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June 23, 2006

The Office

Ron Suskind's latest expose on the Bush Administration, The One Percent Doctrine, is reviewed in Salon today and it's chock full of damning details. Of course, there's been a whole lotta books on this administration of this type and we've yet to reach any kind of tipping point.

A meticulous work of reporting, based on interviews with nearly 100 well-placed sources, many of them members of the U.S. intelligence community, Suskind's book paints perhaps the most intimate and damning portrait yet of the Bush team.

At this point, one could forgive readers for asking, "How many more damning portraits of the Bush administration do we need?" From yellowcake to Joe Wilson to Abu Ghraib, the list of Bush scandals and outrages is endless, but nothing ever seems to happen. As the journalist Mark Danner has pointed out, the problem is not lack of information: The problem is that Americans can't, or won't, acknowledge what that information means.

In particular, in addition to providing more detail on the usual shenanigans of this administration, the book sheds new light on Cheney's stealth bureaucratic machinations. A stunning summary from Salon:

Suskind's more momentous disclosure is the degree to which Cheney deliberately kept Bush in the dark, so as to be able to achieve his desired ends. For example, when Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler, visited Bush in 2002, the advance packet sent by the Saudis to prepare Bush for the meeting was mysteriously diverted to Cheney's office. Bush never read it. As a result, he had no idea what the agenda of the meeting was and failed to respond to the Saudi's requests for American help with the exploding Israeli-Palestinian crisis, which severely weakened Abdullah's position as an ally in the "war on terror." Nor did he extract any concessions from them. For Cheney, it seems, the less Bush was prepared for Abdullah, the less chance he would make any concessions to the Arab leader. Or perhaps Cheney simply wanted to control the meeting for the sake of control.

This is amazing stuff, The Office meets Yes Prime Minister by way of Dr. Strangelove. The fate of the free world rests on these guys?

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- June 23, 2006 1:12 PM // Books , Politics

June 14, 2006

Beyond PageRank

In their WWW2006 paper, Beyond PageRank: Machine Learning for Static Ranking, the authors Matthew Richardson, Amit Prakash and Eric Brill, all from Microsoft, demonstrate that for static (query-independent) ordering of Web pages, machine learned link independent page features perform significantly better than Google's PageRank (tm). But enough with the geek talk, I just wanted to highlight the following paragraph from the introduction:

Google is often regarded as the first commercially successful search engine. Their ranking was originally based on the PageRank algorithm [5][27]. Due to this (and possibly due to Google's promotion of PageRank to the public), PageRank is widely regarded as the best method for the static ranking of Web pages.

Though PageRank has historically been thought to perform quite well, there has yet been little academic evidence to support this claim. Even worse, there has recently been work showing that PageRank may not perform any better than other simple measures on certain tasks.

Perhaps more of a rimshot than a potshot... You can read the rest of it here. Good stuff for those so inclined.

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- June 14, 2006 5:59 PM // Technology

June 8, 2006

video.yahoo.com

Yahoo upgraded their video service late last week - a big feature is the addition of video uploads. I was able to inject some stuff from DishumDishum over there. I was just expecting a couple of views, so imagine my surprise, when Match.com was featured on the front page over the weekend. When the gates to the new system opened, I was watching the view counter trickle up. Suddenly it jumped from 32 to 500 in a matter of minutes - I went to the front page and voila! I took a snapshot of our moment of glory before it went away completely:

Yes, I know this is still not on the same stratospheric levels with YouTube, but it's exciting regardless! My video channel is here - so far, I have 88 subscribers. Scary strange :-) My latest upload is an extended version of a clip previously featured on this site (Definition of Dishum Dishum), now renamed to Action, Old School Bollywood Style I. Go on, click it. You'll be glad you did!

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- June 8, 2006 9:05 PM // Technology

June 1, 2006

Asian Superheroes

Jeff Yang has an excellent article in the Chronicle today summarizing the state of Asian superheroes. He talks about the fascination Asian American kids have with superheroes:

"Comics have always been a refuge for kids who are shy or socially unconfident," says Chow. "The storylines of many titles, like 'Spiderman,' are all about outcasts who are also heroes. For many Asian Americans, the parallels with a title like 'X-Men' are really strong: You grow up in an all-white neighborhood, you feel like an outsider, and then when you go away to school, you meet other people like yourself, you discover your secret heritage, this thing inside you that makes you special. Even if you can't shoot lasers out of your eyes. And I think that's why so much of the fan base is Asian American kids -- go to a comic-book convention, a quarter of the kids are Asian."

And of the special fascination with Superman:

Superman has always appealed to Asian Americans. He has dark hair, his public identity is a meek guy with glasses, he's from a faraway place -- why not? ("Sure there are parallels," says Hama. "But remember he was created by [Jerry] Siegel and [Joe] Shuster. He's a Jewish immigrant fantasy." Jewish, Asian -- same difference.)

I've always been partial to Spiderman myself, perhaps because unlike Superman, Spiderman is human in origin, cursed with powers he cannot control, always self-questioning and chock full of raging hormones. If that's not the quintessential adolescent, I don't know what is. Perhaps other desis feel the same way, why else would there be an Indian version of Spiderman? Ironically enough, the artwork is done in Bangalore.

One more interesting tidbit from the original article:

The real joy, however, may come in the fall, when NBC debuts its new sci-fi-esque thriller "Heroes," about a bunch of normal folk who discover that they have paranormal powers. Japanese office worker Hiro Nakamura, played by Masi Oka, is a member of the super-ized select, while Sendhil Ramamurthy plays Mohinder Suresh, the researcher who uncovers the secret of the hidden talents among us. Wow, two Asian American males in a 10-person ensemble cast -- the success of "Lost" is really revamping the television landscape.

This reminds me of Unbreakable, M. Night Shymalan's tribute to comics, but Alan Sepinwall feels otherwise:

The idea of "What would happen if people got super powers in the real world?" has been done plenty of times before, from "Watchmen" to "Unbreakable," but Kring has a nice spin on it: not nearly as solemn and pretentious as "Unbreakable," but serious enough that it doesn't seem like camp. I particularly liked Masi Oka as the Japanese hero (named Hiro, of course) and Sendhil Ramamurthy as an Indian genetics professor obsessed with proving that humans can evolve into superhumans. Also, director David Semel finds a way to shoot certain scenes as if they were comic book panels without cribbing the visual style of Ang Lee's "Hulk."

Could be interesting!

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- June 1, 2006 8:44 PM // Diaspora , TV