From the Financial Times, via Crooked Timber:

The chilling photographs show US soldiers forcing prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison to simulate sex with each other and to pose naked with US men and women in military uniforms. Others show a detainee with wires attached to his body in an attempt to convince him he might be electrocuted, and naked prisoners stacked in a human pyramid, one with a slur written in English on his skin.

I looked at the photos (warning: pretty graphic) this morning and it put me off my lunch. At the risk of conflating unrelated issues, the president seems to think that the US is a country for white people:

There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily — are a different color than white can self-govern.

I can’t tell if Bush is using the “royal we” or if he’s promoting the “democracy: it’s not just for white people” line. In any event, it’s always good policy to call your critics racists when you don’t want to admit you made a mistake. Given those photos, it seems that some of those people whose beliefs he rejects are the ones on the ground bringing democracy to Iraq.

I would love to believe that those photos are not representative of systematic problems, but Amnesty International disagrees. Who is providing training to these interrogators? Who should be held accountable for these abuses?

One of the soldiers facing court martial, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Chip Frederick, reported that “We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things…like rules and regulations, and it just wasn’t happening.”

Apparently he’s a reservist who works as a corrections officer. I suppose that the procedure for military prisoners is different, but is that an excuse for these abuses? Here’s Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Perhaps some more training is in order. Or we can just turn the whole mess over in June and make it someone else’s problem.



The Anchor Song by Bjork is ridiculously simple, but somehow captures part of the essence of German cabaret music that I love so much. Perhaps it’s the simple horn lines, the very song-ness of it of the structure, or just Bjork’s voice. But I could honestly listen to it over and over again. In fact, I’ll do that.

no, it’s my SQL

I converted everything over from Berkeley DB to mySQL, and things seem to be happy now. Of course, I had to learn a little bit about mySQL, but learning more about databases can’t hurt, can it? Can it?


[Note: posting will continue until the database thing is sorted out — I suppose I will lose all new posts or something horrible like that, but oh well.]

Over at dsquared there is a very humorous argument that is just the fodder I need to put my anti-war opinions on a sounder rhetorical footing. It is an analysis of the similarities between OCYWRSHSHIP and LLLLLICHY, where


His basic argument is that pro-war “liberals” such as Hitchens use the
OCYWRSHSHIP to gain the moral high ground and stave off the debate, which if fought on the basis of their own professed ideologies, they would lose. This runs dangerously close to pointing at others and saying “well, you’re just afraid of losing the argument,” that doesn’t make the criticism of the rhetorical tactic invalid.

optical packet switching

[I’ve been spending the last week trying to contextualize some work I’ve been doing so that we can publish it in a journal. Since I knew nothing about the field earlier, I figure writing it out in somewhat simpler terms would help clarify the big concepts for me. Read on at your peril.]

One of the biggest engineering challenges in computer networks for the future is increasing the total available bandwidth to be shared by users. Soon broadband-at-home will be severely limited by the fact that all of the users have to share some portion of cable, and not all of the data can go on that cable at the same time. Some future internet applications may require guaranteed data rates, which would be bad news at the current rate. Fiber optic cable can theoretetically support data rates up to hundreds of gigbits per second using wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM), a technology in which different wavelengths of light share the cable in a noninterfering way. In order to harness the speed of fiber optics, technologies are needed to provide optical routing for traffic control, because transforming the optical data to electronic data essentially slows it down to the data rate for electronic communications.
Continue reading

corrupted database

At the moment, my database files on this blog are corrupted. I’ve been using Berkeley DB, which is apparently very flaky and gets corrupted easily. How incredibly appropriate. I’m talking with my ISP about how to fix this, but things do not look good for our hero.

In case you were wondering, I am your hero. Guys on the left side for high-fives, hot girls on the right side for makeouts.

And of course, krobinso is my hero.

a new drinking game

My roommate found a die in his pocket ostensibly from an undergrad party he attended earlier this weekend. As it turns out, it was not from the party, but for the sake of the following analysis we assume that it was. We then attempted to reverse-engineer an undergraduate/fratboy drinking game using this die. We regarded it as a sort of anthropological venture given an artifact from a specific site site, i.e. a UC Berkeley undergraduate party. As it turns out, the die only had the numbers 1, 2, and 3 on it, but it could be played with any 6-sided die if you take the number showing modulo 3.

The game is to be played by two people, A and B. They each roll the die to get a and b points for A and B respectively. If a > b then B must drink (a-b) shots of beer. If a < b then A must drink (b – a) shots of beer. If a = b then it is a draw and no beer will be drunk.

In the fratboy version of the game, play proceeds until one person passes out. In the UC Berkeley version, play proceeds until one person throws up. In the more tame home version of the game, play proceeds until one player reaches a total of 50 points — that player is the winner.


I posted a while back about how Cover and Thomas’s book was posted online now, but it turns out that the license for online access uses “tokens.” Once Berkeley has run out of “tokens,” access is denied to the book. This is one of the stupidest decisions I have ever heard of, akin to the music industry’s head-in-the-sand approach to digital music. The way in which online book resources are used is different from print medium, and to force the library to buy more tokens is akin to selling someone a book which they can read only a certain number of times. I’m not saying that they should not charge at all for the book, or that they should charge less than for a library-bound hard copy, but this token system displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how books are used. I wonder if the person who designed this system has ever had to use a book other than “How To Stick Your Head Up Your Ass for Dummies.”

Yes, I’m angry.

beach bum

I’m in Monterey today and went down to the beach with my high school friend Zhenya. I wish I had brought my camera, because the beach was full of life:

  • hundreds of little crab legs everywhere, and some dismembered crab thoraxes (thoraces, thoraxi?) here and there. It’s a bit creepy to have legs wash over your feet all the time
  • lots of little trilobite-like mollusks and shrimps, washed up and crushed
  • a flock of a thousand black birds which we couldn’t identify. They fly very low to the water and don’t dive in from the air to get their food; they swim around in the ocean like ducks and dive down.
  • these cute birds with long beaks that pecked at the wet sand and then skittered off as the waves came in. They were super-cute.
  • ladybugs desperately trying to escape the salt water waves, with limited success. I’m not sure why there were ladybugs on the beach at all, actually. Perhaps they were having a ladybug picnic.

The sun was warm and the ocean was cool. The beach rules.


So I was biking down Channing this evening and had to slow down because a ten year old was trying to jump his skateboard up onto the divider that forces left turns for cars. As I edged my way past, he turned and twisted his face into a grimace.

“Hardcore!” he announced.

“Rock on!” I replied, and went on my way.