Thursday, March 31, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Firefly: War Stories Review

Over the course of the past two months, Firefly has been an enjoyable, if uneven, treat. Its strengths clearly lie in its human characters and believable dialogue whereas, no less clearly, its weaknesses are in poor production values and an over-earnestness that occasionally borders on camp. It has been genuinely scary, funny, and touching over the course of the 9 episodes seen thus far. Even with this experience however, I was unprepared for how powerful the emotional core of War Stories is.

The Tyler Cowen

  1. Funny recap of the Half Life story thus far.
  2. Breaking down how hard it is to connect the Deepwater Horizon to the oil cap 5,000 feet below the ocean's surface
  3. A not-so-rosy future for Libya.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fractured Friday

The Tyler Cowen

Foreign Policy-heavy focus of today's links.
  1. Wonderful article on Japan
  2. Eye-opening article on Qaddafi. This sort of buck-the-trend thinking is one of the things I miss most about college, even if it has some serious soft spots. 
  3. The demographic shift in global wealth by 2025 points to the importance of cities, particularly those from the developing world. It's a pretty dry article but successfully hammers home the point that investors and entrepreneurs should be paying better attention to these shifts. 
  4. Short, compelling article on the imperial nature of Obama's presidency, at least in the last month. Are we witnessing the demise of American democracy as it really starts to crumble in earnest? And, if so, does it not speak to the failure of democratic government at large? Probably not but it's still scary. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011


New original posts coming, we promise. This past week has been a blur of coding and rocking. (To whet your appetite, how do you feel about more Firefly reviews, a video game review, and an editorial in defense of hipsters?) To hold you over, here's an incredibly relaxing time lapse video of a different sort of radiation.

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Tyler Cowen

Nuclear Power!
  1. We should stop using nuclear power!
  2. We should continue using nuclear power!
  3. Disney and co. have some not-exactly-reassuring support of atomic power!
  4. Some original writing from the first nuclear sub test in 1959!
  1. Phenomenal infographic of 2011 in the Middle East. 
  2. Hair infographic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Tyler Cowen

  1. Couldn't have said it better myself. When will the world's policy-makers realize that nothing is done in a vacuum. Strategies must be crafted with an eye not only for the immediate impact but also the message it sends the other players. 
  2. Excellent interview regarding the status of women in North Korea
  3. Finally, an overview of the tangled mess of politics and diplomacy on the Korean peninsula
  4. And, turning to the Middle East, a series of essays supporting and condemning the international intervention in Libya. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Feel-Good Friday

The songs a growing human needs to get ready for the weekend. Special thanks to Brewhar the Pinko for coming through huge with a choice Clash suggestion (which was then replaced by an even better Clash tune). Organized to get more poppy as the day wears on.

The Tyler Cowen

  1. Subcultures of sexism. (Don't read the comments...they will make you very angry.)
  2. Making a democracy. Read our older posts on the same topic. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Addendum to the previous post...

The opening credits to 2007's The Kingdom are some of the best in the business.

The Kingdom - Opening Credits
Tags: The Kingdom - Opening Credits

The Tyler Cowen

  1. Time machines! Almost serious science!
  2. Funny comedian making fun of the iPad. Making fun of the iPad never gets old, particularly when delivered with a funny accent.
  3. Incredible video detailing the evolution of movie title design.
  4. Funny remix of a pretty brutal video of bullying makes it almost palatable

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Firefly: Ariel Review

Simon Tam (better known in some circles as the old Zac Efron) and his sister River have been among Firefly's most intriguing characters. Not necessarily due to the chops of the actors that portray them but rather the recurring impact their histories have on the overarching plot of the show. While the back-stories for Firefly's supporting characters range from mysterious allusions (Shepard Book, for example) to entire episodes (Jaynestown, for example), the recurring impact of the Tams' suggests that theirs was meant to be one of the core drivers for the series.

In Ariel, the mystery behind what happened to River is deepened slightly as Simon employs the crew to help him sneak her into a state-of-the-art hospital on Ariel, a core planet in Alliance space. While there, Simon discovers that River has undergone multiple surgeries on her brain which, combined with the increasingly super-natural abilities of the young lady, is making this side story downright Fringe-ian. Where this will take us by the season's (and series') end is certainly addicting but I don't hold out hope for a satisfying conclusion given the premature nature of the show's demise.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Tyler Cowen

  1. Secret video from inside North Korea. Lots of haircut footage included. Via Gizmodo.
    Pyongyang Style - North Korean Haircut from Steve Gong on Vimeo.
  2. A series of interesting articles on Japan, ranging from the culture of disaster to the culture of practicality to the government's attempts to downplay the current radiation problem
  3. New article from 38 North regarding economic engagement with North Korea. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Homefront is a Joke

IGN recently published an interview with some of the advisors for THQ's upcoming video game Homefront. The game, set roughly fifteen years in the future, envisions a United States occupied by North Korean forces. In the interview, the advisors detail some of their theoretical assumptions which pave the way for such a situation. While both the advisors and the author dutifully pepper their ideas with caveats and reminders that this is all for the sake of entertainment and shouldn't be taken seriously, the article's title ("Is Homefront Possible?") irks me enough to deconstruct their theories in order.

The article relies on two basic fear-mongering facts: 1) historical precedent and 2) economic decline. The first basically follows the logic that no one predicted the inflation-ravaged Germany would sweep through Europe in the late 1930's, so it might happen again. The second falls back on the current cries of American economic and military decline thanks to a volatile Middle East and our reliance on oil. In unpacking each step of North Korea's hypothetical expansion, we will attack each of these parts as they crop up.

Friday, March 11, 2011

St. Paddy's Playlist

Punk-Fun Friday

MusicPlaylistView Profile

Trying something new for the long-dormant music section. Hopefully daily updates with embedded MP3 player for your enjoyment. (The color-scheme could use some tweaking but we'll save that for another time.) All of the above have the pulse-quickening intangibles that are the best way to ring in the weekend.

The Tyler Cowen

  1. Japanese torture gameshow.
  2. Comprehensive piece examining The Arab Spring and the prospects for democracy. 
  3. " has become clear that underlying conditions do have a big impact on democratic success. Five are of special importance: 1) the level of economic development; 2) the degree of concentration of sources of national wealth; 3) the coherence and capability of the state; 4) the presence of identity-based divisions, such as along ethnic, religious, tribal, or clan lines; and 5) the amount of historical experience with political pluralism."
  4. Via The Browser, how we get North Korea's non-state sponsored bits of news

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Tyler Cowen

  1. Two articles on North Korea, both from Marginal Revolution. The first regarding a North Korean restaurant in Virginia which spring-boards nicely into a biography of the owner. The second is about studying abroad in North Korea which seems like a handful of trouble if you ask me. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Arab Spring

Foreign Policy has a post regarding the importance of recession on democratic agitation here. In the post, Charles Kenny attempts to turn conventional wisdom on its head by pointing out that it was actually economic hardship that prompted the regime changes sweeping the Middle East. Not to be a turd in the punch-bowl but it seems a little early for these sorts of grandiose, theory-changing statements. What has transpired so far across most of the Middle East are revolutions. History has shown that revolutions are commonly sprung from hardship, economic or otherwise. These revolutions may be clothed in the rhetoric of democracy but that does not imply that a functional democracy requires economic recession. Kenny conflates revolution with democracy for the sake of sensationalist journalism.

There is a good reason why scholars have long accepted the importance of economic progress in democratic development: it is a logically sound theory that is supported by available evidence. As illustrated in Maslow's Pyramid, political self-expression is a luxury afforded by the achievement of more basic needs. A populace has little concern for democracy when their primary concerns are food and shelter. While higher levels of the pyramid can be achieved on a weak base, fundamental institutions must be in place to ensure the continued enjoyment of attributes such as democracy. Institutions like the rule of  law, the right to private property, etc. are vital for a healthy democratic system to thrive. The reality of any society is that the establishment of such institutions is better served by non-democratic governments. It is only when these basic structures have been cemented that democratic revolution can take place, resulting in a lasting democracy. And these institutions are facilitated by economic prosperity, not recession. Recession may be the spark for regime change but prosperity is the environment for long-term democratic stability.

Kenny rightly notes that the changes sweeping the Middle East are the products of economic recession. However, there is no assurance that these revolutions will lead to sustainable democracies. Furthermore, the link between economic recession and democratic change is not causal because Kenny conflates democracy with revolution. Revolutions sprung from hardship are nothing new but sustainable democracies will require economic prosperity to last.

The Tyler Cowen

  1. The importance of solitude. Via The Browser
  2. Which states have the most passports? Via Marginal Revolution
  3. Does the Arab Spring promise to push the US closer to Israel
  4. Why apples are better than oranges. Via Cool Infographics

Monday, March 7, 2011

Firefly: Out of Gas Review

Tim Minear.
A quick review of the writing credits for each of the eight Firefly episodes seen so far reveals some interesting attributes of each primary scribe. Whedon's writing is, unsurprisingly, the most accessible and pleasing. Serenity, The Train Job, and Our Mrs. Reynolds all move effortlessly between humor and drama with neither tone feeling overdone. The guest writers range from pleasing (Jane Espenson's Shindig was a delight) to hackneyed (Drew Z. Greenberg's Safe felt mostly tacky) to overwrought (Ben Edlund's Jaynestown being the worst-reviewed episode thus far). Which leaves the work of Tim Minear, Whedon's creative second-in-command. Minear was responsible for the hair-raising Bushwhacked and co-wrote the enjoyable The Train Job with Whedon. But perhaps the most poignant Firefly episode to date is also Minear's second solo act and Out of Gas does not disappoint, suggesting that Minear might have his finger closer to Firefly's emotional pulse than even its more famous creator.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Someone spilled coffee on the thingy!

Forgive the occasional broken link or confusing layout. Our best man is working on getting it all up and running smoothly again. As always, forward any complaints to our best man.

Firefly: Jaynestown Review

Fame is a corrupting thing. It's allure so encompassing that those who have tasted it will go to any lengths to maintain it. It's lens so perverting that those in its thrall will abandon all wisdom. It is, in many ways, akin to an ego-boosting drug. Anything to maintain the high. But we, while momentarily entertained by the coke-addled friend's antics, soon shift our attention to more genuine bits of interest. If only fame worked like the soul-expanding narcotics, great artistry might be maintained. (The differentiating metric of ego-inflating versus soul-expanding narcotics is a useful one but one that is a bit too much of a tangent for an article ostensibly about a sci-fi television show.)

Of course, the above understanding of fame is usually understood only when applied to an individual. But similar effects can be seen on groups of people or whole organizations dedicated to a piece of entertainment. Like, say, a television show. The pressure of maintaining the fame trumps the soulful artistry which made the show famous in the first place and soon the show reduces itself to meta-self-reference and naval-gazing.

With an introduction like this, it should be clear that this reviewer's opinion of Jaynestown is anything but positive.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Tyler Cowen

Nothing like a little bout of food poisoning to take the wind out of your sails. But we've righted the ship after a pretty disastrous start to March and are (hopefully) back on track.

  1. What happens if it happens there? Not to sound alarmist but western society could well be in for a painful adjustment period.
  2. Beijing's connections to Pyonyang grow stronger and the North shows further signs of reform. How would South Korea react should the North continue its tentative steps along China's reform-path? Both via NKEconomyWatch.
  3. The moral circle and its expansion with globalization.
  4. The virus designed to attack Iran's nuclear computers. How is this story not a bigger diplomatic headache?