Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, June 9, 2016



This week, the DUNER BLOG travels to the Far East, where a most unusual conflict has arisen. It began when five years ago. Disney Corp...fresh off the amazing success of mega-resorts in Tokyo and Hong Kong...began constructing their sixth theme park in Shanghai. However, the wealthiest man in China, Wang Jianlin, decided to spoil the party. For the last two years, his company has frantically built a rival amusement park nearby. WANDA CITY opened last week, stealing away the excitement and revenue away from Disney CEO Bob Iger...whose park opens next weekend.

Why is Wang so mad at Walt? The answer is simple. Jailin, like many people in mainland China, deeply resents international corporations making huge profits off Chinese citizens. Indeed, the nation has a long history of fending off commercial intrusions. 500 years ago, Portuguese traders were refused entry. 300 years ago, British companies were limited to coastal ports like Hong Kong. Today, greedy American billionaires are the biggest threat to tiny Chinese salaries. In response, the Wanda Corporation is urging locals to boycott foreign-owned Disneyland Shanghai: "Five years from today, it will be unprofitable" Wang boldly predicts.

Let's compare the two theme parks. First: Admission prices. Wanda City is 198 Yuan to Disneyland's 370 Yuan...nearly twice. Inside the gates of both parks, you'll find rides and attractions surrounding a fairy tale castle. Wanda City boasts three speedy roller coasters, an enormous aquarium and shopping malls galore. Many of the features in Wanda City are eerily similar to Disneyland. Take the Twirling Porcelain Teacups ride for example. Also many of the costumed characters...who roam the park for photo opportunities...look strikingly similar to Snow White and Star Wars Stormtroopers. Hmmm..

How is Disney taking all this? Angrily, that's how! "We vigorously protect our intellectual property" quipped a spokesman, noting the company "will take action to address infringement." Legal actions in the People's Republic are difficult to pursue, but a local law firm has been hired. And attorney Wang Yingyu sees "more than a passing similarity between costumes." In response, Wang Jailin explained that some contracted stores did indeed have Snow White costumes. But nothing officially affiliated with Wanda Land had anything Disney on display.

As much as everyone cherishes their childhood memories of riding on Space Mountain or watching Donald Duck cartoons, it is important to put these in perspective. While Disney does a great job building theme parks and making movies, they did not independently conceive all of their products. Walt didn't invent Aladdin...it's an Arab folk tale. The Jungle Book, their current hit movie, is a book written by Rudyard Kipling. Sleeping Beauty's Castle...the Disney top icon of them all...borrows heavily from Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. So let's cut Wanda City some slack. With 20 million people, Shanghai is big enough for two theme parks!

Thursday, June 2, 2016



It was a small gathering in Buenos Aires last week.. But a significant one nonetheless. Some 250 people gathered to mark the 100th anniversary of the Torre Monumental, a 60 meter tall bell tower downtown. Like the Statue of Liberty, it commemorates a century of independence. Also like Lady Liberty, it took a couple of extra years to construct, so while the rest of the nation celebrated the bicentennial in 2010, the Torre had to wait until 2016. However, what makes the event important is the benefactor of the monument: It was a gift from Great Britain, hence its familiar name: Torre de los Ingleses.

What? But those two nations hate each other! Everyone remembers the Falkland Islands War. A silly Argentine squadron temporarily occupied the remote island chain before being forcibly evicted by England's navy a month later. Headlines called it: Margaret Thatcher's Empire Strikes Back. Since then, the two nations have had frosty and turbulent diplomatic relations. Things reverted back to the negative during the Kirchner Presidencies. See, Peronists have the biggest grudge with England. In short, they use misplaced patriotism by creating an enemy.

Fortunately, a new president has occupied Casa Rosada since January. And Mauricio Marci is eager to shore up relations with Great Britain. He applauded (and perhaps organized) the birthday party for the Torre Monumental. Why? Because it makes good sense for the nation of Argentina to improve trade and commerce with a wealthy European nation. It also helps to work with the U.K. to fight the drug wars and improve security. But most importantly: President Marci knows that....although important to the Argentine psyche...the Falklands are not important for anything else. Three thousand sheepherders living on barren islands on the edges of the Antarctic Circle? Who cares?

Which brings us back to the Torre Monument. It reminds us of the time when the UK and Argentina were best buddies. In 1910, both nations were in the top ten global economies. England bought 40% of Argentina's beef and grain. Together, they built the Argentine railways...one of many joint endeavours. Just how close were the two nations? In 1914, the famed department store Harrod's opened its first ever overseas location in...you guessed it...Buenos Aires!

Buenos Aires circa 1910
We here at the DUNER BLOG applaud Argentina for taking a mature look at their strained relations with a once-close friend. The truth is both nations benefit from being friends and not enemies. We also like the resume of the new president Mauricio Marci. First, he oversaw the finances for Boca Juniors, Argentina's premier football club. Then, as Buenos Aires mayor, he overhauled public transport, adding the MetroBus lines that are so successful in Mexico City and Los Angeles. Now...four months into the presidency...he is applying this same forward thinking to foreign policy. Bravo!