H7N9 bird flu spreads in China

A new type of bird flu virus never found in humans before has been infecting and killing people in China for months.

CCTV America reported on the emergence of early cases and some of the government’s measures.

The first two deaths occurred in February, but was not reported by authorities until late March, when a third case was found in Nanjing, Jiangsu province in China. The total number of confirmed cases now increased to 14, while the number of human deaths has risen to five, reported by AFP.

Fox News reported that The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention shared the genetic sequence of the virus with other scientists to help further study on the flu:

Flu viruses evolve constantly, and scientists say such changes have made H7N9 more capable of infecting pigs.

The scientists who inspected the genetic data also said that based on information from the genes and Chinese lab testing, the H7N9 virus appears able to infect some birds without causing any noticeable symptoms. Without obvious outbreaks of dying chickens or birds, authorities could face a challenge in trying to trace the source of the infection and stop the spread.

In an article in China.org.cn, experts said that so far there is not sufficient evidence to prove that the infection is related to the chicken in the market.

Dongjiao market in the eastern suburbs of Beijing. Photo from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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Chinese home buyers fake divorce to avoid taxes

As government’s new property tax policy announced on March 1, it has been a trend that Chinese home buyers are rushing to get divorced, in order to sell their houses without paying extra taxes.

According to Reuters, at Shanghai’s Zhabei District marriage registration center, officials divorced 53 couples in a single day in March.

According to the new policy, property owners must pay a 20 percent capital gains tax on sales of second houses. However, if a couple with two properties divorce, they can move on property into the husband’s name and the other to the wife. This loophole leads many couples in Beijing and other major cities in China to fake divorce, sell the houses separately without paying taxes, and then remarry, reported by World Crunch:

Professor Xie Baisan from Fudan University says the phenomenon first appeared in 2009, when couples tried to avoid paying much higher interest rates on mortgages taken out for the purchase of second homes.  He believes the new housing policy could lead to one million fake divorces in China.

Most often these couples have a proviso in their divorce agreement stating that they still live together. Some will even remarry once the mortgage has been taken out or the property tax has been paid.

Here is a news video by NDT on China about the new policy and the trend of fake divorce:

Telling stories with data visualization

Data visualization is now broadly used in online news articles, either as a side bar or to tell the story on its own. Here I picked three data visualization examples to see how they are used by journalists to tell thorough stories.

How Some Nonprofit Groups Funnel Dark Money Into Campaigns is an investigation by Propublica, showing how much money nonprofit groups are spending on elections instead of on social welfare. There is a related story based on the visualization, arguing that those groups do very little to justify the subsidies they receive from taxpayers, but put the money into political races. I think this piece is telling good stories because the data is sorted and organized in several ways, so that reporters can find different angles to write stories on how the groups are funneling the dark money. The structure is also very clear with the use of timelines and percentages. It is quite easy to compare between groups in different perspectives.

Where Congress Stands on Guns is also a good example of data visualization that I found tells good stories. They basically put members of Congress on a scale from 0 to 100 to show their attitudes on gun control. I like the use of members’ photos and how they are distinguished by party (blue and red). One can click on every member’s photo to check more individual information. Also the readers have the choice to show the chart by party, chamber or state.

Another one I found interesting is Government spending by department, 2011-12: get the data. Unlike the other two which include links/assortments/searching functions, this one is simply an infography. I like it because it is very visualized. You can tell the major information at the first glance. It directly shows 2011-2012 UK government spending by department. The only thing I think they can do better is to take off some detailed information and make another simple one for readers who only want to get a broad idea of how the money is spent, since the font size is a little bit too small to read.

Tencent denies rumors that it will charge for WeChat services

There have been rumors saying that WeChat, a mobile phone text and voice messaging communication service developed by Tencent in China, will end its free service to users.

As more Chinese people are using WeChat to send texts instead of using traditional mobile message systems, ministry is looking into possibilities of having more than 300 million users   pay for the service, said Global Times.

“Now is not the right time for operators to demand that Tencent pay for its WeChat app, because Tencent has not commercialized WeChat and is still suffering a loss with it,” Sun Peilin, a senior researcher at consultancy Analysys International, told the Global Times.

Last week, Ma Huateng, chairman and CEO of Tencent, clarified that it was impossible that a WeChat user would need to pay for the services, said in an article on LifeinGuangzhou.

WeChat mascots. Photo from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Over 16,000 dead pigs found in Shanghai, China

During the past three weeks, Shanghai residents have been living in fears of drinking polluted water.

It is reported by the Huffington Post last week that the number of dead pigs pulled from rivers that supply water to Shanghai has risen to more than 16,000. The rotting pigs were believed to be from the upstream city of Jiaxing in neighboring Zhejiang province:

Villagers have told state media that pig dumping is on the rise following police campaigns against the illicit trade of pork products harvested from diseased pigs that were illegally sold, instead of properly disposed of.

Officers said that the water quality was normal, however, to residents living in the neighborhood cities, the river was more like a giant “pork chop soup.” NBC News reported that water in Huangpu River may already has been polluted:

Reports that many of the pigs found have tested positive for porcine circovirus, a virus that has killed large numbers of pigs in the region in recent months, has also raised suspicions about the safety of Shanghai’s water supply.

According to Bloomberg, dead pigs started to appear on the riverbanks of Huangpu River on March 4. City authorities stepped in to cover up the crisis, said South China Morning Post.

CNN’s report on the thousands of dead pigs found floating in a Shanghai river:

The growing impact of social media

My final project will focus on how social media, especially Twitter, has been developing during the past five years, and have a discuss about how it will be in the future.

For my paper project I will do a feature story on BostonTweet, who is basically tweeting about life and things to do in Boston. He has been an active Twitter user since 2008, with 20,859 tweets and 78,703 followers. I think he is a good example of using Twitter not only as a social tool, but to aggregate news, bring people together, as well as make a career. This is what we might not have thought about five years before, and it is exciting to see how far it will go and what it will become in the upcoming five years or so. I have scheduled an interview with him on next Wednesday.

For the video and photo project I plan to do a story on a Weibo user who lives in Boston doing the same thing as what BostonTweet does, but on a Chinese platform. I am still waiting to hear from him. If this does not work out, I am thinking to talk to a variety of people, including an expert as media/communication professor, to discuss about how they have been using social media and what they think social media will be like in the future.

Finding burgers in Boston – jm Curley

If you are looking for a relaxed bar where you can chat with friends while enjoy a perfect burger during lunch break or after work at Downtown District in Boston, jm Curley is the place.

A look from the outside.

I arrived there at 12:30 p.m. The atmosphere was quiet and relaxed. Hand-written menu boards and old, framed photos of former mayer, James Michael Curley (whom the bar is named after), are hung on the wall. The space was quite empty, with a few people sitting in the corner or at the bar, working on their laptops. Tarcy Latimer, the bar tender, said that the place always gets full on Friday night, when people come in with groups of friends to have food, drinks and fun. At jm Curley, dinner ends at 10:15 p.m., but late night burgers are still available till 1 a.m.

Inside look.

Order at the bar.

I ordered the house burger as recommended, which is a 5 oz. beef burger with griddled onions, cheddar, russian dressing and pickles. The burger was just cooked perfectly – meaty, juicy and flavorful. The bread was soft and fluffy on one side, and crispy on the other. The 5 oz. portion is totally enough for lunch, which costs $7.5 before tax, and their dinner burgers are 9 oz., served with fires for $14. They also serve veggie burgers, and there are lots of options for beers and cocktails. The server and bar tender were nice and the food was served quick.

My House Burger with fries. Meaty, juicy and Flavorful.

What makes it special at jm Curley is their Sammy’s 7 feature board besides the regular menu. Every two weeks they change the menu on the board, providing new specials by creative chefs.

Sammy’s 7 menu board.

“So far we have done lots of different Sammy’s 7 burgers,” said Latimer, “we have done Sloppy Joe Burger, and we have done burgers with peanut butter, fired eggs, you know, those are all pretty good. If you check our Twitter feeds or go on our Facebook page, we always put up a photograph of the menu to let people know what it is before they come in.”

Bubble hockey corner is also open for friends to have fun.

Bubble hockey corner.

Days and hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm; Mid Day Burgers: Mon-Fri 2-5pm; Dinner: Mon-Sat 5-10:15pm; Late Night Burgers & Concretes: Mon-Sat 10:30pm-1:15am; Closed Sundays

Price: moderate

Phone number: (617) 338-5333

Website: http://jmcurleyboston.com/

Address: 21 Temple Place, Boston, MA 02111

Closest T stop: Park Street (Green Line)

Veggie option: Yes

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Recommended: house burger, fried pickles, cast iron cornbread, Sammy’s 7 specials