The fog in San Francisco (h/t Erin Rhode).

A general approach to privacy/utility tradeoffs, with metric spaces! A new preprint/note by Robert Kleinberg and Katrina Ligett.

Max breaks it down for you on how to use the divergence to get tight convergence for Markov chains.

The San Diego Asian Film Festival starts on Thursday!

Apparently China = SF Chinatown. Who knew? Maybe the fog confused them.

assorted links and news

More on self-plagiarizing.

This looks like an interersting book on the homeless, especially given all the time I spent in the Bay Area.

Tyler Perry has shortened the title of his film adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.

Evaluating Fredric Jameson.

Max really digs in to directed information.

In other news, after ITW I went to Paris to hang out and work with Michele Wigger on a small story related to the multiaccess channel with user cooperation. While I was there saw some fun art by Detanico/Lain and caught a show by Fever Ray at L’Olympia. In fact, I’ll be headlining there soon:

ADS Headlines at L'Olympia

Have a good Sunday, everyone!

surprising review of Australia

I was surprised to read in David Denby’s review of Australia in The New Yorker a rather stinging comment on the Baz Luhrmann’s colonialist (and racist) portrayal of the Aboriginal people:

In the midst of the spectacle, however, Luhrmann and his screenwriters, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood, and Richard Flanagan, have attempted to denounce racism (Nullah is despised by the whites) and then to trace the beginnings of white respect for Aboriginal culture. Nullah’s grandfather, a shaman known as King George (David Gulpilil), is a major figure in the movie—well, in a way. Whenever the story gets stuck, he suddenly appears, in a loincloth, perched atop a peak, or perhaps a water tower—in any case, he’s up high. He then performs whatever magic is necessary to move the film along. At the end, King George summons Nullah to a rite of passage, a walkabout. Nullah’s disappearance into the desert, leaving the whites behind, is framed as a triumphant anti-colonial moment, but Luhrmann confuses the issue by accompanying the scene with, of all things, the stirring “Nimrod” passage from “Enigma Variations,” by Edward Elgar, the composer perhaps most closely associated with the glories of empire. With the same degree of appropriateness, Luhrmann might celebrate Barack Obama’s Inauguration with a thundering rendition of “Dixie.”

I can’t say I’m surprised at the ham-handedness of Luhrmann’s film — I hated Moulin Rouge and I’m sure Australia would be even worse, given how problematic the subject matter is. The film’s attempt at social critique fails because the writers never question their own intent. That’s the problem with lazy “anti-racism” — it acknowledges racism is bad but never digs in deeper to see how pervasive the problem really is.

Quick links (terse due to RSI)

A. Doig, Fewer academics could be the answer to insufficient grants, Nature 453, 978 (19 June 2008). One’s first reaction is “of course!” Seems a bit too back of the envelope. Why not do a cycles of fear analysis?

Peter Greenaway takes on Da Vinci.

A scholarly article on being in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

Michael Mitzenmacher notices the absurdity of the correspondence rules for the Transactions on Information Theory. Of course, they are doing away with correspondences entirely, so eventually it should be less of a problem.

Patterns for designing a reputation system — this has been a little topic of discussion in the office recently.

Sita Sings The Blues

On Saturday I saw a sneak preview of Sita Sings The Blues, an animated film by Nina Paley. It was an amazing piece of work. Having seen only some of the musical clips (from waaaaay back in the day), I was not prepared for how many different animation styles she used in the film. The film uses several narrative voices to tell the Ramayana story as Paley understands it.

The film is semi-autobiographical, and the ties between events in Paley’s life and treatment of Sita at the hands of Rama in the story are what lend the film and its implicit critique of Rama their weight. The main story is narrated by three shadow puppet figures, whose lines are taken from unscripted interviews with three Indians who try to hash out how the story goes, with minor disagreements and added embellishments along the way. The figures in this part of the story are painted cutouts that reminded me of the covers of Amar Chitra Katha comic books. As the story progresses there are also a number of musical numbers animated in the style visible in the stills shown on the film’s website. This is where Sita sings the blues in the voice of Annette Hanshaw.

The part of the story that seems to have gotten under Paley’s skin is Rama’s constant second-guessing of Sita. After rescuing her from Lanka, she has to prove her purity, and then after overhearing the dhobi beating his wife, Rama has Sita banished to the forest while she is pregnant. Having tried my own hand at finding a modern critical angle on some Hindu stories, I found this film delightful. Nina Paley is trying to get enough money to print the film to 35mm — hopefully she’ll be able to do that so people can see it in theaters.

they miss the whisper that runs / any day in your mind

I saw the premiere of The Riches, a new series starring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver. The show revolves around the Molloys, a family of consummate con artists, headed up by Izzard and Driver. The Molloys are Travelers, and in the premiere Driver’s character has just gotten out of jail. While on the run after a misunderstanding with the new head of the clan, they happen upon a lawyer and his wife who have died in a tragic car accident and decide to take their identities and “go straight.”

The premise and required framework require a suspension of disbelief that beggars the imagination, but the show manages to provide really interest human moments and conflicts that might be otherwise impossible in a conventional story. The Traveler/Gypsy community gets a lot of stereotyping in pop culture, and here they seem to provide a convenient mythos for the story that leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. What seems most interesting to me is the perspective the show can have by putting characters from the outside inside a gated community. Unlike a premise in which poor people win the lottery and move into the expensive neighborhood, shocking the neighbors, here the tension comes from avoiding being “found out.” At the end of the show Izzard quotes the last stanza of a poem by William Stafford:

by William Stafford

If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.

He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
when the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand in some corner shivering.
The people who go by-
you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really wanderer?”-
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I’m a king.”
“Maybe I’m a queen.”

Perhaps this poem sums up the main tension in the show — the Molloys are trying to become the Riches to make the story true, but their choice is made deliberately and not a switch of the babies at birth. I have very little patience for TV shows in general, and I don’t know if I will continue to watch this one, but I’ll at least try and see the next one or two episodes, because I think the writing is smart and the acting smarter.


The The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival is going on right now. I’ve seen two films, which is likely my quota given my workload, but there are a bunch that I want to see.

In Between Days is the story of an alienated Korean-Canadian girl, Aimee, who lives with her single mother in a desolate and snowy Toronto. The film follows her trying to deal with her feelings for her friend Tran, her absent father, and the trials of being in a foreign country. Although it seems to be causing a lot of waves, I felt like the pacing was a bit slow for my taste. Perhaps that was because I was hungry though. This film is a must-see if you are interested in the psychology of assimilation and alienation in Asian youth (Yeti, I am looking at you).

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, an anime, is an adaptation of a young-adult novel about a high school senior who discovers she has the power to jump back in time. Hilarity ensues as she avoids awkward and embarassing situations by haveing do-overs, but she soon discovers that changing some events for the better can have undesired consequences (a typical trope in time-travel stories). This was a touching film, but I felt it sort of left the rails near the ending by introducing a rather improbable plot twist. Anime has a tendency to do this, however, so I lumped it in with the other oddities of Japanese narrative.

SFIAAFF Trailer is very addictive for some reason. The lyrics make no sense at all:

Come with me and we will paint the town together
With our brand new brush made out of patent leather.
We’ll go dancing after we have sandwiches.
Then we’ll fly away…
Through the air with a grizzly bear,
We can make a cake out of snow
But first we need to get on with our show!

Part of it must the calliope circus music, but really, it’s just pure silliness.