Friday, April 30, 2010

I (look like) Gumby, dammit!

The Shanghai Expo opens this weekend, and China's second city has pulled out all the stops -- the city has spent more than twice as much on its coming-out party than Beijing did on the Olympics.

But as with so many things China does, this event is not without controversy. It turns out the Expo's cartoon mascot, Haibao, looks an awful lot like Gumby, and organizers of the event have been accused of plagiarism.

Haibao creator Wu Yongjian pleads innocence and says he's never seen The Gumby Show before. Haibao, which means “treasure of the seas”, is based on the Expo emblem shape (δΈ–), the character for “world,” and was picked from 26,655 submissions, according to Chinese celebrity news site May Daily.

I happen to believe Mr Wu when he says he had no intention of riping off Gumby. But the similarity is amusing all the same.

It's not like China doesn't have a reputation for intellectual property theft. As the New York Times recently reported, Shanghai's bootleg DVD shops, a Chinese staple, have gone temporarily underground (or at least behind false walls) while the world's eye is trained on the city. This is exactly what happened in Beijing in 2008, as I wrote here. And just like in Beijing, once the Expo hoopla dies down, the shops will sprout right back up and the vast market of knock-off goods will kick back into gear.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The lifeblood of commerce, visualized

As a bit of a follow-up to the video I posted last week, here's what Europe's airspace looked like after flights resumed:

That, in essence, is what the circulatory system of $3.3 billion dollars looks like.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Could health care bill kill incentive to marry?

I came upon a potentially ominous analysis of the new health care bill that argues the bill's implementation in 2013 could spell the end of marriage. At least it would make marriage seem much less attractive for middle-income earners.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, who clearly was not impressed with the Democrats' epic push to reform the American health care system, writes about the bill:
"Two singles would each be able to earn $43,000 and still receive help to purchase health insurance, but if they got married and combined their earnings to $86,000, they would be far above the limit. As a married couple, the most they could earn and still get government help would be $58,000, a difference of almost $30,000, or 32%. This looks like a substantial disincentive to getting married, or to working while married."

I agree that this particular reality of the bill is less than desirable, and it's something I'll be forced to deal with if I ever make it back Stateside. It doesn't seem fair for the would-be brides and grooms of the lower middle class to get tangled up in the intersection of tax brackets. But the cutoff for government tax credits has to be somewhere, doesn't it?

I'd also be willing to bet that workers earning a salary of 40-50 grand would have jobs that provide health benefits anyway, and, as so many health-care-reform opponents frequently pointed out, most Americans are happy with the health plans they currently have.

Ms Furchtgott-Roth has a point that workers at this unfortunate crossroad who are thinking of marriage will have a tricky decision to make. What I am unclear about is how employer-provided health insurance is affected by these tax credits and whether or not employers are somehow let off the hook if their employees are receiving credits. At what point are employers required to start paying a fine if they're not providing insurance, and is the insurance employers provide necessarily better or worse than what can be bought with credits? No one ever said this wasn't complex... any ideas out there?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A new look

So I've been doing a little bit of tinkering with the layout of this blog thing. I thought this one looked nice -- clean and simple with comfortable space to breathe. (I got the idea to tinker after I saw this post from Mashable, which directed me to Deluxe Templates, the creator of this layout.)

Whether or not this inspires more consistent output on my end remains to be seen. The truth is, I post more to my Twitter account these days (see here, or over there --> ). My thoughts of late are more of the micro variety, I guess.

And while we're housekeeping, as they say, the Leaner's old address at UBC has been wiped from existence. That is what was causing some of the trouble you may have experienced trying to access this address a while ago (long story). I will hopefully be moving some of the more interesting content from that address over here, but who knows when I'll get to it all. But if you happen to have any links to that old address, do please update and direct the link this way. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

With one modest belch, our arrogance is swept aside

It is easy to forget amid the saturated media coverage that the plume billowing from Iceland is more than just a monumental inconvenience to millions of passengers and a thorn in the side of businesses around the world. It is also a profound reminder of our insignificance and utter submissiveness to geological rumblings.

An editorial from the Observer posted on the Guardian's website takes a meditative step back, and it's a thought worth repeating:

By colonising the space above our heads and above much of our continent, the eruption provides a reminder of our status in relation to our planet and over which we have arrogantly seized stewardship. We imagine ourselves its master and yet with one modest belch it hems us into our little island, sweeping instantly from the skies the aeroplane, which we consider to be an example of the irrepressible genius of our species... It would be crippling to retain that kind of perspective on a daily basis – anyone who set their watch by geological time would never get out of bed – but a glance at ourselves in proportion to the universe is salutary on occasion... We cannot blame the volcano, only observe how liberating it is sometimes to be powerless before nature.

On a side note, the timing of the massive halting of much of the world's air traffic is interesting (to me) because it comes just a few days after I saw this video (below), which is pretty cool-looking regardless. I wonder how different it would look these days.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

I do not exist

I was excited to fill out the census this year. For the first time, I'd be counted as a real person, not just some hanger-on.

But as it turns out, the Census Bureau does not deem me worthy of inclusion in its decennial tally. As an American expat living abroad, I, for all statistical intents and purposes, do not really exist. Even though I am an American passport-holder (now with a new biometric chip, since my old passport went through the washing machine) and fully plan to vote in the November elections, by taking up residence overseas I am essentially a castaway for the next decade. When it comes to the census, my status is less than that of an illegal immigrant.

Apparently it's too complicated and expensive to count people like me in the census. According to a Wall Street Journal article last year, the Census Bureau examined the possibility of distributing census forms to Americans overseas, but decided it wasn't worth the cost or the headache.

I suppose losing some constitutional rights are just a fact of life for those of us who choose to reside outside US borders. I've managed to get myself counted by having my parents fill me in as a third resident at their house in Northern California. That is my permanent address after all, and is the district in which I'll be voting. But a hanger-on I remain.

Still, I'm surprised the bureau doesn't at least count absentee ballots in this whole process. But then I'm no demographer.

I also want to fill out the census just to spite those idiots that are convinced the census is some sort of leftist conspiracy. It's embarrassingly absurd. Even Karl Rove says it's OK to fill out the forms.