Fifty Sense

I can recommend George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946) to anyone who wants to write better English. Or better French, Georgian, Arabic, Mandarin or Tagalog, because some of Orwell’s advice is universal. But perhaps the essay is partly a joke: Orwell may deliberately have committed some of the literary sins he criticizes. Or not deliberately. Orwell wasn’t infallible, despite his modern cult. He wasn’t a perfect observer either, but I don’t think his failure to criticize “in terms of” in the essay is a bad oversight. The phrase wasn’t the blight in his day that it is today. All the same, you can see its spores beginning to drift through the flower-beds of English literature in the 1930s and ’40s. Orwell himself uses it nineteen times in the Fifty Orwell Essays available at the Australian Gutenberg site. But that’s roughly one I.T.O. for every 12,000 words or 2·63 essays, which I think is a healthy ratio. No I.T.O.’s at all would have been even healthier, though some are defensible and may be the best way of expressing Orwell’s thought. Others, however, seem to me to be tending towards Guardianese. I’ve collected them all here and suggested alternatives. Sometimes it might be better to re-write more fully, but only two alternatives are longer than the I.T.O. they replace (orthographically, at least).

From Charles Dickens:

More completely than most writers, perhaps, Dickens can be explained in terms of his social origin, though actually his family history was not quite what one would infer from his novels. → More completely than most writers, perhaps, Dickens can be explained by / through his social origin, though actually his family history was not quite what one would infer from his novels.

What now strikes us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is their complete irresponsibility; they see everything in terms of individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community exists. → What now strikes us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is their complete irresponsibility; they see everything by / through individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community exists.

When he speaks of human progress it is usually in terms of moral progress – men growing better; probably he would never admit that men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be. → When he speaks of human progress it is usually as moral progress – men growing better; probably he would never admit that men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be.

I have been discussing Dickens simply in terms of his “message”, and almost ignoring his literary qualities. → I have been discussing Dickens simply by / through his “message”, and almost ignoring his literary qualities.

The truth is that it is absurd to make such comparisons in terms of “better” and “worse”. → The truth is that it is absurd to make such comparisons with / by “better” and “worse”.

Charles Dickens (1940)


From Inside the Whale:

Alliances, changes of front etc., which only make sense as part of the game of power politics have to be explained and justified in terms of international socialism. → Alliances, changes of front etc., which only make sense as part of the game of power politics have to be explained and justified by / through international socialism.

Miller replied in terms of extreme pacifism, an individual refusal to fight, with no apparent wish to convert others to the same opinion – practically, in fact, a declaration of irresponsibility. → Miller replied as an extreme pacifist, as an individual refusing to fight, with no apparent wish to convert others to the same opinion – practically, in fact, a declaration of irresponsibility.

Inside the Whale (1940)


From The Lion and the Unicorn:

At the same time the Labour Party was a Socialist party, using Socialist phraseology, thinking in terms of an old-fashioned anti-imperialism and more or less pledged to make restitution to the coloured races. → At the same time the Labour Party was a Socialist party, using Socialist phraseology, thinking of / by an old-fashioned anti-imperialism and more or less pledged to make restitution to the coloured races.

Because the time has come when one can predict the future in terms of an “either–or”. → Because the time has come when one can predict the future with / by an “either–or”.

The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941)


From Looking Back on the Spanish War:

I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various “party lines”. → I saw, in fact, history being written not by what happened but by what ought to have happened according to various “party lines”.

Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942)


From Antisemitism in Britain:

There is more antisemitism in England than we care to admit, and the war has accentuated it, but it is not certain that it is on the increase if one thinks in terms of decades rather than years. → There is more antisemitism in England than we care to admit, and the war has accentuated it, but it is not certain that it is on the increase if one thinks in decades rather than years.

Antisemitism in Britain (1945)


From In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse:

He had missed the turning-point of the war, and in 1941 he was still reacting in terms of 1939. → He had missed the turning-point of the war, and in 1941 he was still reacting as though it were 1939.

In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse (1945)


From Notes on Nationalism:

A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. → A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, of / by competitive prestige.

In practice, however, the necessary calculations cannot be made, because anyone likely to bother his head about such a question would inevitably see it in terms of competitive prestige. → In practice, however, the necessary calculations cannot be made, because anyone likely to bother his head about such a question would inevitably see it through / by competitive prestige.

But Chesterton was not content to think of this superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated into terms of national prestige and military power, which entailed an ignorant idealisation of the Latin countries, especially France. → But Chesterton was not content to think of this superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated into national prestige and military power, which entailed an ignorant idealisation of the Latin countries, especially France.

History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell’s soldiers slashing Irishwomen’s faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause. → History is thought of largely through nationalism, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell’s soldiers slashing Irishwomen’s faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause.

Notes on Nationalism (1945)


From The Sporting Spirit:

It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism – that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige. → There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism – that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything by competitive prestige.

The Sporting Spirit (1945)


From Books vs. Cigarettes:

Exactly what reading costs, reckoned in terms of pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price. → Exactly what reading costs, reckoned in pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price.

There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in terms of money, may be the same in each case. → There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in money, may be the same in each case.

Books vs. Cigarettes (1946)


From Writers and Leviathan:

Quite largely, indeed, the workers were won over to Socialism by being told that they were exploited, whereas the brute truth was that, in world terms, they were exploiters. → Quite largely, indeed, the workers were won over to Socialism by being told that they were exploited, whereas the brute truth was that, viewed from overseas, they were exploiters.

Writers and Leviathan (1948)


From Reflections on Gandhi:

Even when he was fighting what was in effect a color war, he did not think of people in terms of race or status. → Even when he was fighting what was in effect a color war, he did not think of people by race or status.

At the same time there is reason to think that Gandhi, who after all was born in 1869, did not understand the nature of totalitarianism and saw everything in terms of his own struggle against the British government. → At the same time there is reason to think that Gandhi, who after all was born in 1869, did not understand the nature of totalitarianism and saw everything through his own struggle against the British government.

Reflections on Gandhi (1949)


Previously pre-posted (please peruse):

Ex-term-in-ate!

Titus Graun

Reds Under the Thread

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Three Is The Key

If The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888) is any guide, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) thought that 222 is a special number. But his painting doesn’t exhaust its secrets. To get to another curiosity of 222, start with 142857. As David Wells puts it in his Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers (1986), 142857 is a “number beloved of all recreational mathematicians”. He then describes some of its properties, including this:

142857 x 1 = 142857
142857 x 2 = 285714
142857 x 3 = 428571
142857 x 4 = 571428
142857 x 5 = 714285
142857 x 6 = 857142

The multiples are cyclic permutations: the order of the six numbers doesn’t change, only their starting point. Because each row contains the same numbers, it sums to the same total: 1 + 4 + 2 + 8 + 5 + 7 = 27. And because each row begins with a different number, each column contains the same six numbers and also sums to 27, like this:

1 4 2 8 5 7
+ + + + + +
2 8 5 7 1 4
+ + + + + +
4 2 8 5 7 1
+ + + + + +
5 7 1 4 2 8
+ + + + + +
7 1 4 2 8 5
+ + + + + +
8 5 7 1 4 2

= = = = = =

2 2 2 2 2 2
7 7 7 7 7 7

If the diagonals of the square also summed to the same total, the multiples of 142857 would create a full magic square. But the diagonals don’t have the same total: the left-right diagonal sums to 31 and the right-left to 23 (note that 31 + 23 = 54 = 27 x 2).

But where does 142857 come from? It’s actually the first six digits of the reciprocal of 7, i.e. 1/7 = 0·142857… Those six numbers repeat for ever, because 1/7 is a prime reciprocal with maximum period: when you calculate 1/7, all integers below 7 are represented in the remainders. The square of multiples above is simply another way of representing this:

1/7 = 0·142857…
2/7 = 0·285714…
3/7 = 0·428571…
4/7 = 0·571428…
5/7 = 0·714285…
6/7 = 0·857142…
7/7 = 0·999999…

The prime reciprocals 1/17 and 1/19 also have maximum period, so the squares created by their multiples have the same property: each row and each column sums to the same total, 72 and 81, respectively. But the 1/19 square has an additional property: both diagonals sum to 81, so it is fully magic:

01/19 = 0·0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1
02/19 = 0·1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2…
03/19 = 0·1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3…
04/19 = 0·2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4…
05/19 = 0·2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5…
06/19 = 0·3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6…
07/19 = 0·3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7…
08/19 = 0·4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8…
09/19 = 0·4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9…
10/19 = 0·5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0…
11/19 = 0·5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1…
12/19 = 0·6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2…
13/19 = 0·6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3…
14/19 = 0·7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4…
15/19 = 0·7 8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5…
16/19 = 0·8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8 9 4 7 3 6…
17/19 = 0·8 9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7…
18/19 = 0·9 4 7 3 6 8 4 2 1 0 5 2 6 3 1 5 7 8

First line = 0 + 5 + 2 + 6 + 3 + 1 + 5 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 4 + 7 + 3 + 6 + 8 + 4 + 2 + 1 = 81

Left-right diagonal = 0 + 0 + 7 + 5 + 5 + 9 + 0 + 3 + 0 + 4 + 2 + 8 + 7 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 5 + 8 = 81

Right-left diagonal = 9 + 9 + 2 + 4 + 4 + 0 + 9 + 6 + 9 + 5 + 7 + 1 + 2 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 4 + 1 = 81

In base 10, this doesn’t happen again until the 1/383 square, whose magic total is 1719 (= 383-1 x 10-1 / 2). But recreational maths isn’t restricted to base 10 and lots more magic squares are created by lots more primes in lots more bases. The prime 223 in base 3 is one of them. Here the first line is

1/223 = 1/220213 = 0·

0000100210210102121211101202221112202
2110211112001012200122102202002122220
2110110201020210001211000222011010010
2222122012012120101011121020001110020
0112011110221210022100120020220100002
0112112021202012221011222000211212212…

The digits sum to 222, so 222 is the magic total for all rows and columns of the 1/223 square. It is also the total for both diagonals, so the square is fully magic. I doubt that Alma-Tadema knew this, because he lived before computers made calculations like that fast and easy. But he was probably a Freemason and, if so, would have been pleased to learn that 222 had a link with squares.

The Four Treasons

Each year the patient hand of time
Plucks bare the oak, the ash, the lime,
And sharp against the Autumn sky
The subtle branches soothe the eye.

When Winter’s spell is fast on earth
The trees await the sun’s rebirth,
And pearled in frost, they stand and seem
Designed for beauty in a dream.

Then Spring revokes the spell and wills
The early leaves, the silver rills:
And symbol’d songs, more sweet than words,
Fill air with urgence of the birds.

Last, Summer’s lion roars his heat:
And pollen drifts and leaves compete
To drink the golden tide of light
Ere fall the sable drought of night.

In Memoriam A.E.H.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #6

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Camus Up for BlairGeorge Orwell: A Life in Letters, selected and annotated by Peter Davison, (Penguin 2011)

God-FingerThe Satan Bug (1962) / The Way to Dusty Death (1973), Alistair MacLean

Mum, Bum and CaravaggioOutsider: Always Almost, Never Quite: An Autobiography, Brian Sewell (2011)

Eyes Wide OpiumHow to Read a Photograph: Understanding, Interpreting and Enjoying the Great Photographers, Ian Jeffrey (2008)

Beard TalesThe Devotee of Ennui #1: Hymn to Hermaphrodite, Alan Moore with Kegsey Keegan (Polypogonic Press, 2013)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Vigor Mortis

Front cover of The Best of Black Sabbath
In the Christian religion, the resurrection follows the virgin birth. In the rock-graves at Heysham, the virgin birth follows the resurrection. Or rather: the virgin-births follow the resurrections. There are many of both. The rock-graves at Heysham* are carved in solid rock near the remains of St Patrick’s chapel, an ancient ruin overlooking Morecambe Bay on the coast of Lancashire in England. You may have seen them before, because they appear on the cover of a compilation album by the heavy-metal band Black Sabbath, where they’re filled with ice and look suitably dark and sinister. But the graves are sometimes full of life and activity. In spring, as the rainwater filling them begins to warm, there are resurrections – dozens of them. Tiny crustaceans (a group of animals that includes crabs, shrimps and woodlice) hatch from eggs that have over-wintered in the sediment on the floors of the graves. Some of the crustaceans are called water-fleas, others are called seed-shrimps. Water-fleas, whose scientific name is Daphnia, hop through the water with jerks of their antennae, sieving it for fresh-water plankton. Seed-shrimps, or ostracods, are enclosed in tiny double-sided shells through which their legs protrude. They trundle over the stone sides of the graves, scraping off algae and catching even smaller and simpler animals like rotifers and protozoa.

The rock graves at Heysham (c. 11th century A.D.)

Rock graves at Heysham, Lancs. (c. 1000s)

Water-fleas are famous for parthenogenesis, or their ability to produce offspring without sex. Those that hatch first in spring are female and give birth without mating with any males. A single water-flea in a jar of stagnant water soon becomes a swarm. It’s only later in the year that males are born and the water-fleas mate to produce winter eggs, which sink to the floor of the graves and lie there through the cold weather. The eggs of water-fleas and ostracods can also survive desiccation, or drying-up, and can be blown on the wind to new sites. That is probably how these crustaceans arrived in the rock-graves, which they must have occupied for centuries, through the coldest winters and the hottest summers, dying and being reborn again and again. When a human being or large animal dies, chemical changes in the body make the muscles rigid and wood-like. The scientific term for this is rigor mortis, or the “stiffness of death”. Rigor mortis wears off in time and the body begins to rot. The rock-graves at Heysham are an example of vigor mortis, or the “vigour of death”. Medieval human beings created the graves to bury their dead, but the bodies that were once there have been lost to history. The water-fleas and the seed-shrimps remain, tiny, overlooked and fascinating.

A seed-shrimp or ostracod

A seed-shrimp

A water-flea, Daphnia pulex

A water-flea


*Heysham is pronounced HEE-shum and is an old coastal village near the city of Lancaster, after which Lancashire is named.

Standing on the Sky

Field Guide to Meteors and Meteorites
Field Guide to Meteors and Meteorites, O. Richard Norton and Lawrence A. Chitwood (2008)

If you want to touch something from outer space, simply form one of your hands into a fist. You will then be touching star-stuff, because every atom in every human was once heavenly. We eat star-cinders, breathe star-fumes and stand on the sky, because all terrestrial matter was once extra-terrestrial. This is because the fusional furnace of a star, unlike an ordinary furnace, creates complexity out of simplicity. Simple atoms like hydrogen and helium go in, complex atoms like oxygen and iron come out. I think that’s one of the important messages to take from this book: Up There is down here and always has been. O. Richard Norton is writing about stones that are special because they fall from the sky, but sometimes those stones are very hard to tell from ordinary stones, as the section called “Meteorwrongs” explains next to a photo of two very similar rocks:

One of these rocks is a meteorite. Note the rounded knobbly shapes in both that look like clusters of grapes. Mundrabilla (right) is an Australian iron meteorite. The knuckle-like knobs are large, randomly orientated iron-nickel crystals of taenite that stand out due to weathering. A pair of Moqui marbles (left) are concretions weathered out of Navajo Sandstone in the southwestern United States. The sand is glued together by the iron oxides, hematite and goethite. They are a terrestrial analogue to the hematite-cemented Martian blueberries seen from the Martian rover Opportunity in 2004. (“A Gallery of Meteorwrongs”, pg. 178)

Unless you’re an expert, distinguishing special sky-stones from ordinary earth-stones can be difficult. But are any stones really ordinary? I don’t think so. They all come ultimately from the belly of a star and they all raise this fascinating question: what is matter? The ultimate answer to that may be: Matter is mathematics. But maths is always present when you study matter and its behaviour, so there is a lot of maths in this book. In fact, the whole book is mathematical, because it’s all about chemistry, geology, petrography and various forms of physics: orbital mechanics, thermodynamics, optics and even acoustics:

The sound of a fireball is an altogether different experience. It is an eerie experience when a fireball begins its rapid journey across the sky. Trees and tall buildings cast long moving shadows… Seconds go by and not a sound is heard. Suddenly, without warning, the fireball explodes, scattering myriads of fragments that briefly maintain their courses among the stars. All of this happens in absolute silence. Seconds and minutes go by. The fireball vanishes. Still, silence. Then, when you least expect it, a tremendous series of explosions rock the silence. The fireball’s shock wave has finally arrived, announcing its presence by a series of ground-shaking sonic booms. These sounds are caused by pressure waves generated in the atmosphere by the hypersonic flight of the fireball. (chapter 3, “Meteoroids to Meteors: Lessons in Survival”, pg. 45)

Fireballs are rare, but meteors fall constantly and many people watch for them and photograph them, so this book is also about sky-stones you can see falling, not just about sky-stones you can pick up or stand on. After all, some never reach the ground. Huge numbers of meteors fall individually and unpredictably, but there are also periodic meteor-showers named after the constellations they seem to fall from, like the Aquarids, Leonids and Taurids, and associated with the debris-trail of comets. These can also be tracked using radar:

In the 1940s military radar operators noticed that meteors caused interruptions in high-frequency broadcasting reception, taking the form of whistles that rapidly dropped in pitch. Most individual meteoroids are too small to reflect radar waves back to the ground. Instead, radar waves sent from the ground were detected as they reflected off much larger targets, in this case, columns of ionized gas left in the wake of a meteor, formed when the particles evaporated passing through the Earth’s upper atmosphere. (ch. 1, “Interplanetary Dust and Meteors”, pg. 19)

In a way, radar was detecting the death-cries of the “Ancient Fragments of the Solar System” described in part one of this book: the asteroidal and cometary grit in the cosmic clockwork of the sun and planets. Bits of that grit have been falling to earth throughout man’s existence, but some sceptics, inspired by Newton’s apparent conquest of the heavens, decided it wasn’t there after all. When two scientists from Connecticut reported a meteorite fall in 1807, Thomas Jefferson famously said: “I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors would lie than that stones would fall from heaven.” He wasn’t just wrong, he was unimaginative too. Two hundred years later, we know better, but some knew better more than two millennia ago:

Diogenites are named for the fifth century B.C. Greek philosopher, Diogenes of Apollonia, considered to be the first person to suggest that meteorites actually came from beyond the Earth. They are called Plutonic since their origin appears to be plutonic rocks deep below the eucrite crust of the asteroid 4 Vesta. (ch. 5, “Primitive and Differentiated Meteorites: Asteroidal Achondrites”, pg. 122)

So fragments of asteroid existed on the earth before astronomers discovered the existence of asteroids. Fragments of Mars and the moon have been found on earth too, as Norton describes: big meteoric impacts there have blasted Mars- and moon-stuff free and some of it has fallen here. But Diogenes’ ancient insight about the origin of sky-stones didn’t influence their name: meteors are so-called because they were thought to be atmospheric phenomena. That is, a shooting star, or meteor, was seen as part of meteorology, not astronomy. When science learnt better, it created two more terms: meteoroid, meaning the physical object in space, and meteorite, meaning the physical object once it’s landed on the earth. You may have meteorites on your windowsills, because some of them are very small: IDPs, or Interplanetary/Interstellar Dust Particles, like the ones that stream from the tail of a comet as it approaches the sun. These drift to earth rather than drop, but they’re hard to tell from terrestrial dust. To study them more easily, scientists had to get away from the surface of the earth and Richard Norton describes how the “University of Washington’s Interplanetary Dust Laboratory” began to use “high flying aircraft” in the 1970s to collect this cometary dandruff (ch. 1, “Interplanetary Dust and Meteors”, pg. 9). Since then, the Stardust probe has actually collected samples from “the periodic Comet Wild 2 (pronounced ‘Vilt’)” and returned them to earth.

This is one part of astronomy that isn’t reliant on the ephemerality of photons, but photons can still tell us a lot about the chemistry of comets and asteroids, because light is influenced by the nature of the matter it bounces off or shines from:

In 1970, T.B. McCord and his coworkers at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of Hawaii, made astronomical history when they were the first to recognize similar characteristics between the spectra of 4 Vesta and a specific meteorite type. They compared the reflection spectra of the Nuevo Laredo achondrite with the reflection spectra of 4 Vesta. (ch. 2, “Meteorites: Fragments of Asteroids”, pg. 33)

Photons are important in other ways, as you’ll find in chapter 11, “From Hand Lens to Microscope”. Here astronomy meets petrography, or the study of patterns and colours in slices of rock under high magnification. The photographs in this chapter are some of the strangest and most beautiful in the book: “A calcium-rich clinopyroxene glows with bright second order interference colors” (pg. 218). But meteorites can be beautiful to the naked eye too, though sometimes they have to be cut open to become so. There’s gold and silver on page 171, for example, where you’ll see photographs of meteorites like:

Esquel, a main group pallasite. It was found in Argentina 1951 by a farmer while digging for a water tank. The meteorite shows beautiful yellowish green olivine (peridot) crystals… The Glorieta Mountain meteorite. When cut into a thin slab, polished and lighted from behind, this becomes one of the world’s most beautiful pallasites. (ch. 8, “Differentiated Meteorites: Stony-Irons”)

Pallasites aren’t named after the asteroid Pallas, but after the “German naturalist and explorer, Peter Simon Pallas”, who collected samples of a “1,600 lb meteorite found in 1749 near Krasnojarsk, Siberia” (pg. 168). Nearly two hundred years later, the Sikhote-Alin mountains in Siberia experienced a much bigger meteorite, seen as an “enormous fire-ball” on February 12, 1947, then collected as “thousands of beautifully sculpted iron meteorites… Today, Sikhote-Alin meteorites are highly prized in public and private collections throughout the world” (pg. 47). They’re black, not colourful, but the “flow-patterns” and regmaglypts – depressions like thumb-prints – caused by heat make them like attractive modernist sculpture. That Siberian fireball is described in in chapter 3, “Meteoroids to Meteors: Lessons in Survival”, which is about what happens to meteoroids as they plunge through the atmosphere. They heat up and sometimes break up, but they aren’t always sizzling when they hit the ground:

The temperature at 50,000-ft [15-km] altitude is about -50°F [-45°C]. This low temperature aids in rapidly chilling the falling rock. Long before hitting the ground the meteorite’s surface temperature has been reduced to between lukewarm and stone cold. The meteorite may even be coated with a thin layer of ice. In fact, some meteorites have been found minutes after landing, resting on top of a snow bank – without melting the snow. (pg. 45)

But sometimes meteorites are found millennia after landing, so the effects of water and weather are an important topic for meteorite-hunters. So are the effects of magnetism: you can use metal-detectors to hunt for meteorites, as Norton describes in chapter 10, “In the Field”. This is a field-guide, after all, but “field” can mean African desert, Swedish pine-forest and Arctic or Antarctic ice-sheet:

In the continental United States, the best hunting ground is in the southwestern part of the Mojave desert of southern California, where vegetation is relatively sparse and the climate is dry. Look for an old surface, one that has been exposed for a long time. Old dry lakes can be a good place to search. Many meteorites have been found in Rosamond, Muroc, and Lucerne dry lakes. (pg. 183)

The American meteorite-hunter Steve Arnold found his record-breaking “1,400 lb Brenham orientated pallasite” another way: “he dug it up from a depth of seven-and-a-half feet, locating it with the help of a high-tech metal detector” in 2005 (pg. 187). “Brenham orientated” is a reference to the way the meteorite was shaped by “ablation”, or the “removal and loss of… material by heating and vaporization” during its fall to earth (“Glossary”, pg. 267). But meteoroids aren’t just shaped by their encounter with the earth: they can also shape the earth, both geologically and biologically. The earth bears the scars of many past impacts, some of them cataclysmic in scale and epoch-making in their effects. Would man the mammal now rule the earth and watch the sky if it hadn’t been for the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? Or would an advanced, intelligent species of reptile be collecting and analysing meteorites now?

Questions like that aren’t just of historic interest: stones that fall from the sky are of huge practical importance, because big ones can wipe out not just cities and civilizations, but entire species, including Homo sapiens. The sky gave birth to all life on earth, because without the chemicals created there, life wouldn’t exist here. Life may even have begun there, but the sky has regularly committed infanticide too and man’s name is definitely on the hit-list. Sooner or later another giant sky-stone will hit the earth and cause megadeaths or worse, unless we spot it en route and stop it. That’s another message to take from this book: some meteoroids are beauties and some are beasts. All of them are interesting. This book explains how, what, where, and why, all the way from aphelia and bolides to xenoliths and the Zodiacal light.

Roses Are Golden

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s painting The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888) is based on an apocryphal episode in the sybaritic life of the Roman Emperor Elagabalus (204-222 A.D.), who is said to have suffocated guests with flowers at one of his feasts. The painting is in a private collection, but I saw it for real in an Alma-Tadema exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool sometime during the late 1990s. I wasn’t disappointed: it was a memorable meeting with a painting I’d been interested in for years. Roses is impressively large and impressively skilful. Close-up, the brush-strokes are obvious, obtrusive and hard to interpret as people and objects. It isn’t till you step back, far beyond the distance at which Alma-Tadema was painting, that the almost photographic realism becomes apparent. But you get more of the many details at close range, like the Latin inscription on a bowl below and slightly to the right of that scowling water-mask. Alas, I forgot to take a note of what the inscription was, though perhaps the memory is still locked away somewhere in my subconscious.

The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888)

The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888)

Whatever it is, I feel sure it is significant, because Roses is rich with meaning. That’s a large part of why I’m interested in it. Yes, I like it a lot as art, but the women would have to be more attractive for it to be higher in the list of my favourite paintings. As it is, I think there are only four reasonably good-looking people in it: the man with the beard on the right; the flautist striding past the marble pillar on the left; the red-headed girl with a crown of white flowers; and Heliogabalus himself, crowned in roses and clutching a handful of grapes beside the overweight man who’s wearing a wreath and sardonically saluting one of the rose-pelted guests in the foreground. When I first wrote about Roses in a pub-zine whose name escapes me, I misidentified the overweight man as Heliogabalus himself, even though I noted that he seemed many years old than Heliogabalus, toppled as a teen tyrant, should have been. It was a bad mistake, but one that, with less knowledge and more excuse, many people must make when they look at Roses, because the overweight man and his sardonic salute are a natural focus for the eye. Once your eye has settled on and noted him, you naturally follow the direction of his gaze down to the man in the foreground, who’s gazing right back.

A comparison between Alma-Tadema's portrayal of Heliogabalus and a bust of Heliogabalus from the Musei Capitolini in Rome

Something Like the Sun

And by following that gaze, you’ve performed a little ratio-ritual, just as Alma-Tadema intended you to do. Yes, Roses is full of meaning and much of that meaning is mathematical. I think the angle of the gaze is one of many references in Roses to the golden ratio, or φ (phi), a number that is supposed to have special aesthetic importance and has certainly been used by many artists and musicians to guide their work. A rectangle with sides in the proportions 8:13, for example, approximates the golden ratio pretty closely, but φ itself is impossible to represent physically, because it’s an irrational number with infinitely many decimal digits, like π or √2, the square root of two. π represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and √2 the ratio of a square’s diagonal to its side, but no earthly circle and no earthly square can ever capture these numbers with infinite precision. Similarly, no earthly rectangle can capture φ, but the rectangle of Roses is a good attempt, because it measures 52″ x 84 1/8". That extra eighth of an inch was my first clue to the painting’s mathematical meaningfulness. And sure enough, 52/84·125 = 416/673 = 0·61812…, which is a good approximation to φ’s never-ending 0·6180339887498948482045868343656…*
A circle with radii at 0 and 222 degrees
That deliberate choice of dimensions for the canvas led me to look for more instances of φ in the painting, though one of the most important and obvious might be called a meta-presence. The Roses of Heliogabalus is dated 1888, or 1666 years after the death of Heliogabalus in 222 AD. A radius at 222º divides a circle in the golden ratio, because 222/360 = 0·616… It’s very hard to believe Alma-Tadema didn’t intend this reference and I also think there’s something significant in 1888 itself, which equals 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 59 = 25 x 59. Recall that 416 is the expanded short side of Roses. This equals 25 x 13, while 673, the expanded long side, is the first prime number after 666. As one of the most technically skilled painters who ever lived, Alma-Tadema was certainly an exceptional implicit mathematician. But he clearly had explicit mathematical knowledge too and this painting is a phi-pie cooked by a master matho-chef. In short, when Roses is read, Roses turns out to be golden.


*φ is more usually represented as 1·6180339887498948482045868343656…, but it has the pecularity that 1/φ = φ-1, so the decimal digits don’t change and 0·6180339887498948482045868343656… is also legitimate.

Appendix I

I’ve looked at more of Alma-Tadema’s paintings to see if their dimensions approximate φ, √2, √3 or π, or their reciprocals. These were the results (ε = error, i.e. the difference between the constant and the ratio of the dimensions).

The Roman Wine Tasters (1861), 50" x 69 2/3": 150/209 = 0·717… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·02)
A Roman Scribe (1865), 21 1/2" x 15 1/2": 43/31 = 1·387… ≈ √2 (ε=0·027)
A Picture Gallery (1866), 16 1/8" x 23": 129/184 = 0·701… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·012)
A Roman Dance (1866), 16 1/8" x 22 1/8": 43/59 = 0·728… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·042)
In the Peristyle (1866), 23" x 16": 23/16 = 1·437… ≈ √2 (ε=0·023)
Proclaiming Emperor Claudius (1867), 18 1/2" x 26 1/3": 111/158 = 0·702… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·009)
Phidias and the Frieze of the Parthenon Athens (1868), 29 2/3" x 42 1/3": 89/127 = 0·7… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·012)
The Education of Children of Clovis (1868), 50" x 69 2/3": 150/209 = 0·717… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·02)
An Egyptian Juggler (1870), 31" x 19 1/4": 124/77 = 1·61… ≈ φ (ε=0·007)
A Roman Art Lover (1870), 29" x 40": 29/40 = 0·725… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·034)
Good Friends (1873), 4 1/2" x 7 1/4": 18/29 = 0·62… ≈ φ (ε=0·006)
Pleading (1876), 8 1/2" x 12 3/8": 68/99 = 0·686… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·041)
An Oleander (1882), 36 1/2" x 25 1/2": 73/51 = 1·431… ≈ √2 (ε=0·017)
Dolce Far Niente (1882), 9 1/4" x 6 1/2": 37/26 = 1·423… ≈ √2 (ε=0·008)
Anthony and Cleopatra (1884), 25 3/4" x 36 1/3": 309/436 = 0·708… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·003)
Rose of All Roses (1885), 15 1/4" x 9 1/4": 61/37 = 1·648… ≈ φ (ε=0·03)
The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888), 52" x 84 1/8": 416/673 = 0·618… ≈ φ (ε<0.001)
The Kiss (1891), 18" x 24 3/4": 8/11 = 0·727… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·039)
Unconscious Rivals (1893), 17 3/4" x 24 3/4": 71/99 = 0·717… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·019)
A Coign of Vantage (1895), 25 1/4" x 17 1/2": 101/70 = 1·442… ≈ √2 (ε=0·028)
A Difference of Opinion (1896), 15" x 9": 5/3 = 1·666… ≈ φ (ε=0·048)
Whispering Noon (1896), 22" x 15 1/2": 44/31 = 1·419… ≈ √2 (ε=0·005)
Her Eyes Are With Her Thoughts And Her Thoughts Are Far Away (1897), 9" x 15": 3/5 = 0·6… ≈ φ (ε=0·048)
The Baths of Caracalla (1899), 60" x 37 1/2": 8/5 = 1·6… ≈ φ (ε=0·018)
The Year’s at the Spring, All’s Right with the World (1902), 13 1/2" x 9 1/2": 27/19 = 1·421… ≈ √2 (ε=0·006)
Ask Me No More (1906), 31 1/2" x 45 1/2": 9/13 = 0·692… ≈ 1/√2 (ε=0·03)

Appendix II

The Roses of Heliogabalus is based on this section from Aelius Lampridius’ pseudonymous and largely apocryphal Vita Heliogabali, or Life of Heliogabalus, in the Historia Augusta (late fourth century):

XXI. 1 Canes iecineribus anserum pavit. Habuit leones et leopardos exarmatos in deliciis, quos edoctos per mansuetarios subito ad secundam et tertiam mensam iubebat accumbere ignorantibus cunctis, quod exarmati essent, ad pavorem ridiculum excitandum. 2 Misit et uvas Apamenas in praesepia equis suis et psittacis atque fasianis leones pavit et alia animalia. 3 Exhibuit et sumina apruna per dies decem tricena cottidie cum suis vulvis, pisum cum aureis, lentem cum cerauniis, fabam cum electris, orizam cum albis exhibens. 4 Albas praeterea in vicem piperis piscibus et tuberibus conspersit. 5 Oppressit in tricliniis versatilibus parasitos suos violis et floribus, sic ut animam aliqui efflaverint, cum erepere ad summum non possent. 6 Condito piscinas et solia temperavit et rosato atque absentato…

Historia Augusta: Vita Heliogabali

XXI. 1 He fed his dogs on goose-livers. He had pet lions and leopards, which had been rendered harmless and trained by tamers, and these he would suddenly order during the dessert and the after-dessert to get on the couches, thereby causing laughter and panic, for none knew that they were harmless. 2 He sent grapes from Apamea to his stables for the horses, and he fed parrots and pheasants to his lions and other beasts. 3 For ten days in a row, moreover, he served wild sows’ udders with the matrices, at a rate of thirty a day, serving, besides, peas with gold-pieces, lentils with onyx, beans with amber, and rice with pearls; 4 and he also sprinkled pearls on fish and used truffles instead of pepper. 5 In a banqueting-room with a reversible ceiling he once buried his parasites in violets and other flowers, so that some were actually smothered to death, being unable to crawl out to the top. 6 He flavoured his swimming-pools and bath-tubs with essence of spices or of roses or wormwood…

Augustan History: Life of Heliogabalus

Eyes-Cream

Another reprehensible review of this teraticly toxic tomelet:

The Eyes by Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta

As per the opening kayfabe, The Eyes was written by a deceased madman called Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta who fashioned sex-toys from the bones of children.

I don’t want to be the guy who says there’s no Santa Claus, but this wouldn’t be the first time someone ghost-wrote an “alternative” book under the name of an imaginary lunatic. The true author of The Eyes is apt to be alive, sane, and well, and has likely done no more than give himself a backrub with the bones of children, if even that.

But that’s neither here nor there. The Eyes is disgusting, unforgettable, hard to read, harder to stop reading. I have read only a few books like it. One of them is Satanskin by James Havoc, another hoax author. He died in 1999… and was so dead that he reappeared in 2009 and started writing books again. Anyway, like Satanskin, The Eyes contains short stories meant to give you an inside view of hell. Some stories offer but a peek. Others give you the grand tour.

Pedophilia, cannibalism, it’s all here. Some stories (“Armful”) are so ugly that a summary would sound hyperbolic no matter what words I use. Generally, the tales in The Eyes provoke one of two reactions. The first is a horrified “WHAT?!” The second is like what you feel immediately after stepping on a nail. You don’t feel much pain, not at first, but there’s the sense that you’ve done yourself severe trauma.

Aldapuerta is one hell of a writer. James Havoc has a tendency to pile on the purple and overwrite beyond the point of self-parody, but The Eyes is lean and to the point. It’s not without a poetic edge. Aldapuerta’s forte is the quickfire mot juste. “Her hot little leaf of a hand.”… “the pale leaping tongues of his semen”…etc. Neat.

“Ikarus” is the most terrible creation in The Eyes, not a story but a black detonation of horror. A man explores the hull of a B-17 bomber, and discovers something that never will be explained, never could be explained, and never should be explained. “Ikarus” is almost a net liability to the book, as the other stories come up short next to it.

As it nears the end (its end, not yours), The Eyes gets increasingly strange. As the nostalgic schoolmaster’s fantasy of “Upright” ends, “The Winnowing” begins, which largely consists of a Czech man filling out a form. The final sentence… what am I supposed to take from that? That he was being sterilised? The book finishes with “Pornoglossia”, a list of words the author has invented for use in your own Marquis-de-Sade ripoff. The verb “Raí”, for example, means using an empty eye-socket as a sexual orifice. These words are in little danger of making their way into Merriam-Websters’ in the near future.

There may not be a hell, but Aldapuerta (or Whitechapel, or whoever wrote this) have proven that it is possible to create one on the page. The Eyes is genuinely amazing. Hopefully some day Aldapuerta will return to life, pick up his child-femur pen, and write a new collection of stories.

Original review


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