Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Friday, March 9, 2018



Yesterday was a huge day for Star Wars fans. Luke Skywalker finally got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. What a ceremony! Surrounded by Imperial Storm-Troopers, Mark Hamil beamed with joy outside the El Captain Theatre. Even Han Solo was there! For those of you wondering why it took forty years for this to happen, we here at the DUNER BLOG have answers about this unique, but complicated, landmark.

Who oversees the Walk of Fame? This difficult job is in the hand of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. While officially in the city limits of Los Angeles, the special neighborhood has its own form of ceremonial self-government. It also has its own mayor...although since Johnny Grant passed six years ago, the position has been vacant. To get a star, you must be nominated by your studio. About twenty nominations get approved each year. Disney, the new owner of the Star Wars franchise, decided it was time to give the nod to Luke.

Where is the Walk of Fame? Duh! Hollywood Boulevard holds most of the 2,600 stars. They take up both sides of the thoroughfare for a 1.3 mile stretch. That's 15 blocks of celebs! In addition, Vine Street has three blocks of star-studded sidewalks. The stars are spaced exactly six feet apart. But there is one star that is NOT on the ground: Muhammad Ali. It would be disrespectful to have the prophet's name stepped upon, so Johnny Grant arranged to have his star placed on the wall of the Dolby Theatre instead.

How did it all start? Our story begins in the 1950's. Hollywood councilman Harry Sugarman was constantly asked by tourists: "Where are the stars? Why can't we see them?" As the legend goes, Harry and buddy E.M. Stewart had lunch to discuss the problem. They drew stars on cocktail napkins and wrote famous names in the middle. At first, they hung them on the wall, like they do at Sardi's in NYC. Over time, the idea evolved into a the Walk of Fame. Eight were unveiled in 1958, but the event generated little fanfare. In fact, it was buried on page 23 of the L.A. Times.

Who pays for the Walk? As expected, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce receives no taxpayer
money. So here's how it works: After the announcement, the star and their sponsor are responsible for a one-time-only $40,000 fee. This goes to the installation, maintenance and repairs of the terrazzo and bronze masterpiece on the ground. If the star is imaginary, like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny or Shrek, the studio pays the entire amount.

Finally, if you decide the visit the Walk of Fame, here are a couple tips: Plan ahead and locate where your favorite stars are ahead of time. Most people haven't heard of 95% of the "celebs" who have achieved the honor. Also, be prepared for crowds. Ten million people make the pilgrimage annually!

Friday, March 2, 2018



One of the most exciting happenings in professional sports is the EXPANSION TEAM. This occurs when the league decides to enlarge the number of clubs. The event is rare: Since 2000, there have been only seven new teams in the four pro leagues in the USA. Here's how it works: Cities compete against each other, trying to the impress the commissioner. They must show that they have a cosmopolitan city, a rabid fan base and a NEW stadium. Next, the owner comes up with a team name, colors and mascot. It all comes together on Opening Day, when a new franchise is inaugurated into Pro Sports forever.

Sadly, the next chapter in the expansion team's story isn't as exciting: Losing. See, it's hard to suddenly invent a winning club. To build a new team, the league holds an 'expansion draft.' While it sounds impressive...in actuality...it's just choosing between mediocre players donated from the other teams. Next, coaches must create 'instant chemistry' among the squad. The results aren't stellar. Expansion teams since 1960 average a 22% winning percentage. Ugh!

Then along came the Las Vegas Golden Knights! The hockey club in shattering expectations and changing attitudes toward expansion teams in general. Fact: No first-year club has ever finished with a winning record. (The 1961 L.A. Angels came the closest at 49%.) However, with an astounding record of 41-17-5, the Knights are mathematically assured to break this curse. They sit atop the difficult Pacific Division and boast the best Goal Differential in the Western Division.

How did the Golden Knights get so good so quickly? First, they hired a brilliant General Manager. George McPhee zeroed in on talented, but unheralded players. William Karlsson was average in Columbus last year, but has netted a team-best 34 goals this season. Tiny Jonathan Marchessault is only 5'9", so other clubs passed on him. But he's notched a whopping 63 points so far! Next, there's the "Home Field Advantage.' The glittering, modern T-Mobile Arena has sold out all 17,500 seats every home game. Finally, there's something called 'Beginner's Luck!'

All in all, the Vegas Knights are the 'feel-good' sports story of the year. However, it didn't start wonderfully. Opening Day was on October 10th, a mere nine days after the mass shooting on the Strip. It's hard to be happy when 58 folks were recently slaughtered a couple blocks away. So, before the puck dropped, fans honored the fallen and First Responders with a somber 20-minute ceremony. They went on to beat Arizona 5-2. For a city whose economy in based on entertainment, the Vegas Knights are a clear reminder of the good side of humanity. We here at the DUNER BLOG predict they will take home the Stanley Cup in a couple of months!

Friday, February 23, 2018



Over the President's Day weekend, the staff of the DUNER BLOG attended Modernism Week in relaxing Palm Springs. On the way there, we passed a billboard on the I-10 freeway. It featured a child with a respirator.  Ominous words accompany the picture: The Salton Sea Crisis Is Real. Naturally, this captured our attention, as many of our staff was unaware of the body of water...much less the crisis. Let's get started.

In short, California's largest lake is a mistake. In the year 1900, the state development company focused on the low-lying region near the Coachella Valley called the Salton Sink. They dug large irrigation ditches and fed them with canals with fresh Colorado River water. At first, the program was a success and farms popped up in the barren soil. Things changed in 1905. That's when enormous storms covered the Rocky Mountains in snow. This led to swelling of the Colorado River in the spring. The tiny Alamo Canal was no match for this and it burst its head-gates, sending a torrent of water into California.

State officials and the Southern Pacific Railway tried to stop the flooding. They dumped tons of dirt into the Imperial Canal, but it was to no avail. Nothing could slow down Mother Nature. For the next two years, a sixty-mile long man-made river brought water to the area. With no outlet, a lake quickly began growing. Two towns, Salton and Torres, were swallowed up. A railway was moved. Then the Army Corps finally managed to divert the river. It took two years, and by this time the lake measured 40 miles long and 25 miles wide.

Twenty years later, the Hoover Dam opened, meaning the Colorado River will never flood again. But in Imperial County, it was too late. The new, enormous lake was now shrinking. To maintain the coastline, a canal brought in enough water each year. But in 2003, a thirsty neighbor negotiated to divert some of the flow. In January of this year, that amount increased as San Diego's population keeps growing. With a century of run off from nearby farms, the newly exposed lake bed is a toxic mix of dust and pesticides. It's harmful: Kids in neighboring areas have twice the number of asthma attacks than the rest of California.

Although the original error occurred 114 years ago, the miscalculations of a handful of engineers still wrecks havoc on the region. Migratory birds are vanishing. These include the eared grebes, white pelicans and the enormous double-crested cormorants. With no outlet, the Salton Sea stays true to its name and keeps getting saltier. It's now more salty than the Pacific and the few species of fish that can survive are also disappearing. I guess the billboard is correct: This crisis is REAL!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018



It's been awhile since we've heard from Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. So it was great to see her make such a splash last week with her amazing announcement. She proclaimed the founding of five new National Parks, the expansion of three others and the creation of a gargantuan nature reserve...the size of which the world has never seen. Once added together, it will be over ten million square miles...about the size of Switzerland.

"Chile is still a developing country," Ms. Bachelet explained "If WE can take gigantic environmental measures...there are few reasons why developed nations cannot act as well." Michelle brings up a good point. Normally, South American nations are doing just the opposite. They slash and burn rain forests to free up land for cash crops. The method produces instant capital, which is the only way to survive in today' harsh world economic climate.

So you'd think it would be economic suicide for a developing nation NOT to exploit their natural resources. Instead, Chile is following a new path to prosperity: Eco-tourism. Pioneered by Costa Rica twenty years ago, creating and maintaining treasured rain forest reserves has evolved into a profitable enterprise. Since 2002, visitors to Chile has increased 500% to six million annually. Michelle knows this and hopes to bring even more people to Patagonia.

Speaking of Patagonia, this blog now takes a funny twist. One tenth of the land used to create the nature reserves was made possible by a donation from Kristine McDivitt Tompkins. (Not exactly a Chilean name, is it?) Actually, she is the former head of the outdoor apparel giant Patagonia. In 1973, she helped turn a small clothing line into a billion dollar company. Since 2000, the CEO has been honoring the namesake of their success by purchasing and preserving parts of Patagonia in both Chile and Argentina. Cool, huh?

While it will take years before the new parks officially open, we here at the DUNER BLOG salute Michelle and Kristine. It's easy to tout environmentalism in a speech, but it's a completely different ballgame to set aside ten million square miles for a nature reserve. If the earth is to survive our never-ending population increase, it becomes imperative we save precious lands to sustain the environment. Oddly, here in the US, our president is currently shrinking our national parks. Sad.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018



Opening ceremonies for the XXIII Winter Olympics in South Korea are just two days away! While most news sources just cover the obvious stories, like the frigid weather, the flu outbreak or the tedious North/South Korean tensions...we here at the DUNER BLOG are focused on something much more important: The Nigerian Women's Bobsled Team. Let's answer some obvious questions:

Is this Nigeria's first appearance in the Winter Games? Of course it is! Other tropical nations have sent athletes to the Winter Olympics. The first was a skier from Mexico in 1934. The most famous representatives were the charming Jamaican Bobsled Team. They entered the 1988 Games in Calgary with much fanfare and finished in a very credible 14th place. Sadly, though, no athlete from a tropical country has ever metaled in the Winter Olympics.

Where do they train? Like the Jamaicans, the Nigerians trained in the USA. Houston and Colorado, to be exact. In fact, the three ladies (2 woman bobsled + 1 reserve) all have dual American /  Nigerian citizenship. And they all have loads of experience training in the states. Ten years ago, all three were top flight sprinters at various US colleges. In fact, the leader of the group, Seun Adigun, ran the 100 meter hurdles for Nigeria at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

What was their inspiration? Yes, Cool Runnings (the movie based on the Jamaican bobsled phenomenon) did have a lot to do with it! Agidun considers the four athletes "legends" and said: "It's an honor to be compared to them." This, combined with a longing to return to the Olympics, was her inspiration. Adigun began her quest humbly at a Houston hardware store. She bought supplies to build a simple sled. Named Maeflower after her late sister, she next managed to convince two friends to join. "It wasn't easy" she reflects. "Everyone thought I was crazy."

Do they have any corporate sponsors? Of course they do! After a couple successful practices, Adigun launched a GoFundMe account. Over time, the three gained enough notoriety to get an official sponsorship from Visa. This helped immensely, as the Nigerian Olympic Committee was leery of funding them. Their jerseys are Under Armour, another partnership. Finally, when they train, the ladies listen to music on custom headphones from Beats by Dre. (Keep an eye out for the TV commercial).

Despite the fame and financial success of the endeavor, Adigun wants the world to know her motivation is elsewhere. She wants more Africans to try Winter Olympic sports. Adigun wants people to know there are sports other than soccer to play. "Diversity explains to people that there are no limits in this life." Well said: That's truly what the Olympic spirit is all about.

Friday, February 2, 2018



The Cape Town metropolis is running out of water! On Monday, city officials announced their first rationing order, effective immediately. Citizens are limited to 50 liters a day. Yikes! Consider this: Americans plow through about 350 liters a day...seven times this amount. A city this large (population: 4 million) has never been forced to do anything like this before.

With summer still in full swing, it looks like things are only going to become more dire. See, the city is completely dependent on a six reservoir system for its entire water supply. This means that...until it rains...there is a finite amount of water to live on. To insure it lasts, Cape Town authorities have established a DAY ZERO. This is when all water deliveries are suspended. That day is April 18, but it could move up sooner.

Why sooner? Because the current system of fining violators is simply failing. Although Apartheid is gone, South Africa remains a deeply divided society. And nowhere are the gaps between rich and poor more on display than in swanky Cape Town. So here's what's happening. The wealthy are simply paying the fines and continuing to use the same amounts of water. Meanwhile, the impoverished shantytowns have no choice but to adhere to the restrictions.

How bad is it? A shameful 55% of Capetonians are not complying with the demand. "It's really quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not care about rationing." quipped the mayor's office. "They are sending us headlong into DAY ZERO. Then we will force them to comply." Watch out! As expected, local authorities are preparing for the worst come DAY ZERO. Pretoria is sending in the national guard troops with plenty of reserves ready.

Let's pray that the situation plays out peacefully. We also pray to the powerful Zulu Rain Gods to bless the Cape Province with some stellular storms come winter. Because...let's face it...scientific projections don't look very rosy. Long term weather models just show shorter winters and hotter summers. The basic problem in the Cape or California or Canberra is the same. Just because your population grows doesn't mean your water supply does. Ignoring this fact is the root of the problem.

Thursday, January 25, 2018



Don't forget! The Grammy Awards are this Sunday night! It's special, because this year marks the 60th time they'll mess it up. See, music is the toughest genre to judge. Tastes vary and every band has a vocal fan base who believes their music is...like...the best EVER! That said, the Grammy's have a knack for passing up legitimate superstars. Instead, bands like Toto end up winning. Let's look at six surprise losers:

LED ZEPPELIN. Although the band has sold in 200 million albums and has legions of fans, the hard rock legends do not have any Grammy's. In fact, they've never even been nominated for an award. Wow! However, a big part of the band's lure lies in their image as rebels, so this diss has likely helped the group. NOTE: When first heard, Roger Daltry predicted the band would sink like a Lead Zeppelin. The 'e' was dropped so people wouldn't say it as "leed." 

BOB MARLEY. To be fair, there was no 'Reggae' category when Bob released his albums. But other mediums and radio stations nationwide noticed the legend.  His 1975 album 'Rastaman Vibration' was a Top Ten hit. The next year, the Wailers were Rolling Stone's Band of the Year. Yet Bob never won a Grammy or a Billboard Top 40 single. At least his 70 million in album sales netted him one important award: The Jamaican Order of Merit.

KATY PERRY. Usually if you have nine #1 singles and 100 million in album sales...you'll get a Grammy or two. Sorry, Katy! Despite seven attempts, the perky songstress from Santa Barbara still has no stereo trophies to put on her shelf. However, she has fared better in other award shows. She owns a staggering 14 People's Choice Awards.

JIMI HENDRIX. From 1966 to 1970, Hendrix headlined the hard rock movement. Perhaps realizing the mistake made in never nominating rock music's most talented guitarist, Jimi received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, twenty-two years after his death. It's ironic because his lifetime was so short: He died at age 27.

SNOOP DOGG. Although the rapper from Long Beach won't have the lasting legacy of the others on the list, Snoop deserves to be in this blog. Why? Simply because no one has been nominated more times and not won. How many times? A staggering sixteen nominations and no wins. Fo shizzle!

DIANA ROSS. Like Snoop, the first woman of pop has been nominated again and again (12 times) and never won. Her first attempt came in 1964 when the Supremes hit "Baby Love" was passed up and "The Days of Wine & Roses" took home the gold. Sigh. At least she was able to pick up her Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. Better late than never!

Finally, we hope that this year's Grammy's don't mess it up again. This time, it's in the Song of the Year category. With 16 weeks at #1, Despacito is the biggest song EVER on the Billboard charts and should be a shoo-in. But we have a strange feeling JAY-Z will win..