Tuesday, February 28, 2023



From the Cerrahiyetü'l Haniyye (Imperial Surgery) of Serafeddin Sabuncuoglu (1385–1470), the first illustrated atlas on surgery, and the last major medical treatise from an Islamic source, composed in Turkish in 1465; from the collections of the Millet Library in İstanbul-Fatih.

Surgery yesterday went extremely well, by the way. Looks like I may not have to do the other eye, I've gained so much function already. I was surprised and initially a bit freaked out to learn that they don't knock you out—my GP kind of lied to me about that, or seriously didn't know. They give you an extremely relaxing medication with IV, but you're conscious, and your eye is obviously open. But the thing they could have explained to me, which I am going to explain to you, is that your fear is based on a childish misunderstanding: I was assuming, unconsciously, that my open eye would be watching what was being done to it, and that's not true. You're not in fact seeing anything, at first because there's nothing visible going on, because it's lasers, not tiny scalpels or scrapers, that are going the work of scrubbing away the cataract, and soon enough because your eye is completely disabled—there's no lens enabling you to "see" anything at all. Your optic nerve does what it can with the light signals it's getting, but they don't add up to anything like an image, and as they're installing the new lens, that turns into a real psychedelic light show, too bright to be quite comfortable, but kind of beautiful all the same; I was looking at three lumpy objects in the lower part of a field, swelling and changing colors, from a pale lemon to a vibrant purple, to some kind of electronica soundtrack, too, of the machinery's noises, some of them pitched including one that sounded a lot like a good old Hammond organ, a real (though abstract and inconclusive) fragment of melody. It was spectacular. Then they tell you it's time to close the eye, and when you open it again, under the transparent plastic shield they've taped over it, you just see the room, already a little sharper than it was when you came in.


I won't give names or photos or links to the press coverage, but I have to say my Israeli nephew and his partner were at Saturday's giant demonstration in Tel Aviv against the Netanyahu plot to keep himself out of prison by taking away the independence of the judiciary, and she was among the arrested, for allegedly biting an officer's finger; "You have to ask," she commented afterwards, "what his finger was doing inside my mouth in the first place." She lost two teeth in the scuffle, and was eventually released from custody.

Yellow Peril Redux


Udo J. Keppler, "The Yellow Peril", Puck, 1905. Via Wikipedia.

Here we go again with the "lab leak" story attempting to convey the idea that the Communist Party of China was somehow responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed almost 7 million people around the world in its four years and infected close to 700 million, because the virus that causes the disease might have started out by infecting workers at a research facility, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, instead of as it's generally believed to have done, by leaping from an animal (maybe one bought at a market where exotic meats like bat are sold) to a human, and the lab is thought to be more under the control of the Communist Party of China than the markets are, which is probably true in a sense, as far as the way the funding works.

The actual current news story is about the US Department of Energy, which has belatedly responded to a call from the Biden administration in May 2021 to the intelligence community to resolve this question in the next 90 days. All the other agencies involved had finished work on it in somewhat more than 90 days, by that October, concluding "with low confidence" that the virus had a natural origin (there was a lot of disagreement inside the community, though, with the FBI in particular assessing with "moderate confidence" that it had originated in the lab. Now, 15 months later, DOE has shown up with its own conclusion with "low confidence".that it happened in the lab, making the final score Community Spread 5, Laboratory 2 and Undecided 1.

Or, as Michael Gordon (remember him? Judith Miller's partner in a large number of NYTimes stories denouncing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to not exist?) and Warren Strobel reported in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday,

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Annals of Artificial Intelligence


Friendly robots via Vector Stock.

If you can't think of anything nice to say, ask ChatGPT:

Me: Please summarize Jeff Gerth's article on "The Press Versus the President" in Columbia Journalism Review.
Bot: Jeff Gerth's article "The Press Versus the President" in Columbia Journalism Review examines the strained relationship between the media and former President Donald Trump. Gerth argues that Trump's presidency has highlighted the need for journalists to be persistent, vigilant, and independent in their reporting.
Gerth notes that Trump's attacks on the media have been a constant feature of his presidency, with the president regularly referring to the press as "fake news" and "the enemy of the people." Gerth argues that these attacks are part of a broader strategy to undermine the credibility of the media and to control the narrative of his presidency.
Despite these attacks, Gerth contends that the media has largely risen to the challenge of covering Trump's presidency, producing a steady stream of investigative reporting that has uncovered numerous scandals and abuses of power. Gerth argues that this reporting has been essential in holding Trump accountable and in ensuring that the public is informed about the actions of their government.
Gerth also notes that the media has faced significant challenges in covering Trump's presidency, including the president's tendency to lie and to manipulate the truth. Gerth argues that journalists must be vigilant in fact-checking Trump's statements and in holding him accountable when he makes false or misleading claims.
Overall, Gerth's article emphasizes the important role that the media plays in a democratic society, particularly in holding those in power accountable. While Trump's attacks on the media have been a significant challenge, Gerth argues that the media has largely risen to the occasion, producing reporting that is essential for a well-informed citizenry.

Actually Gerth does not argue that Trump's attacks on "fake news" and the "enemy of the people" are part of a strategy to accomplish anything: he argues that Trump is justified by the misconduct of the journalists, who, far from blaming Trump, have no one to blame but themselves for the public's mistrust:

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Housekeeping: On his blindness

John Milton dictating Samson Agonistes.


Posting at Rectification Central has really slowed in the last few months, for what may be a couple of reasons, one of which is that my eyes are in really terrible shape—old people's cataracts, in both of them—and it's taken a ridiculous amount of time, since early last October, to make an appointment to fix them. You know how they told us if we had socialized medicine everybody would have to wait months and months for urgent medical care like all those poor people in Canada? Well, it turns out not only, as you all know, that that doesn't actually happen in Canada, but it has happened here without any socialism.

The symptoms for me are very different than the myopic blur I've had especially in the left eye for practically all of my life, and aren't corrected by glasses; it feels as if the field I'm looking at is divided into dozens of transparent planes parallel to my face of which I can only focus on one at a time. Going down stairs is scary, because I'm not sure if the next step is exactly where it seems to be, and I find myself  clutching the bannister like Trump; and when I'm reading, online or off, type keeps disappearing from the plane I'm looking at to the one behind it, especially if it's small, or in an alphabet or writing system other than the roman alphabet, which is hellish at my job, where I have to look at quite a lot of Chinese and Japanese in addition to the occasional bit of Bulgarian or Greek or what have you; and worse if the light is not quite right, too bright, too dark, or too contrasty, which is most of the time. Researching the blog posts out of my 40 open tabs, with all their different fonts and degrees of brightness, is the hardest part, and slows me down so much that I get bored with a topic long before I've finished, or get scooped and there's no point in finishing. And the corollary thing is that the more aware I've been of it since the diagnosis in October, the blinder I feel, 

Long story short, I'm getting the left eye done on Monday, at last, the right eye at some undetermined point soon after, and supposedly will see some immediate improvement, and maybe we can get back to normal. But I'm thinking of myself as taking a break from now (and still on Twitter, unwilling to surrender to Noel Skum—dark mode makes a serious difference in what I can take anyway).

Monday, February 20, 2023

You Had One Job Department


How bad is New York City's jail at Rikers Island? You've heard about the weapons, the drugs, the urine and feces and blood on the floors, the gangs in charge because the guards let them—with unlimited sick leave in their contracts, they don't even show up for work half the time. You've heard of the escalating violence, the inability to get inmates to medical care, the horrifying death rate (19 prisoners died there in 2022, in a population of around 6,000). Here's another one, from today's Gothamist—they now can't even reliably get inmates to their court dates:

According to the most recent Mayor’s Management Report, just 72.2% of those detained from September through December last year were brought to court on time. In the prior fiscal year, it was 79.1%, which was the lowest annual rate since at least before 1999. In years prior, this wasn’t a problem: As recently as the 2021 fiscal year, the percentage of detainees brought to court on time was 94.6%, and every year from 1999 to 2012 it was higher than 95%.

Detainees are typically woken up around 4 a.m. to be handcuffed, shackled and transported by bus from the island in the East River to one of the borough courthouses where their cases are heard. Detainees have about 12,000 court appearances each month, according to Department of Correction data.

People, that's the entire purpose of jail. Some judge at arraignment decides this person can't be trusted to show up for trial, or the person can't raise bail, so they park them in jail while the court system does whatever it does to follow the Sixth Amendment's promise of a speedy trial, though

The average length of stay in DOC custody has steadily gone up over the past three years, records posted online show. The average number was 125 days as of July this year, up from 105 in 2021, 90 in 2020, and 82 in 2019. Those figures include people who were in and out of custody within one day.  

And also includes some who have been there six, seven, ten years. 

Meanwhile, in the one state where serious bail reform has been implemented, New Jersey, since 2017,

The number of people imprisoned pre-trial on bail of $2,500 or less fell from more than 1,500 before the bail reform laws to just 14 people last year, according to the New Jersey court system. At the same time, the rate of people awaiting trial who commit additional “indictable offenses” has remained flat at 13.8%. And the appearance rate — how often people awaiting trial come back to court — increased slightly last year, from 90% in 2019 to 90.9% in 2020. 

People can get themselves to ther pretrial trial and trial appearances much more reliably than Rikers Island can (and there's no evidence, whatever Mayor Eric Adams may profess to believe, of a relationship between bail reform and the increase in crime rates of 2020-21). Rikers simply does not do anything worth doing. It must be closed.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Liberal Bias

Certified demonstrative leftist journalist Mehdi Hasan on TV having a kind of fight with NPR's certified defender of Fortress Neutrality David Folkenflik refusing to tell Mehdi what he wanted to hear on the subject of the not exactly shocking revelations from the Dominion Voting Systems defamation suit against Fox News,   that Fox's stars were knowingly peddling bullshit after the 2020 presidential election—who'd have thunk!?

The hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, as well as others at the company, repeatedly insulted and mocked Trump advisers, including Sidney Powell and Rudolph W. Giuliani, in text messages with each other in the weeks after the election, according to a legal filing on Thursday by Dominion Voting Systems. Dominion is suing Fox for defamation in a case that poses considerable financial and reputational risk for the country’s most-watched cable news network.

“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” Mr. Carlson wrote to Ms. Ingraham on Nov. 18, 2020.

Ms. Ingraham responded: “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”

The really interesting part of the story, which Folkenflik was laying on pretty thick, was that Fox's insane coverage of the Big Election LIe was driven pretty much entirely by business considerations, not ideological ones: after the excitement of Election Night, when Fox (correctly) called Arizona for Biden, launching the (correct) narrative of Biden's overwhelming victory over Trump, which of course enraged Trump himself and became a central theme on his Twitter, the Fox powers began to worry that they were alienating their audience, poetntially driving viewers to the outlets with even lower standards than their own, Newsmax and OAN, and possibly even threatening the share price!

Thursday, February 16, 2023

For the Record: Positive Thinking

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's 88th birthday party, photo by Ron Galella! Remember him?), via NPR.

There was a point there, maybe it was Miller, but in any event this was a funny thought bringing in the Artificial Intelligence everybody's talking about

Following upon which Some Dude who does not understand the meanings of "style", "prompt", or "negative" took issue:

Monday, February 6, 2023

For the Record: Pompeo's Memories


Photo by Photo by John Anvik on Unsplash, via.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

From the Gerth to the Moon


Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon in the Greek animated version by Angelos Spartalis.

Jeff Gerth opens his massive report on "The Press Versus the President" (24,000 words, according to David Corn of Mother Jones) novelistically:

The end of the long inquiry into whether Donald Trump was colluding with Russia came in July 2019, when Robert Mueller III, the special counsel, took seven, sometimes painful, hours to essentially say no.

“Holy shit, Bob Mueller is not going to do it,” is how Dean Baquet, then the executive editor of the New York Times, described the moment his paper’s readers realized Mueller was not going to pursue Trump’s ouster.

Actually it was Baquet (speaking that August to a group of staffers angry at the paper's restrictions on words like "racist" and "lie") who was fictionalizing: it doesn't seem particularly important, but the hearings in which Mueller testified under subpoena on July 24 2019, House Judiciary in the morning, House Intelligence in the afternoon, were not when the New York Times readership learned that the special prosecutor would not be prosecuting the president; they'd learned that exactly four months earlier. March 24, when Attorney General Barr issued his four-page report on Mueller's report. Mueller's report itself was released to the public, in redacted form, on May 18. What Mueller said no to on July 24 was any questions, more or less, asking him to say anything beyond what was in the report—he was really determined not to say anything that wasn't already public. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Gerth of a Nation

Mae Marsh hearing no evil in Birth of a Nation (1915).

Why Trump was forced to fire the FBI director, according to Jeff Gerth in the august pages of the Columbia Jourmalism Review, of all places:

Trump, by the spring of 2017, was more than uneasy with Comey. In one of his chats [the ones that so alarmed Comey that he memorialized them in detail after each meeting, but Gerth doesn't mention that, or the way Trump kept asking Comey for a statement of personal loyalty] , he told the director his policies were “bad” for Russia because he wanted “more oil and more nukes” and the FBI inquiry was creating a “cloud” over his dealings with foreign leaders, according to Comey’s notes.

Because the investigation was getting in the way of his plans to get more oil and nukes. Which would be bad for Russia. Comey was actually preventing him from being bad for Russia. This had to stop! 

Finally, he had enough. Trump met with senior officials, and his deputy counsel told him that firing Comey would prolong, not curb, the FBI investigation and possibly result in the appointment of a special counsel, according to lawyers briefed on the meeting.

“The president acknowledged” the dire prognosis in the meeting, according to William Barr, who, as attorney general in 2019, oversaw the end of the Mueller inquiry. But the president didn’t care, declaring, according to Barr: “I’m still going to fire the son of a bitch.”

Barr wasn't a senior official at that point, and wasn't at the meeting he's reporting, of course, any more than he was at the meeting Trump had with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak when Trump explained he'd had to fire the "nutjob" because, "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off." 

Gerth displaying the bear trap mind  with which he pinned down Bill Clinton's criminality in his Whitewater investigation 30 years ago. Well, he didn't actually pin down Bill Clinton's criminality, but that was his editors' fault:

Gerth claims that editors, without his knowledge, rewrote his first and best-known Whitewater article and saddled it with factual errors. The unsettling revelation, buried in a Her Way endnote, raises even more questions about Gerth, the Times, and their Whitewater misadventure. (The great Eric Boehlert, back in 2007) 

Now Gerth is jumping on The Times itself the way he jumped on Clinton back in the day, evidently in the hope of providing a road map for the House Select Committee on the Jordanization of Government when the put the paper under the microscope, but just like the early road map (for House Judiciary, I guess), it's a map of leaps that don't add up, and seem to be avoiding particular territories as much as seeking them.

So I'll be fisking more of it later.