly obnoxious to just about everybody, quite apart from the professional skeptics and other assorted clowns.” (P. 37.) “This list, while vey impressive, is frankly a crashing bore” (p. 42). “[M]y greatest delight is teasing stuffed-shirted experts” (p. 67). “[L]iterally hundreds of (from a mechanical point of view) obscene objects were reported” (p. 71). “The following may sound disreputably ‘cloak-and-daggerish’ and infuriate the stuffed shirts” (p. 77). “There is somethign dashed rum going on here” (p. 120).

Much of the time this ranting style is quite pleasant. One thing that annoyed me, however, was that he often jumps, for no very obvious reasons, between this very personal, very irascible authorial “I” and the sort of impersonal “we” that you wouldn't expect to find elsewhere than in an academic text or a royal proclamation. If he wanted to maintain a calm, detached academic tone, he would have to use “we” throughout the book and avoid venting his spleen on every other page. Therefore it was hard not to feel the use of the “we” as more like a pompous quasi-royal “we” (this feeling is further strengthened by curious constructs such as “[a]n old personal friend of ours”, p. 34; “I thought that this might be due to our having become bored with the whole UFO bit at that time — and indeed we personally did”, p. 68), which started to get on my nerves fairly soon. (Eventually it transpires that he had founded a “Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained”, pp. 164, 169, so presumably the “we” refers to him and other collaborators from this society.)

He also clearly enjoys taking swipes as “officialdom” and its helplessness and cluelessness when it comes to UFOs and similar phenomena. See pp. 17, 19, 67.

“taking the proverbial ungulate by its frontal protuberances” (p. 78) :))

He has an annoying fondness for words ending in -ic, such as “gravic” (p. 169) and “gravitic” (p. 175) — why the heck is ‘gravitational’ not good enough for him?

He cites quite a lot of sources, much more than is usual for paranormal books, but they are mostly to publications like the Flying Saucer Review, books by other UFOlogists, and newspaper articles. On p. 69 he mentions something from the New York Times, but doesn't provide an exact reference.

He says that he isn't interested in just piling together lots of facts: “It is not the ‘what’ that interests me but the ‘how’ and even more, the ‘why’ ” (p. 134). I agree in principle, but in subjects like this one, if you list the facts thoroughly and scrutinize them really carefully, you might have some kind of ground to sand on; but if you insist prematurely on proceeding into ‘how’ and ‘why’, you'll end up with nothing but yet another bullshit paranormal theory.

Interesting paranormal occurrences

Some of the more interesting of the unusual or paranormal occurrences mentioned in the book:

A ship listening for signals near the bottom of the sea, for the purposes of testing long-range underwater communications, caught the signal that had been transmitted to it during the course of experiment, “and then a repeat of the signal followed by a strange code which the computers are still trying to break” (p. 37); i.e., “ ‘something unknown’ ” picked up the signal and then “began transmitting its own signals on the same wavelengths” (p. 38). I hope they made sure that it wasn't just some kind of echo or random noise or something of that sort.

“For two weeks [in 1960] the Argentine Navy did everything in its power to track down two unidentified submarines detected in the Golfo Nuevo” despite the assistance of the U.S. Navy experts, equipment “and apparently uncounted tons of xplosives, the mystery subs eventually just went away, still unidentified” (p. 57). “And every nation owning so much as one submarine could well deny any complicity, because they all knew perfectly well that none of theirs could withstand the pounding these did” (p. 59).

Sanderson cites Vincent Gaddis' report about a cargo ship, the Ourang Medan, which sent out SOS messages ended by “All officers including captain dead [. . .] probably whole crew dead [. . .] I die” (p. 141). Rescue ships arrived in a few hours and found all crewmembers lying about the ship, dead, including the radio operator, “his lifeless hand still resting on the transmitting key. ‘Their frozen faces were upturned to the sun [. . .] the mouths were gaping open and the eyes staring.’ ” Soon afterwards a fire broke out on the ship, the rescue party left and minutes later, the ship exploded and sank (pp. 141–2). An excellent story, even if it isn't true — see the Wikipedia page, which casts some doubt on the whole incident.

His life

Sanderson seems to have had quite a colourful life (see the article about him in the Wikipedia), and glimpses into it appear every now and then in the book. “I was admonished in my youth by one of the most awesome personalities I have ever met, one Chief Ekumaw of the Assumbo people of the northern Camerun, in West Africa, to remember always that the proper place to begin a story is at the beginning.” (P. 28.)

Apparently he worked “as a counterespionage agent for a navy” during the war (p. 125): “My jurisdiction covered a considerable area of tropical seas [. . .] I was responsible for numbering thousands of craft in the area”.

“I was virtually brought up on the sea and lived for many years on my own schooner” (p. 138).

“I spent many years collecting animals in Africa, the Orient, and South America [. . .] a sting ray over six feet in width [. . .] turned up in a river that had been inhabited [. . .] for centuries [. . .] but nobody had ever seen anything like it before.” (Pp. 197–8.)

[To be continued in a few days.]

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

BOOK: Richard Winer, "The Devil's Triangle" (cont.)

Richard Winer: The Devil's Triangle. New York: Bantam Books, 1974. (First ed.: Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1972.) 0552094307. 336 pp.

[Continued from last week.]

More examples of healthy skepticism

Winer often mentions events that could easily become classic mysterious ‘disappearances’ if it hadn't been for the presence of some witness, due to whom we know what happened. The implication, I guess, is that many of the mysterious disappearances may have similarly mundane reasons, just that there weren't any witnesses around at the time. This is again a fine example of Winer's preference for sober rather than paranormal explanations. See e.g. pp. 54–55, describing how the crew of a ship, the Discoverer, saw in 1971 a cargo plane plunge into the sea nearby, and no debris or oil slick was found in the area (just one of the chunks of beef that the plane had been carrying): “Had the Discoverer not been present when the Connie [i.e. the Super Constellation plane] went down, there again would have been another chapter added to the legend of the ‘Triangle of Death’.” (P. 55.)

Similarly, when the Sno' Boy vanished in 1973, it turned out that it was badly overloaded with both cargo and passengers, it was caught in a storm, and plenty of debris was eventually found — hardly a mysterious Triangle disappearance (p. 66).

The 53-foot Ixtapa disappeared in December 1971; only a piece of its cabin was found a few days later. “One UFO buff went so far as to say, ‘Spacemen had to remove the cabin in order to get at the hiding crew.’ [. . .] But by far the greatest number of boating men [. . .] adhered to the opinion that the yacht had been run down by a ship that kept going because her crew was completely oblivious to the accident./ Suppose the boat that found the Ixtapa's cabin top had reached that location just a minute or two later when total night had decended upon the area? Or if her course had been just a few yards farther away in either direction leaving the wreckage engulfed in darkness?” The cabin top would probably not have been found, and “more fuel would have been added to the legend of the ‘sea of lost ships.’ ” (Pp. 90–91.)

Writing about the Marine Sulphur Queen, Winer concludes: “There was nothing mysterious or supernatural—simply an industrial explosion at sea.” (P. 136.) He cites, as an example. another similar accident, that of the V. A. Fogg: “Had it been the ‘Devil's Triangle’ and not the Gulf of Mexico where the V. A. Fogg was lost, she would certainly have been listed as another strange disappearance.” (P. 136. In fact it was listed as such even so, e.g. by J. W. Spencer, Limbo of the Lost, pp. 122–5.) But the V. A. Fogg sunk in shallow water, on a short course, and a pilot had reported seeing smoke in the area where the ship was supposed to have been lost. As a result, its wreck was soon found: “It was obvious that the V. A. Fogg had exploded and sunk within second. A number of bodies [. . .] were recovered.” (P. 138.) But the same event had occurred in Bermuda Triangle and if nobody happened to see the smoke, the wreck would be “resting in thousands of feet of water [. . .] beyond the reach of divers or most sonar scanning devices” and she would be listed as another mysterious Triangle disappearance (p. 138).

In the section about the Teignmouth Electron, which was found abandoned after its owner and captain committed suicide, Winer adds a very good remark: “What if Donald Crowhurst had taken his tape recorder and logbook with him when he decided to end it all? His disappearance would be labeled as another great unsolved mystery of the sea. If the facts concerning other ‘ghostships’ were discovered, would they too prove to be the results of earthbound causes?” (P. 179.)

Similarly he mentions the curious story of the Gulf King V, a fishing ship whose captain went berserk one day; the crew eventually escaped from the ship and were picked up by sister ships soon afterwards. But, Winer adds, if things turned out just a little bit different, we would have another perfect Bermuda Triangle mystery at our hands. If, for example, the crew had escaped at night, or when the other ships were too far to find them, they might have drowned; the deranged captain might have ended up somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, and, driven mad by hunger and thirst, would perhaps jump into the sea himself — and the ship would be discovered some time later, in seaworthy condition and missing all its occupants for no obvious reason (pp. 196–7).

He also complains about the sensationalism with which the events in the Bermuda Triangle are often treated. For example, when he wrote a few articles about it for the Saga magazine, the editors changed his titles “The Devil's Triangle: Part I” and “Part II” into “Bermuda Triangle — UFO Twilight Zone” and “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle Flying Saucer ‘Space Warp’ Domain” (pp. 198–9). He also complains about the phrase ‘Bermuda Triangle’ itself: “If a geographical designation is to be applied to the name, it should refer ot the area where the most happenings have taken place—the ‘Florida-Bahama Triangle.’ ” (P. 199.) But it seems clear that ‘Devil's Triangle’ is his preferred term, and this, if you ask me, is just as silly and sensationalist as ‘Bermuda Triangle’ — even more so, in fact.

He also criticizes J. W. Spencer for his silly theories about UFOs kidnapping people, planes and ships in the Triangle, and for the errors in his account of the sinking of the V. A. Fogg (p. 198).

Incidentally, Winer does not categorically reject the possibility of UFOs, but he maintains a skeptical attitude towards them (p. 208). Regarding their supposed involvement in the Triangle events, he says that “certain magazines and writers have exploited that hypothesis” (p. 209) but responsible UFOlogists haven't, and they in fact say that the level of UFO activity in the Triangle is not unusually high (pp. 209–10).


Chapter 2 contains an impressively lurid description of what it must have been like when a hurricane sunk a group of Spanish ships in the Caribbean in the early 16th century. “Those who opened their eyes into the wind-driven rain had their eyeballs splattered out of the sockets. Clothes were ripped away, and bodies were masses of torn flesh as though they had been lashed and beaten by King Neptune's own master-at-arms. Mouths that opened to scream spewed forth blood instead of words. Cargoes shifted. Vessels capsized. Men were crushed. Others drowned. Those dying prayed to live. Those living prayed to die.” (Pp. 27–8.) It seems clear that if Winer's paranormal writing hadn't taken off, he could still have made a good living by writing horror stories :) But I wonder if a hurricane really would have had all these effects. Anyway, the point of this chapter, I guess, is to emphasize how easily ships may ‘disappear’ in that area for perfectly natural reasons.

A couple of interesting ‘firsts’ mentioned in the book: the first steam-powered ship of the U.S. Navy to disappear in the Triangle was the tug Nina, en route from Norfolk to Cuba, in 1910 (p. 66). The first known aviator to vanish in the Triangle was one Herbie Pond, a rumrunner, in 1931 (p. 33).

I was interested to read (p. 69) that the U.S. Navy still uses a few wooden ships (or at least did use them when this book was written, in the 1970s), namely minesweepers: “As long as magnetic mines are used in warfare at sea, the navies of the world will utilize these wooden vessels.”

There's a curious story on pp. 156–7. Supposedly, one night in February 1935, a number of hotel guests at Daytona Beach, Florida, saw an airplane crash into the sea very close to the shore. The coast guard was alerted, but no traces of any wreckage were found, and it turned out that no planes were reported to be missing in that area at that time. If the story isn't totally made up, I really wonder what causes this sort of mass delusion.

Winer also mentions the Ellen Austin, whose crew sighted an abandoned ship in 1881 and put a prize crew on it. The two ships were later separated by a storm and after a while the Ellen Austin found the derelict again, but sans the prize crew. A new prize crew boarded it, and despite many precautions, a couple of days later the two ships lost contact again and neither the derelict nor its prize crew were ever seen again (pp. 164–5). There's an interesting section about this case in Kusche's book (pp. 52–3); Kusche found that all mentions of this case eventually trace back to a 1944 book, The Stargazer Talks by one Rupert Gould, who didn't mention his source of information about this story. Furthermore, he didn't mention the second prize crew and its disappearance, so the later authors (like Winer) who mention this must either have had some other source of information or they simply made the thing up. So this part of Winer's book does seem somewhat less than perfectly trustworthy. There really ought to be some kind of law that would prohibit the publication of books about the Bermuda Triangle unless they cite their sources very pedantically :)

In his account of the Deering, Winer says that the message in a bottle, which suggested that the ship was a victim of pirates, had been proven to be authentic. Supposedly the wife of the Deering's captain had the message analyzed by handwriting experts, who found that the note was written by one Henry Bates, the ship's engineer (pp. 169–70). But Gian Quasar in his considerably more extensive story of the Deering, on his website, says that the message was actually a forgery, written by the man who claimed to have found it; he admitted this at some point and it turned out that he had hoped his ‘discovery’ of the message would help him get a job at a local lighthouse.

He mentions a curious thing he'd noticed one day while filming underwater: “maybe a hundred feet across, possibly seventy-five, but no less than fifty feet in diameter. It was perfectly round. Its color was a deep purple. It was moving slowly up toward us. At its outer perimeter there was a form of pulsation, but there was no movement of water. As we started for the surface, it stopped its ascent. Then slowly it began to descend into the blackening depths.” (P. 202.) I'm not quite sure whether to believe all this, but it sure sounds scary :) He suggests it may have been a gigantic jellyfish (p. 203).

There's a brief discussion of the ‘Devil's Sea’ near Japan on pp. 210–1, but it's unimpressive, just a rehash of the familiar claims about it; Kusche's account of the Devil's Sea (pp. 231–9 in his book) remains by far the best I've read so far.


Overall, I quite enjoyed this book and I think I like it better than those by Berlitz, Jeffrey, Spencer and Quasar. If I had to recommend you just one book about the Triangle, I wouldn't know what to say; but if I could recommend two, they would be this one and Kusche's The Bermuda Triangle Mystery — Solved.


  • This book says on p. 223 that Winer “is writing his second book, entitled Cyclops, an in-depth study” of that ship's disappearance; but I can't seem to find any mention of it on ABE.

  • He does seem to have written several further books on more or less paranormal subjects, however: The Devil's Triangle 2 (1975); From the Devil's Triangle to the Devil's Jaw (1977); Haunted Houses (1979); More Haunted Houses (1981); Houses of Horror (1983) Ghost Ships (2000).

  • Vincent Gaddis: Invisible Horizons. Mentioned here e.g. on p. 35 in relation to the disappearance of five (out of seven) fighter planes near Kindley Field in late 1944, one year before the Flight 19.

  • Joshua Slocum: Sailing Alone Around the World. Mentioned on p. 127.

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