January 21, 2011

Remaking Red Dawn as a metaphor for US fear of China

Filed under: China, Economics, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:59

David Harsanyi notes the remake of the 1980’s movie Red Dawn with the Chinese taking the place of the original film’s Soviet and Cuban troops:

Doubtlessly, the remake will be entertaining and offer a far more plausible plot line than the original — seeing that the Chinese, well, they have a proper army. Producers will almost certainly capitalize on a growing alarmism regarding China’s growth. Few issues, in fact, can bring right and left together in this polarized world of ours than a shared knowledge that China is bad news.

Now, the American populace can typically be divided into two categories: 1. Those who don’t care one whit about foreign policy. 2. Newspaper editors.

So before Chinese President Hu Jintao was here meeting with the president, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal and explained what we think about the topic.

Apparently, 47 percent of those he surveyed cited China as the world’s top economic power. (Only 31 percent properly identified it as the U.S., which has an economy nearly three times the size.) Another Pew survey from last year found that 47 percent of us consider China’s growth a “bad thing” for the United States. A new CNN poll found that 58 percent of us believe that China’s “wealth and economic power” are a threat to the U.S.

I’m certain our relationship with China is layered with international complexity and fraught with danger. But why would we fear the aspects of China’s ascendancy — its “wealth and economic power” — that pose the least threat to United States? Unlike ideological clashes, economic competition can be mutually beneficial. A country with real economic wealth is typically free and doesn’t look kindly on radical behavior. Suicide bombers rarely drive top-of-the-line BMWs.

I have a long history of doubting the stated size and growth of the Chinese economy and therefore feeling that the “threat” they pose is overstated. Overall, the economic growth in China is a good thing, both for China and for the world economy, but there’s still too much malignancy from the “bad old days” of the command economy that haven’t been properly dealt with. China is big, and getting bigger, but will face severe problems the longer these historical artifacts remain unexamined and unresolved.

If you are finding Firefox to be much slower lately, uninstall the Skype toolbar

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:51

I’ve been using Firefox as my main browser for a few years, and it generally works well for me. In the last month or so, however, I’ve noticed it being much slower. Some of that problem may have been caused by the Skype toolbar:

Mozilla has blocked a Skype toolbar add-on for its Firefox browser, after blaming the extension for causing 40,000 crashes last week.

The open source outfit said it vastly slowed down webpage-loading times.

The crash-prone add-on downed Firefox 3.6.13 — which is the current stable version of the browser — far too much, grumbled Mozilla.

“Additionally, depending on the version of the Skype Toolbar you’re using, the methods it uses to detect and re-render phone numbers can make DOM [document object model] manipulation up to 300 times slower, which drastically affects the page rendering times of a large percentage of web content served today (plain English: to the user, it appears that Firefox is slow loading web pages),” it said.

I started using Firefox as my default browser around the time they introduced tabbed pages (which every browser has offered for years now). I also use Opera, Chrome, and (unwillingly) IE for specific purposes. If the Firefox performance issues aren’t resolved when they release the new version 4.0 next month, I’ll consider switching to Chrome as my primary browser instead.

Not your granddaddy’s binoculars

Filed under: France, Military, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 12:21

Strategy Page reports on some new kit for the French army:

The French Army is buying 1,175 new electronic binoculars for its troops. The JIM LR 2 looks a little different than your traditional binoculars. There are four, instead of two, round glass windows in the front, and the usual two eyepieces in the back. The controls are electronic, not mechanical. Batteries are required. The zoom equipped stabilized binoculars also include infrared (night vision) electronics, as well as a laser rangefinder (max range of 5,000 meters) GPS, digital compass, a laser designator (max range of 10,000 meters), and communications systems to transmit coordinates of targets. The binoculars can also record video and still images. Weighing about 3 kg (6.7 pounds), one battery charge lasts four hours. Individuals can be detected at 5,000 meters and identified at about 900. Vehicles can be spotted at 8,600 meters and identified and 1,700.

The new binoculars look more like a militarized eye testing unit from your opthalmologist:

Curious about firearms in movies? This site will answer your questions

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:57

Not the prettiest site in the world, but certainly one of interest to movie firearm fans — the Internet Movie Firearms Database. Brad Kozak at The Truth About Guns raves about imfdb.com:

Here is the website I’ve been wondering about, wondering as in “why in the HELL doesn’t this kind of resource exist?” One that would tell me exactly what kinds of guns are in a given movie. How were they used? Modified? Abused? What’s real and what’s fantasy? (Hey Jared . . . ever seen what Hollywood thinks about your pansy-assed 33 round mags? THEY’VE got magazines that never need reloading!)

This site may have all the visual charm of the Drudge Report, but for hard-core data on films and firearms, this site is all that and a side o’ fries. And it’s not just text either. Movie stills, frame grabs — this site done got the goods, homey. And not only do they cover movie firearms, in depth, they also cover the tech specs on the firearms themselves. My first visit, and I felt like I was a kid again, on my first visit to Toys ‘R’ Us. I mean, talk about a one-stop shop for getting all my burning questions answered. Waaaay cool.

[. . .]

If you were to ask me about how I enjoy movies, you’d see a clear and distinct division between the time that I was largely clueless about guns, and the time that began learning about them. Call it “B.E. and A.E.” (Before Enlightenment and After Enlightenment.) Before my education began, I had some inkling that movies regularly exaggerated the number of rounds that could be fired without reloading, the accuracy of a gun at a long distance, and the effects of guns in the wild (acoustics, ear protection, et cetera). But I had that “willing suspension of disbelief” thing going on, and it just didn’t matter to me. After my education began, I was filled with questions — is that a Springfield XD? Where do you find a 50-round magazine that fits within the grip for a 1911? (Or my fave:) How can you shoot a bullet and force it to make a 360º trajectory (in the movie WANTED.) Thanks to imfdb.com, now I know.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

Have you ever asked yourself if you should work for free?

Filed under: Economics, Humour, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:38

If so, Jessica Hische can help you figure out the appropriate response:

Click to see full image (NSFW language)

H/T to Tim Harford for the link.

Alfred Kahn, godfather of deregulation

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:17

An obituary at The Economist for one of the key players in the deregulation of American business that was critical to solving the economic malaise of the 1970s:

WHEN everyone else at the airline counter for the flight from Hicksville to Washington was sighing, checking their watches and using their elbows on their neighbours, Alfred Kahn would be smiling. And later, cramped in his seat between some 20-stone wrestler and a passenger whose “sartorial, hirsute and ablutional state” all offended him, snacking from a tiny packet of peanuts that had cost him a dollar, he would sometimes allow the smile to spread under his Groucho Marx moustache into a big, wide, gloating grin.

For Mr Kahn had made this crowd and packed this aircraft. His deregulation of America’s airlines in the 1970s opened up the skies to the people, for better and worse. And though, being an economist, he could not help muttering about the imperfection of societies and systems and the absurdity of predictions—and though, being an inveterate puncturer of himself, he would demand a paternity test if anyone called him the father of the deregulated world—his adventures with airlines led on to the freeing of the trucking, telecoms and power industries, and heralded the Thatcherite and Reaganite revolutions.

When he took over the Civil Aeronautics Board for President Jimmy Carter in 1977 air travel was regulated to the hilt, with prices, routes and returns all fixed and aircraft, which could compete only on the number of flights and the meals they served, flying half-full. Mr Khan, furiously resisted by companies, pilots and unions, removed the rules. As an academic, author of “The Economics of Regulation” in two stout volumes, he was eager to see those elusive and fascinating things, marginal costs, brought into play: to let prices follow the constantly shifting value of an aircraft seat as demand changed or departure time loomed, or indeed as shiny new jet planes depreciated above him, just “marginal costs with wings”.

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