Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, August 17, 2017



Across the US, people are counting down. The first complete solar eclipse in 99 years is just days away! Throngs of stargazers have besieged Portland, OR and Nashville, TN...the only major cities on the totality passage...places where the entire sun will be blotted out my the moon. Sales of eclipse glasses dominate Amazon.com. Tabloids are warning of swamp creatures, awakened only by a rare astronomical events. Yep, America is celebrating the solar eclipse in every way imaginable.

While other news outlets are covering the same drab stories about the solar eclipse, we here at the DUNER BLOG think differently. For us, this presents an opportunity to remember the lunar eclipse of 1504...it's quite a story! Five hundred years ago, astronomy was in its infancy. The going was tough as the top minds in the field were being persecuted by the Catholic church. Nonetheless, many still used their studies. Sailors like Christopher Columbus carried almanacs with them on their voyages. They trusted their lives to the science of the stars.

On his fourth voyage to the New World, Columbus packed the most recent almanac available. It was published by Abraham Zacuto and had astronomical charts for the years 1475 - 1506. At first, the Genoan sailor only used it for navigation. However, things suddenly changed. Six months into the voyage, ship-worms had completely infested his boats. The pests ate the wood and the vessels slowly began to sink. Two ships were abandoned in Honduras. More leaks forced the expedition to stop in Jamaica until the hulls could be properly prepared.

At first, the Carib people were friendly. They gladly traded food for beads and trinkets. However, after six months, both sides grew angry and began to fight. Although superiorly armed, Columbus' men were weak and weary. It looked like the voyage would end in tragedy...then Columbus had an idea. According to the almanac, a lunar eclipse was coming. He met with the Cacique with a threat. Columbus told the chief that his mighty Christian god would destroy the moon if he did not comply. It worked. Carib workers not only fed the Spaniards, but also helped repair their boat and Columbus returned to Spain, never to sail again.

Since then, this phenomenal event has been recreated numerous times in fiction. Mark Twain's hero in A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court uses the technique to impress the court. It also figures into the plot of King Solomon Mines. Even cartoon characters like Tin-tin and Bugs Bunny use the scheme to save themselves. Okay, readers! It's your turn. On Monday morning when you sit around looking (non-directly) at the Solar Eclipse, remember to tell this anecdote. You'll be the life of the party...guaranteed!

Saturday, August 12, 2017



Last month, the governor of Augascalientes presided over a special event: The opening of a brand-new Nissan production facility in the capital city. Carlos Lozano de la Torre stood shoulder to shoulder with a handful of representatives from Japan and his full-time Spanish / Japanese translator. The plant is enormous...21 million spare feet of factory will produce 175,000 Nissan Sentras in the first year. They'll accomplish this by never closing the plant. Well...okay...it will be open 23 hours a day, six days a week. Sunday is important in Mexico.

It's not just Nissan that's investing in Mexico. In the neighboring state of Jalisco, Honda recently opened a cavernous facility near Guadalajara. To the north, General Motors runs a plant in Guanajuato. You'll find Chrysler in Toluca and Kia in Monterrey. BMW, Mazda, Mercedes, you name it...they have a factory in Mexico. In terms of dollars, auto manufacturers have invested $22 billion in the last two years alone.

Why the sudden gold rush? It's a combination of skilled labor costs and NAFTA. With a low cost of living and an absence of labor unions, Mexican workers earn $8/hour, including benefits. That same worker will cost you $58/hour in Detroit or $42/hour in Tokyo. Next, it is easy to transport completed cars to the auto-obsessed American market. Trains from Central Mexico to Texas are busy these days. At the border, they are nearly exempt from all tariffs, since the cars were made in Mexico, not Japan or Germany.

But that's not to say that all cars made in Mexico are shipped to the US. Nope, many are sold in the domestic market. Just ask Volkswagen. Back in 1964, they were the first company to open a factory in Mexico. Their plant in Puebla remains the largest VW plant outside of Germany, employing over 13,000 workers. For decades, their top model was the ubiquitous Beetle. Mexicans fell in love with this car and bought tens of thousands of them. Even today, you'll see tons of bugs on the streets of any Mexican city.

Back to Augascalientes. People like Carlos are continuing to court the international auto market and enticing them to invest in Mexico. For example, Toyota is opening a plant in Baja California next year. This will thrust Mexico to #6 on the list of car-producing nations, passing Brazil. With South Korean companies also investing, it seems only a matter of time before Mexico captures the #5 spot. But don't look for this story in any American news source. US media is obsessed with only showing gory scenes from the Drug War...continually throwing shade on their industrious friends to the South!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017



Just in case you haven't turned on the radio lately, there is now an official song of the summer. It's called Despacito and it's already been #1 on the pop charts for nine weeks in a row. What makes this pop song so unique is the fact that 90% of the lyrics are in Spanish. Let's go over some obvious questions.

Who sings Despacito? Like most pop hits today, there are multiple artists collaborating together on one song. Here, the main credits are split evenly been the singer (Luis Fonsi) and the rapper (Daddy Yankee). It's the first #1 single for both artists, despite the fact that both have been recording music for decades. It's NOT the first #1 for the featured artist, Justin Bieber. In fact, Justin is also at #2 on the Billboard Singles Chart as well with 'I'm the One.'

Is Despacito the first US #1 to be sung in Spanish? Actually, Despacito is the third chart-topper en español to reach the coveted #1 spot. The first one was Los Lobos' remake of 'La Bamba.' Originally sung by Richie Valens, the East LA band spent three weeks atop the charts in 1987. The second song is also very familiar: The Macarena by Los Del Rio. It spent a massive 14 weeks at #1 in 1997, making it one of the biggest tracks of all time. Love it or hate it, you'll see people dancing the Macarena at weddings, bar mitzvahs and baseball games until you die.

Does Bieber really sing in Spanish? ¡Claro que si! Actually, the original version of Despacito doesn't have the Canadian singer. But when they inserted Bieber in the remix, the song received the airplay it deserves. Originally, the plan was just to have Justin sing only in the opening and closing. Then...during the recoding session...he began to hum Fonsi's lines in Spanish. It sounded muy bueno and was inserted in the middle of the track. However, singing in Spanish is clearly a ONE-AND-DONE for the Biebs. He's been booed at concerts for inserting blah-blah instead of the real words. Fonsi has asked for fans to "give him a pass" on singing in a language he doesn't speak.

How has Despacito helped Puerto Rico? In the track, Fonsi croons: "This is how we do it down in Puerto Rico, I just wanna her you scream "¡Ay Bendito!" See, both Fonsi and Daddy Yankee were born in the US territory. The sultry video, which has 2 billion YouTube views, was shot in the La Perla district of San Juan, resulting in a wave of interest. According to COCHA, a Latin American Travel firm, tourism in Puerto Rico has increased 45% since the song's release. Hotels.com confirmed a major spike in reservations as well. We here at the DUNER BLOG aren't convinced the two are directly related, but it's a nice coincidence nonetheless.

What is the song about? Simply put, Despacito is about getting it on! Here, the song is just like every other pop song, in any language. Despacito translates as 'slowly.' As in: "I want to breathe on your neck, slowly. I want to undress you with kisses, slowly." Okay, so it doesn't have deep, introspective lyrics. But this is pop music, after all. So, go ahead, ask Alexa to play it for you and try NOT to dance...slowly.

Saturday, July 8, 2017



This week, we're off to southeastern Africa. Here, an amazing wildlife re-settlement is currently underway. Six thousand elephants, water buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests and kudos...just to name a few...are being loaded into enormous trucks in Zimbabwe. From there, they'll travel 400 difficult miles across the border to Zinave National Park in Mozambique. The ambitious re-settlement program is unprecedented; not since Noah's Ark have humans overseen such an enormous animal migration.

Why all the fuss? Don't animals just use Uber like the rest of us? (Joke). The goal is to re-populate part of the Limpopo River Basin that has been devastated by poachers. Overseen by the Peace Parks Foundation, Operation African Animal Ark also employs 120 humans as well. Veterinarians, truck drivers, ecologists and, of course, professional game capturers are doing some pretty dangerous work. When completed by the end of the year, a delicate ecological balance will be restored.

However, not everyone thinks the ginormous re-settlement program is a good idea. Just ask Humane Society International specialist Masha Kalinina. While the Mozambique Civil War has ended, she is not convinced the current regime is strong enough to control illegal poaching. Like many African nations, the government controls the capital city but has little presence in remote areas, like Zinave National Park. They are "transporting animals so that they may die at the hands of either trophy hunters or poachers. Is this really conservation?" Kalinina wonders.

While this is a valid point, it is also an admission of defeat. Let's dig deeper into her quote. Interestingly enough, while poachers are vile in everyway, trophy hunters are not. Believe it or not, Wilfried Pabst, the owner of the Sango Wildlife Conservatory that is donating most of the animals, is one of them! Over 60% of his profits come from hunters who shell out $20,000 to shoot a lion on his land. "In remote places with a weak tourism industry it is almost impossible to run a conservancy like Sango without sustainable utilization (a euphemism for trophy hunting)." Pabst oversees one of the largest reserves in Africa, so his message really resonates.

The irony here is huge. The bottom line is that hunters are the only people on earth who actually care enough about the animals of Africa to spend money to save them. Meanwhile, the rest of the people on earth will continue to sit by and do nothing while their beloved species become extinct. Centuries from now, historians will be perplexed by the people of 2017. On one hand, African animals are in zoos, featured in countless movies and cartoons (The Lion King) and everyday sayings (Elephant in the room). Our children hug stuffed cotton toy versions and sing songs about them. Yet humans willingly let yahoo poachers (a mere .000001% of their population) kill all the real ones living in the wild. Weird, huh?

Friday, June 30, 2017



Beach lovers beware! So far, there have been 15 shark incidents reported in California this year. This already surpassed last year's total. The worst incident occurred last month in San Diego when 35 year-old Leeanne Erickson waded in knee deep water. Suddenly, a juvenile Great White snatched her leg. Thankfully, helpful surfers quickly reacted and saved her. It's not just Southern California that is awash in shark attacks. A North Carolina woman was also nipped as were British tourists in Majorca. To help our readers who swim, here are five ways to survive a shark attack:

DON'T PLAY DEAD. While this will work great when attacked by a bear or a terrorist, sharks are different. They are primarily scavengers and will eat anything. Heck, they've found car tires, Igloo coolers and life preserving jackets in shark bellies. They are not picky and will swallow first and think never.

KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED. Your instincts will tell you to flee. But even Michael Phelps cannot out swim a shark. Instead, keep looking at the beast and slowly tread water in reverse. If you turn and swim away, you instantly become prey. However, if you act tough, the stupid shark will hesitate instead of instantly killing you.

FIGHT BACK. Surfers are often targeted by sharks. Just ask Mick Fanning. At an event two years ago, TV cameras captured him bonking a Great White on the snout. He then paddled to safety. Countless other people have survived this way. Some claw at the eyes and the gills. Although portrayed as mean and heartless in the movies, some sharks are cry-babies and will swim away. NOTE: Don't 'wind up' before hitting, as this doesn't provide any extra force underwater.

LEAVE JEWELRY ON SHORE. Where do you think the term 'Loan Shark' comes from? Kidding. However, sharks are attracted to sparkly and glittery objects. They resemble fish scales, and sharks will think you are their favorite food. Remember, sharks rarely actually consume humans...people are unusual and just resemble their normal prey.

HIDE FROM THE SHARK. The species has survived since the Jurassic Period because of its amazing jaws...not because of intellect. Fool the shark! Skin divers are told to stay close to the boats. If they see a shark, they should put their backs against the hull and stay still. Sharks are impatient and will simply hunt elsewhere.

Okay. Now that your terrified to ever set foot in the ocean again, let's put this in perspective. Although sharks kill humans often in the movies (Once every five minutes in the Sharknado series), it rarely happens in real life. In fact, the chances are 300 million to one you'll die from a shark attack. However, if you happen to drive your car today (the riskiest activity of all) there is a 8,000 to one chance you'll die. Feel better?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017



Last Friday, authorities at Frankfurt Airport announced the seizure of 39 tons of Fidget Spinners. The dozens of crates holding the dreaded, 'must have' toy of 2017 are currently being crushed into tiny bits in a warehouse in neighboring Mannheim. Customs officials clarified: The confiscated items had loose parts that posed choking habits. Furthermore, the Fidget Spinners lacked proper paperwork and instructions. Normally, defective goods are simply returned to the factory. However, the Chinese manufactures declined. See, the shipping costs outweigh the value of the merchandise. Anyhow...regardless of the motivation...German authorities did what the rest of the world desperately wants: The immediate destruction of all Fidget Spinners worldwide.

Never heard of a Fidget Spinner? Sure...some readers don't interact with kids much or don't live near a Chinatown...so here's a quick description: A disc and a bearing are placed in the center of a three-sided star made of plastic or metal. Kids spin the outer sections while balancing the non-moving part on their thumb, finger, nose, chin, etc. Deluxe spinners can be adjusted for spin time, vibration and (annoying humming) noises. Simple and extremely profitable. Fidget Spinners held all 15 top spots on May's Amazon.com's Toy Sales chart.

However, it's not the spinning part that makes this toy so out-worldly popular. (After all...yo-yo's just spin, but you don't see them in toy stores anymore.) Nope, what makes Fidget Spinners popular is their ability to help children with ADHD concentrate. They alleviate the need for the constant stimulation and allow a kid to pay attention better. One brand bills itself as "Great for ADD, ADHD, Autism & Anxiety." This appeals to many desperate parents. See, Fidget Spinners aren't toys...they are medical intervention. A wondrous stress reliever...For just $5.99!

Sounds great, but let's dig deeper into the studies backing this claim up. They only problem is the lack of any actual scientific research whatsoever. The closest we could find was an article by Cat Bowen, a lifestyle writer at Romper.com. She noted her autistic son improved on math homework when he used a Fidget Spinner. This factoid then entered the Internet and soon became Fake News. Now Middle School teachers nationwide are clamoring to make sense of the situation, as kids claim they are not toys. Sadly, banning them from classrooms has only succeeded in making them more popular with kids!

Back to Frankfort Airport. While the reasoning for the confiscation of the Fidget Spinner was solidly administrative, we can't help but feel the actual motivation was elsewhere. Socialist countries are more protective of children. For example: It's illegal for cartoon characters to hawk sugary cereals on TV ads. Germans view Fidget Spinners as a menace. They understand that exactly the opposite is also occurring. Some ADHD kids succeed while spinning, but the vast majority just stare at the spinner and don't learn at all. Free-market nations like the USA and Mexico are constantly vulnerable to scams like this, and the Germans do not want to fall for it!

Saturday, June 17, 2017



One of the most memorable moments in US politics is the Nixon / Kennedy Presidential Debate in 1960. Prior to the televised event, Nixon enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls. However, after appearing sweaty and yucky next to the dashing and clean-shaven Kennedy, Dick was defeated. The message: You don't have to be handsome to be a world leader...But it helps! This is proving to be true in 2017 as well. A horde of hunky men have burst onto the international stage. Here's a current Top Five:

#5. Borut Pahor, Slovenia. Melania isn't the only gorgeous creature to come from this tiny Alpine country! Meet Borut. No...he's nothing like the offensive movie character Borat. Just the opposite, actually. Prime Minister Pahor is refined and charming, with crystal clear blue eyes that have ladies' hearts a-flutter all across Central Europe. Although not married, he has a 4 year-old son with his partner, Tanja Pešar. Keep an eye out for Borut in the near future. He thinks Ljubljana would be a perfect neutral site for a Trump / Putin summit. So does Melania.

#4. Jovenel Moïse, Haiti. Not only is he handsome, but Jovenel is also beautiful on the inside. His goal in life is to bring higher standards of living to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Somehow, he secured billions of dollars in loans. Unlike many other shady Caribbean leaders, Jovenel has NOT embezzled a franc. Instead he's built water purification plants and used solar and wind generators to bring electricity to the slums. Sadly, he has an uphill battle ahead of him. France has never admitted the historical wrongs of their slave past in Haiti and needs to take a more active role in correcting these errors.

#3. Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico. When elected five years ago, pollsters in Mexico estimated Enrique received a whopping two-thirds of the female vote. (Maybe they thought they were voting for Enrique Iglesias). They love his policies and his
baby-face smile and boyish charm. He needs all the love in Mexico today. Trump has placed him in a lose/lose situation. Standing up to America hurts the Mexican economy. Giving in to America hurts your popularity at home. EPN had only has one year left and Mexican presidents cannot be re-elected. Let's see if anyone else can do a better job balancing this difficult and complex issue..

#2. Emmanuel Marcon, France. During the Clinton impeachment proceedings, all of France wondered what Bill did wrong. See, the
French have very liberal notions in terms of love and marriage. Take Marcon for example. He married his High School Drama teacher...who is 24 years older. They don't have any kids, but two of his three step-children are older than him. None of this mattered to French voters who elected their youngest president ever in May. Last month, he garnered international praise when he scolded Trump for abandoning the Paris Climate Accord. "Make Earth Great Again!" he clamored.

Photos courtesy of TMZ
#1. Justin Trudeau, Canada. C'mon! This one is so obvious. In the two years since assuming the office of Prime Minister, Justin has been on many magazine covers. However...in addition to The Economist, Time and Newsweek...he's also graced the cover of Cosmopolitan, Elle, Woman's Day magazines as well. The Internet is constantly trending some ten-year old shirtless or beach photos of Justin. You get the point. Of course: He's married with kids. Sadly, that still hasn't stopped women from trying to break into Rideau Hall to get a glimpse of his Raven tattoo.