Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ricky Mathews and the Nazi Toht

My nemesis Ricky Mathews writes today that the reason the Times-Picayune fired half the employees and will reduce this great weekly publication to 3x per week is because of the 21st century and they had to do this "before we faced economic doomsday." For once in my life, I enjoyed reading the comments for this article on My favorite was by Louis Hernandez, who noticed that Mr. Mathews looks like the Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He's right. So here's a visual quiz involving two of my favorite topics: New Orleans and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and two of my least favorite villains: Ricky Mathews and Major Arnold Ernst Toht. But which one is Ricky, and which one is the Nazi? See how well you do:


Note: Today James Gill has a very entertaining piece carefully comparing the reaction by New Orleanians to both Mathews and Spoons Butler. His point was that people in New Orleans hold grudges. Not surprisingly, I can't find Gill's piece on

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Hymn to Shamash for the Times-Picayune

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

New Orleans will soon become the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper. The Times-Picayune, one of the best newspapers in the country, and one that helped New Orleans immeasurably after the flood, will soon be delivered only three days per week.  One third of the Times-Picayune employees were fired yesterday. One half of the people in the newsroom were let go. Kevin from the Gambit did a good job covering the devastationThe villain in all of this is Advance Publications, and especially publisher Ricky Mathews, who is my new nemesis (I'll deal with you later Adrastos!). The paper is profitable, and it has the highest saturation rate of any newspaper in the country. Despite calls to sell the newspaper or keep it daily, Advance Publications is determined to move forward. It's a good day to be one of the many corrupt people in New Orleans, as your chances of escaping justice improved dramatically thanks to Mr. Mathews and company.

What we need is for the Mesopotamian sun deity Shamash to open up a big can of solar whoop-ass. Here's a picture of Shamash traveling round the sky in his solar tent:
Shamash from a tablet in the British Museum

Shamash, like most sun deities, is responsible for justice. He shines light on dark situations, and he's in charge of law and order, as well as prophecy. He gave Hammurabi his famous law code. He allows us to see clearly what is transpiring. Ultimately, in my opinion, he solved every mystery on Scooby Doo. Below is a portion of the Assyrian text known as the Hymn to Shamash. It's about 2,900 years old. In my mind, it's what journalism is meant to do. Most important though, notice that Shamash brought his solar disinfectant DAILY, not three times per week with an enhanced web presence.

Hymn to Shamash 
Translation B. Foster 
Illuminator of all, the whole of heaven,
Who makes light the d[arkness for mankind]
            above and below,
Shamash, illuminator of all, the whole of heaven,
            and below,
Your radiance [spre]ads out like a net [over the
You brighten the g[loo]m of the distant mountains.

Your beams are ever mastering secrets,
            At the brightness of your light, humakind’s
            Footprints become vis[ible].
            You blunt the horns of a scheming villain,
The perpetrator of a cunning deal is undermined.
You show the roguish judge the (inside of) a jail,
He who takes the fee but does not carry through,
            You make him bear the punishment.
The one who receives no fee but takes up the case
            of the weak,
            Is pleasing to Shamash, he will make long his
The careful judge who gives just verdicts,
Controls the government, lives like a prince.
What return is there for the investor in dishonest
 The feeble one calls you as much as his speech
            allows him,
The meek, the weak, the oppressed, the submit-
Daily, ever, and always come before you.
            He whose family is far off, whose city is dis-
The shepherd [in] the afflictions of the wilderness,
The herdsman in trouble, the keeper of sheep
            among the enemy, come before you.
O Shamash, there comes before you the
            fishermen with his net,
The hunter, the archer, the driver of the game,
The fowler among his snares comes before you,
The skulking thief comes before Shamash,
The bandit on the wilderness paths comes before
            The wandering dead, the vagrant spirit come
            before you,
O Shamash, you have listened to them all.
You did not hold back (?) those who came before
            you, you heeded them,
For my sake, O Shamash, do not despise them!
You grant wisdom, O Shamash, to humankind,
            You grant those seeking you your raging,
            fierce light.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Transits of Venus

I'm looking forward to watching the Transit of Venus tomorrow. We're heading over to Bart and Xy's house, and we've got our cocktail picked out: The Blond Venus. This is my last shot to see the Transit of Venus, as it won't occur again until 2117.

All of this has me thinking quite a bit about the planet, partly because I've been reading Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder. It's a book about "science" during the Romantic Age at the end of the 18th century. The first chapter is about Captain Cook's voyage to Tahiti in 1769 to measure the Transit of Venus. England also sent out expeditions to North Cape Norway and Hudson Bay Canada, with the idea that through triangulation they could then measure the distance to the sun. This concept of solar parallax is credited to James Gregory who published Optica Promota more than a century prior to Cook's Tahitian voyage. Cook's team measured 4 "phases" of this transit: when Venus first appeared to touch the outer solar sphere, when Venus was entirely within the solar sphere but still touching the outer rim, when Venus had crossed the solar sphere and first touched the outer sphere, and finally, when Venus had exited the solar sphere but still touched the solar rim. Using the data collected from this 1769 transit, 2 years later Thomas Hornsby published that "the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun (is) 93,726,900 English miles." That's pretty accurate, given that today it is believed that the distance is 1/8 of one percent shorter: 92,955,000.

The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa, British Museum

Observing the planet Venus is also key to understanding chronology in the ancient Near East. This is mostly because of a cuneiform tablet known as the Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa which was part of the library unearthed at Nineveh. While copies of this text tend to date to the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, the text is believed to have been composed much earlier during the reign of Ammisaduqa, who ruled Babylon about a century after Hammurabi. The tablet records the exact date of the heliacal rising and setting of the planet Venus for 21 years. Modern astronomers use these dates to reconstruct when the referenced 21 year period occurred. The problem is that there are questions about the accuracy of the recordings, and that the events recorded accurately fit into three different time periods. Thus scholars must choose between the so-called High Chronology, Middle Chronology, and Low Chronology. Thus Hammurabi's reign begins in 1848 BCE, 1792 BCE, or 1736 BCE. I'm personally a Middle Chronology kind of guy. So Hammurabi was reigning in 1769 BCE, and James Cook recorded the Transit of Venus in 1769 CE, and in another 1769 years, I'll be dead.