Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Saturday, October 21, 2017



This week's blog comes to us from a remote place, high above the Arctic Circle. Here, you'll find two of the world's largest islands: Greenland (#1) and Baffin (#4). The former is a colony of Denmark (with self rule). The latter is part of Canada's Northwest Territories. Wedged in between these two large landmasses you'll find tiny Hans Island, the unlikely subject of this week's submission. See, both Canada and Denmark claim this island as their own.

While the Arctic islands are enormous in size, they are tiny in population. Since they are mostly covered in permafrost, only a small sliver of southern coastal regions are habitable. Greenland's population is 56,000 people. (Green Bay, Wisconsin has twice as many!) Mostly native Inuit, the handful of settlements are serviced by the Danish and Canadian Navies. Their scheduled deliveries include medical supplies, petroleum and treasured can foods and soda. Afterward, they continue north, along the coast, for a most important ritual: Reclaiming Hans Island, their sovereign territory.

How do both nation claim Hans Island as their own? Simply put, it's a case of overlapping treaties. The original was implemented by the League of Nations in 1920. It ceded the island to Denmark. After World War II, a new territorial agreement came into effect. It defined islands within 12 mile coastal zone to be sovereign territory. This placed the island in Canadian territory. However, no one cared about the island until 1984, when a Danish minister visited. Citing the League of Nations, he left behind: a sign claiming Hans Island, a Danish flag, and a bottle of schnapps.

Soon thereafter, the Canadian Coast Guard saw these items. Alarmed, they went to the island to investigate. Afterward, they left behind: a sign claiming the island, a Canadian flag and a bottle of whiskey. Guess what happened the next time a Danish Navy squadron sailed by? Yep, they took down the Canadian flag, left a new sign and guzzled the schnapps. This so-called Whiskey War has been silently waged for decades, without a single casualty...other than a hangover. Pretty cool!

Sadly, this and other lighthearted land disputes are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These days, our earth is getting smaller and smaller. Even the tiniest of Arctic islands might have petroleum deposits. Everyone knows: Oil changes everything. While legislation failed in the Canadian parliament in 2004 to resolve the issue, and it's likely to come up again soon. But for the time being, let's just enjoy a truly silly moment in World History. Cheers!

Friday, October 13, 2017



While Americans are busy debating what pro football players should do during the National Anthem, there have been many important developments overseas. A great example is the stunning developments from Iraq. Yesterday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that ISIS will be completely defeated by years' end!! While the hurricanes and shootings will certainly be remembered, we here at the DUNER BLOG feel the year 2017 will be defined by historians 100 years from now by this event.

Things really turned against ISIS last week. A joint force of Iraqi and Kurdish forces freed the strategic city Hawijaw last week. Across the border in Syria, Raqqa, the "capital" of the rouge state, is nearly recovered. These, combined with the fall of Mosul in July, has reduced the once-enormous "nation" to a couple of villages along the Syrian border. News sources in Europe have the story splashed across the front page, but in our local newspaper it was on page 14. Naturally, it was pushed back by the coverage of the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal.

Perhaps the lack of coverage in the US press is due to the lack of participation of the US Army in the offensive. American air strikes with the Russians have kept the skies clear, but the vast majority of the dirty work has been performed on the ground with conventional troops. Here, the Kurdish, Iraqi Security troops and the Syrian Democratic Forces risk deadly odds by performing house-to-house searches. Casualties have been high and one has to admire their fortitude in battle.

Also encouraging are the high number of defections by ISIS soldiers. Thousands have surrendered to invading forces in Raqqa and Mosul. It's clear the luster of the horrid terrorist group is gone. Back in 2014, when ISIS defeated much more heavily armed troops, the leaders claimed they had divine intervention. This was integral in the brainwashing behind the rationalization of such horrid policies like child sex slaves and daily executions for trivial crimes. But the current losses show that no god would ever endorse such evil policies.

Is ISIS gone forever? Of course not. Their leaders are currently busy digging bunkers, preparing for a future jihad. But what is dead is the ISIS dream. Gone are the visions of creating a new caliphate, resurrecting the borders of Islam's greatest extent. The year was 741 and the armies of Islam controlled half of Europe and vast portions of Africa and Asia. Nope, all that's left is a couple crazies in caves. So, America: Let's take a minute to celebrate this remarkable achievement...and then we can go back to those disrespectful NFL stars!

Thursday, October 5, 2017



Xenophobia is on the rise in American media. It's becoming increasingly difficult to find a positive news story from a foreign country. For example, do a quick Google search on Mexico. You'll see that eight of the ten items involve crime, cartels and narcos. It's even worse for Nigeria or Turkey. That's why we here at the DUNER BLOG are so excited about a 'feel-good' story from the most maligned nation on earth: Pakistan.

As everyone knows, superheroes have taken over worldwide. Five of the top ten grossing movies of 2017 involve Batman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman. Then there's Comic-con. Ten thousand people cram into convention centers dressed in fantasy costumes. So it comes as no surprise that comic books are also popping up again in unlikely places like Pakistan.

Meet Pakistan Girl. Just like every other superhero, she has an amazing backstory to explain her secrets. Sarah...her alter-ego...was a normal girl in a small town with a pet cat. Then, one day...BAM! An explosion destroys everything. Sarah awakens months later amidst the rubble, only to discover she has super-human powers! Her costume is shades of green (the national color of Pakistan.) And, of course, the crescent moon symbol is across her chest.

Like Wonder Woman, Pakistan Girl uses her superpowers for GOOD. However, crimes are a bit different in her part of the world. For example: In one episode, our favorite heroine saves a girl taken hostage by a bribe-seeking policeman. BAM! In another, she whips a man who assaults a woman in the marketplace. SNAP! "There is a huge shortage of female role models here" noted author Hassan Siddiqui. "She is someone the girls of Pakistan can look up to."

So far, reaction to the comic book has been quite positive. The hope is that a comic book will be something girls struggling with literacy can actually comprehend. Sadly, there are a lot of girls in Pakistan who don't go to school...around 11 million! Don't forget: Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai raised awareness to this problem. But it will take more than medals and superheroes to get Pakistan to spend money on education. Sad.

Saturday, September 30, 2017



September has been a tough month for North America. Three deadly hurricanes have ravaged Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Two massive earthquakes struck in Mexico. Even a volcano is erupting! We here at the DUNER BLOG are optimists and struggled to find positive items to cover amidst the tragedies. At first we wanted to report about Frida, the super-sniffing dog who finds people trapped in the rubble. While the pooch is definitely blog-worthy, we instead chose to write about one building that cannot be toppled by any temblor: The Latin American Tower.

First, some background an why Mexico City is so vulnerable to earthquake damage. Five hundred years ago, 80% of the current metropolis was underwater. Lake Texcoco was big, but shallow. To make room for the Hemisphere's largest city, hundreds of square miles of the lake was drained and built upon. The problem is landfill takes centuries to permanently settle. This loose ground weebles and wobbles during a strong quake, toppling anything built on top.

For this reason, Mexico City officials banned the construction of any skyscrapers in the early 1900's. However during the post-war 'Mexican Miracle,' the Suguros Insurance Company managed to successfully lobby officials to lift the ban. Why? They believed in architect Augusto Alvarez and his revolutionary anti-earthquake plan. First, he would conduct soil tests by simulating a quake. Next, the 26,000 tons of concrete in the tower would be supported by 361 pylons, sunk deep into the ground. When the 44-storey tower opened in 1956, it was the tallest in Latin America...hence the name.

It didn't take long after opening day for the building's design to be tested. The very next year, a 7.9 Richter Scale earthquake struck Mexico City. It toppled the Angel of Independence Monument, but the Latin American tower survived. Although the golden angel will always be the main symbol of the city, the tower became a new favorite as well. The next year, the building received an 'Award of Merit' from the American Steel Institute. It became the "tallest building ever exposed to a huge seismic force." It would survive the horrific 1985 earthquake as well.

So it came as no surprise that the venerable structure was unscathed by the recent seismic activity as well. It's also no surprise that architects in other earthquake-prone cities began to copy Alvarez...the Amazing Mexican...and his innovative designs. For decades, buildings in Tokyo, Seoul and San Francisco emulated his concept of sinking pylons deep into the earth. They ceased using the simple, flat foundations of traditional buildings. So...if you ever go to Mexico City, be sure to shell out 100 pesos to visit the observation deck. The views at sunset are particularly breathtaking.

Friday, September 22, 2017



Last month, the American restaurant chain Denny's launched a new ad campaign. Designed to promote the ever-popular 'Grand Slam Breakfast,' the pitch centers around a new cartoon mascot: The un-creatively named 'Sausage.' Since the marketing blitz began, Sausage has been bombarded on social media. He's been called a 'terd in a fedora' and many are questioning what ad agency could blunder so badly. While we here at the DUNER BLOG agree that Sausage is indeed a failure, he's not nearly as bad as past fast-food mascots in the past. Here's our TOP FIVE:

#5 Grimace. In 1971, McDonald's created McDonaldland, a fantasy world inhabited by cartoon versions of menu items. While everyone loved the Hamburgular, the FryGuys and Mayor McCheese, others were downright scary. Grimace is a chubby purple monster intent on stealing your milkshake. He cannot speak; he only utters odd chortle noises. Weird. Although wildly popular at first, all the characters in McDonaldland were unceremoniously dumped in 2003, with only Ronald surviving.

#4. Taco Bell Chihuahua. During the nasty 'Burger Wars' of the 1990's...when McDonald's and Burger King viciously attacked each other...Taco Bell took another marketing approach. Meet Gidget, a six-pound Chihuahua. What began as regional ads in New England quickly spread to a national
sensation. Folks wore "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" T-Shirts and Gidget became a minor celeb. Although many Latinos found the dog hilarious, others did not. In 2000, Taco Bell gave into media pressure and fired Gidget.

#3. Quizno's Rats. The most baffling entry on the list comes courtesy of the submarine sandwich chain Quizno's. While most people associate rats with dirt, grime and disease, one ad firm saw the rodents as cute, cuddle and wacky. In oddly filmed commercials, the rats would appear and speak in strange rodent
voices. Sometimes, they'd dress up in funny hats. For three years, the wise-cracking furry spokes-rats informed us of upcoming promotions and specials. After a sluggish reception, they were replaced by the much safer 'MMMM..Tasty!' campaign.

#2. The Noid. For decades, Domino's guaranteed pizzas would be delivered in thirty minutes or less. To promote this, a series of commercials were released with a new character. The spotscentered around a rabbit-eared loony dressed in a tight red leotard. The large 'N' on his chest stood for Noid. Filmed in Claymation, the bumbling bandit tries to thwart delivery attempts. The main idea is to 'Avoid the Noid' and get your pizza on time. After numerous reckless incidents involving
Domino's delivery drivers, the campaign was scrapped in 1997.

#1. The King. On Halloween, the worst costume is the simple plastic mask. Only the eyes move and the mouth is stuck in a permanent, creepy and fake smile. Nonetheless, the folks at Burger King continue to frighten children and adults alike with relentless spots on TV featuring "The King." The silent spokesman just sits next to diners at the fast food chain in cringe-worthy encounters. BK gets the top spot on this dubious list because he is the only mascot still on air. Enough already!!

Thursday, September 14, 2017



The 178-acre University of California campus in Berkeley is full of wonders. There's the 307-foot tall Campanile, a near replica of the bell tower in Venice, Italy. (only two feet shorter). That's still good enough to be the third-tallest worldwide. With twelve million books, the Doe Library is the sixth largest in the nation. Sproul Plaza is still home to protests, but it's most fondly remembered for the Free Speech Movement in 1964. All of these sites are connected by forests of Redwood, Aspen and Oak trees. Surprisingly, this is where today's news item comes from!

In these forests of Berkeley, you'll find an enormous squirrel population. They are a constant presence who appear out of nowhere the second they hear the magic sound of a bag of Doritos being ripped open. This event caught the attention of Mikel Delgado, a UC Post-doc eating lunch in the Faculty Glade one day. She became curious: What were the squirrels doing with their horde of Corn-Nuts and Cheetos? Inquiring minds cannot be silenced. Delgado went on to head a team of researchers, determined to answer this question.

Here's the nitty-gritty of the two-year study. Students placed groups of nuts in random places in the forests. They contained pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts...sixteen different types. It didn't take long for the squirrels to scuttle down from the trees to snatch them up. Then, using GPS trackers, the researchers identified 45 separate squirrel. Next, they followed them to their tree homes and observed something fascinating. Squirrels organize their homes much like humans do: Each type of nut was placed together in an orderly fashion. Even when they mixed up the nuts, the squirrels would re-arrange them in the correct order.

"Squirrels put away their groceries the same way you do." explained Dr. Jacobs, head of the lab. "Fruit on one shelf, veggies on another. Then, when you are looking for an onion, you only have to look in one place." The bottom line is that squirrels are much smarter than previously thought. They have cognitive abilities and employ complex problem solving techniques. This might explain the species' amazing success. They live on five continents and endure some of the harshest environments on earth. You see these critters on the beach, in the desert and on mountaintops.

For the time being, the 45 squirrels have become minor celebrities. They've been interviewed by London's Daily Mail. Their photo was on page two of the South China Morning Post. Naturally, they have their own Facebook page and Twitter accounts. All of which has prompted the university to issue an official statement regarding Human/Squirrel Etiquette. (This is Berkeley after all). After stern warnings of the harmfulness of Fritos, it also reminds students not to take squirrels with them on Spring Break.

Friday, September 8, 2017



Last week, the rogue state of North Korea conducted their sixth successful nuclear detonation. For a nation with a population of 25 million, this country has a lot of weapons. Their army has a million troops. This makes it the fourth largest on earth...with more soldiers than Russia! The People's Army of Korea is well armed too. They've got five thousand rockets launchers, four thousand tanks and two thousand armored vehicles. Let's face it, this nation is armed to the teeth!

Yet nothing in this arsenal can compare to North Korea's most valuable weapon of all: a 74 year-old lady named Ri Chun Hee. For decades, she been the anchor on the nation's only news channel, KCTV. She often wears a colorful Choson-ot (a traditional dress) and is nicknamed the "Pink Lady." Although retired four years ago, she returns to the airwaves to report on big events...like last week's BIG test. Beaming with joy, Hee proclaimed it was a "perfect success" and a "meaningful step toward completing our nuclear program." You don't need to speak Korean to see her genuine pride and admiration as she reports horrific news.

Just who is the Pink Lady? Ri Chun Hee was born in 1943 in a poor family in Pyongyang. At age twenty-five, she graduated from college with a communications degree. After getting married and starting a family, she began working for KCTV in 1971. Officials approved of her warm style and caring attitude and the "people's broadcaster" appeared nightly across the nation. She became a constant presence on the network. In 1994, tears ran down her face, yet she still managed to announce to the audience that their 'Great leader, Kim Il Sung has died.' On this day, she left the bright pink dress at home and wore a solemn black gown instead.

You might think we're exaggerating here at the DUNER BLOG, but let's face it: Every powerful evil regime has a polished spokesperson who can convince the population their actions are benevolent and true. Germans were brainwashed into Nazi thought by the powerful oration of Joseph Goebbels. The Soviet Union employed Sergey Lapin, who famously turned Olympic athletes into national heroes. And don't forget Iraq's Tariq Aziz, the urbane newsman who daftly declared Baghdad had not fallen to the US troops...minutes before they entered the television studio.

Most importantly, the Pink Lady should serve as a reminder about the dangers of Fascism...the worst form of government of all. To use education, our most valuable tool, to brainwash citizens is flat out wrong. People who are good at it, like Ri Chun Hee are "more valuable than the cannons" (Quote is from Chinese State Media). Hopefully a peaceful resolution will occur before a nuclear bomb annihilates her, along with the 25 million other North Koreans. Just because they're brainwashed doesn't mean they should have to die!