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May 31st, 2011
10:49 AM ET

"Kung Fu Panda 2" backlash in China?

After the Hollywood launch of "Kung Fu Panda 2," there's word of a backlash in Beijing.

According to China's official Xinhua news agency, some Chinese artists and scholars say that the animated kiddie flick has "twisted Chinese culture and serves as a tool to 'kidnap' the mind of the Chinese people."

Zhao Bandi, an avant-garde artist in Beijing, has launched a campaign to boycott the DreamWorks film by placing ads in newspapers across the country. He's joined by an academic, Kong Qingdong of Peking University, who calls "Kung Fu Panda 2" a "cultural invasion." FULL POST

May 26th, 2011
12:11 PM ET

Is Hong Kong afraid of Ai Weiwei?

A man in marble is giving me the finger.        

I'm at Art HK, Asia's leading art fair, and the one-finger salute is from the 2007 sculpture "Marble Arm" by outspoken artist-activist Ai Weiwei. As we all should know by now, Ai was detained by Beijing authorities almost two months ago in an ongoing campaign against Chinese activists. Ai has since been accused of tax evasion.

"Marble Arm" is linked to a series of provocative snapshots featuring Ai raising his middle finger to various symbols of power from the White House to Tiananmen Square.  On reserve, it has a prospective buyer who is willing to pay $280,000 for the work.

And today, that marble middle finger is greeting prospective buyers and curious visitors at Art HK's Galerie Urs Meile exhibition space.

But it is a lonely protest. Among the 260 galleries at the international art fair, "Marble Arm" is the only work by Ai on display.

There are a few "Where is Ai Weiwei?" freebie pins and t-shirts available from Galerie Urs Meile and two other dealers at the fair. But for the most part, at Asian's largest art fair, China's most well-known artist is noticeably missing.

Both the United States and the European Union have called for the artist's release, but the commercial art community in Asia seems to be taking a more, shall we say, diplomatic approach. Art HK director Magnus Renfrew calls Ai Weiwei "an artist who we greatly admire."

And yet Renfrew delivers even more praise for the city of Hong Kong "where freedom of expression is greatly valued, and freedom of expression is protected under the Bill of Rights of Hong Kong and under the Basic Law of Hong Kong.  So it is a very good place for the full variety of voices to be heard."

Those voices are being heard far from the gleaming halls of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.

In a gritty industrial space in the city's Chai Wan district, 50 Hong Kong artists are speaking out against Ai's detention in a non-selling exhibition called "Love the Future." In Mandarin, it reads as "Ai Wei Lai," a pun on "Ai Wei Wei" and a code name used by the artist's online supporters when he first went missing.

Those three characters have been censored on the Internet in Mainland China, but in Hong Kong it's clearly seen online and throughout the makeshift gallery space. There's a lightbox of a hyper-pixellated portrait of Ai Weiwei. In another corner, there is a photo collage of various Hong Kong figures with Ai's name painted on their foreheads.

"Love the Future" is organized by Hong Kong sculptor Kacey Wong. Wong also organized a Hong Kong protest march in April that attracted an estimated 2,000 people. Wong calls Ai's arrest a wake-up call for him and fellow local artists. He tells me, "We Hong Kong people tend to live inside a bubble because we have freedom here. Whereas in China, there is suppression and illegal detention of good-hearted people."

Wong also says Ai's detention has brought about a personal ephiphany about what it means to be a Hong Kong artist, as opposed to a Mainland Chinese one: "We, in contrast, can speak the truth... without thinking too much."

In the days immediately following Ai's disappearance, high-contrast graffiti images appeared throughout Hong Kong showing the bearded face of the artist and a simple question, "Who's afraid of Ai Weiwei?" Another graffiti campaign flashed a projection of the Ai Weiwei image onto the Chinese People's Liberation Army barracks in Hong Kong.

The artists behind the graffiti are laying low... and for good reason. Hong Kong police are investigating criminal damage charges against them, which could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail.

One can only wonder if Ai Weiwei would nod in approval to such acts of creative defiance here in Hong Kong.

Ai remains detained for an indefinite period of time in an undisclosed location. Despite his imprisonment, Ai has opened major exhibitions in New York and London... and inspired a grassroots movement in Hong Kong while defiantly raising his middle finger in a massively public space on Chinese soil.

The artist may be silenced, but not his message.

May 25th, 2011
02:27 AM ET

Zombies, space & social media success

Most of the time you don't want to hear "viral" and "CDC" in the same sentence. Unless we're talking in non-medical terms.

By now you've probably read the CDC's blog on surviving a zombie apocalypse. An agency spokesman told the NYT, “A typical post gets 1,000 hits. We got 10,000 (on Monday), then 30,000 on Tuesday, and then it crashed the server.”

The blog has given @CDCEmergency a big bounce on Twitter. The account is now approaching 1.3 million followers. It reportedly had just 12,000 as of Thursday.

Now that the CDC has captured our attention online, will it be able to keep it? Not unless something changes. The newly popular @CDCEmergency tweets less than once a day on average. It would to do well to look at another government agency for lessons. NASA has the most successful social media presence. Yes, there's a study to back up that claim.

FULL POST

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Filed under: General • Social networking • Space • Technology
May 23rd, 2011
04:47 PM ET

Another Icelandic Ash Cloud: Should we Call it Karma?

Once upon a time, Iceland was the land of geysers, hot springs and puffin stew. We yearned to navigate its rugged coastline and traverse its fiery interior. We cared not a jot if the price of vodka in Rekjavik's Ice Bar was exorbitant. Because Rekjavik was the epitome of cool. Damon Albarn had a house there. The city's Sigur Rós soundtrack was a trip without drugs. Even Take That's "Patience" video (filmed on the road to the Blue Lagoon) had a kind of craggy, rustic allure that wasn't limited to Jason Orange's facial features.

Then Icesave happened. 400,000 British and Dutch people found themselves out of pocket and not a little peeved as a result. The domino effect of the Icelandic economic crisis saw cash-strapped UK local authorities turn into cash-starved UK local authorities. Iceland the country suddenly had a greater image problem than Iceland the supermarket (whose public face Kerry Katona was simultaneously dominating the tabloids, enjoying a white substance that didn't resemble freezer frost).

Britain's northern neighbor, while not suffering the expected capitulation in tourism, found itself cast as Public Enemy No.1. And unfortunately we didn't take a basic truth into account: Hell hath no fury like an Iceland scorned.

FULL POST

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
May 23rd, 2011
12:39 PM ET

What does beauty mean to you?

(Left to right, top to bottom) Kelly, Reda, Rebecca, Amanda, Shiro, Autumn, Gloria, Jennie.
(Left to right, top to bottom) Kelly, Reda, Rebecca, Amanda, Shiro, Autumn, Gloria, Jennie.

It's a cliché, but it's one rooted in the truth: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Everyone has a different idea of what is beautiful to them. And everyone perceives their own qualities in a different way.

There are few better examples of the terrible power beauty has on the human psyche than this powerful story from Kyung Lah. She introduces us to a 12 year old who thinks the way to gain confidence is to change her appearance with plastic surgery.

After filing the story, Kyung decided to look a little deeper at what beauty meant to people in different parts of the world. She put out a call to friends of friends to hear their thoughts, and while certainly not a scientific survey, their answers are fascinating. FULL POST


Filed under: General
May 21st, 2011
12:06 AM ET

Chinese PC game takes aim at American soldiers

The headlines say it all:

"Chinese video game targets American troops"

"Watch China kill American soldiers in new video game"

It sounds outrageous. But is it really? FULL POST

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Filed under: China • Games • General • Personal musings
May 18th, 2011
12:14 PM ET

Residing on Rikers Island

IMF director general Dominique Strauss-Kahn stands before judge Melissa Jackson in Manhattan Criminal Court.

If the name of the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's current home rings a bell with you, chances are you've heard it on the TV or radio.

Rikers Island is best known as the home of suspects pending trial or convicts serving short sentences and as such it features regularly in New York-based police dramas such as NBC's "Law and Order." It even has its own page on the show's wiki. In many ways Strauss-Kahn's arrest could be straight out of an episode of "Law and Order: SVU," the strand of the show that portrays detectives investigating "sexually based offenses". Sadly, this is real life.

It was real too for rapper Lil' Wayne when he did time on Rikers Island in 2010 on a gun charge. His album "I Am Not A Human Being" was released while he was in solitary confinement, and he even recorded a verse over the phone for the Drake/Jay-Z single "Light Up." The "Rikers Remix" did the rounds online.

Rikers Island, where IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being held.

Lil' Wayne is just one of many artists to have referenced Rikers Island in their lyrics. Recent Eminem/D12 collaboration "Going Crazy" describes a "tour bus look like Rikers Island." Meanwhile, if Kool G. Rap's lyrics are anything to go by, Dominique Strauss-Kahn may have a rough time in store at the jail:

"...you might have been robbin', you might have been whylin'/ But you won't be smilin' on Rikers island. / Just to hear the name it makes your spine tingle/ This is a jungle where the murderers mingle/ This ain't a place that's crowded but there's room for you/ Whether you're white or you're black, you'll be black and blue..."

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of sexual abuse and rape, and is currently residing in one of Rikers Island's 3.35 x 4 meter cells. On Tuesday we heard that the man whom many refer to as DSK was placed on suicide watch at Rikers Island, but that is a common procedure in high-profile cases. Strauss-Kahn is expected to be left largely alone between now and his next appearance in court on Friday.

CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin says a second application for bail will be the top priority. "There is no question that this Friday the defense will reapply for bail," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. "They're going to try to come up with a situation that is palatable for the prosecution and the court so that he is no longer being held at Rikers Island. That may include $1 million to $2 million bail, or an ankle monitoring bracelet."

As the Grand Jury convenes, the world will be watching.

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Filed under: General
May 18th, 2011
11:07 AM ET

Confessions of a 'panda hater'

I used to hate pandas, but I'm okay now.
I used to hate pandas, but I'm okay now.

In China, one of the world's oldest pandas dies, while another shows signs of possible pregnancy.

And here in the Hong Kong newsroom, I inevitably get asked for my reaction.

You see, I'm known as the resident "panda hater." Go ahead, flog me with bamboo. I have long held the view that the giant panda is the Kim Kardashian of the animal world. It has big eyes, curves in the right places, and is ever-photogenic. It gets by on its good looks alone, while more deserving animals (the Yangtze River crocodile, hello??) are simply ignored by the world's animators and toy-makers.

Unfair, I say!

Not only that, the panda behaves in ways that are simply counter-intuitive to staying alive. It eats bamboo when its body is not adapted to digest it. It rarely mates and requires human intervention to prolong the species - so much so that zookeepers have resorted to screening "panda porn" to encourage coupling.

Many others have refused to pander to the panda, including wildlife expert Chris Packham who said they "should be able to die out" and the Animal Review which gives the giant panda an "F" for "occupying valuable zoo space while bringing little to the table."

I have shared their disaste, and paid the price for it. Over the years, I've received gifts of panda candy, panda toys and "I heart panda" buttons from friends and colleagues all with the intent to wind up the hater in me. My Operations Supervisor made sure to give me a stuffed Jing Jing, the panda mascot from the 2008 Beijing Games described as "charmingly naive and optimistic."

I strung the plush diva up in my kitchen as an ironic tchotcke.

And then, I became a mother.

When my daughter was 6-months-old, I caught her searching for the swinging panda in the kitchen. Twelve months later, she would point at the stuffed doll say "panda" in both English and Chinese. I eventually took Jing Jing down and handed it over to my little one. The tchotcke became her chum.

I decided to take her to Hong Kong's Ocean Park to visit its panda habitats. Sure enough, the pandas were a no-show. They were simply too occupied sleeping in the backroom to stroll out and let a 2-year-old take in all their fuzzy fabulousness. My toddler, along with another young visitor, were in tears. And I sensed the panda hate starting to rise again.

But then, it appeared. A giant panda wandered straight toward us and sat down, just two meters away, to eat its bamboo breakfast. My daughter started to describe its eyes, ears and actions. She was mesmerized. I was mesmerized. That damn panda made my heart melt.

I am no longer a "panda hater." But I should admit, I do feel a tinge of pride when my daughter asks to see the Asian alligator instead. I want her to be a daring girl who is willing to venture beyond the cuddly... and yet willing to admit, yep, that was cute.

Just don't get me started on Kim Kardashian.

May 17th, 2011
05:29 PM ET

Don Lemon's Dignity Must Set Example for Media at Large

We’ve had about 36 hours to digest the news that Don Lemon is gay. Across the web, everyone’s talking about it...

“CNN News Anchor Comes out of the Closet”. Type that phrase into your search engine. See how many times it comes up. It’s a whole lot of closet. 

A human being has demonstrated a human trait. In doing so, he has inspired vocabulary-deficient writers  from London to LA to dust off the world’s most woefully hackneyed item of furniture. We’re clearly not ready to dismantle it quite yet. 

The discussion must therefore continue. And that discussion is proving riling and refreshing in equal measure. 

FULL POST

May 17th, 2011
05:21 PM ET

Big Mac Milestone

If you are the sort of person who counts calories, and watches what you eat, this might not be the blog for you. This is the story of one man, three decades, and tens of thousands of Big Macs.

Don Gorske has eaten 25,000 Big Macs

Today (May 17 2011), Don Gorske, a middle-aged American from Wisconsin, will bite into his 25,000th McDonald's Big Mac. Yes, that's 25,000 of the 540 calorie, double pattie, triple bun burgers. And what's more, he has a receipt for every single one of them.

Don eats a couple of Big Macs per day, every day of the week. He even has spares stashed in the freezer for emergencies. Yet recently, he's been on a diet (of sorts). He's slashed his Big Mac intake to one per day. Why? So that he can hit his Big Mac milestone today, exactly 39 years (to the hour) that he first locked lips around a McDonald's patty.

News Stream ordered 25 Big Macs, just 1,000th of Don Gorske's lifetime intake.

Just one Big Mac is more than a meal for me, and even the more meat-loving members of the News Stream team could only stomach a couple, so as well as chowing down on the 25 burgers we ordered this afternoon we helped ourselves to a side-order of number-crunching to make Don's achievement a little more palatable.

  • Don Gorske has eaten around five-and-a-half thousand kilograms of Big Macs.
  • That's a whopping 13-and-half million calories.
  • He's also consumed 725 kilos of fat just from Big Macs, yet remarkably his cholesterol levels are fine! (156mg/dL in case you were wondering).

In 2008, Guinness verified that Don had eaten the most Big Macs ever, at the time just 23,000. Imagine, at his current rate of consumption if he lives until the age of 86 he'll have eaten 40,000. Now that's something for him to chew over.

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