Weekly insights into our crazy world.

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..

Friday, January 19, 2018



Big news out of Africa! An enormous diamond was unearthed in Lesotho last week. How big is it? About the size of baseball, weighing in at 6.4 ounces. Here's the amazing part: It clocks in at a whopping 910-carats. In the history books, that's good for fourth place on the list of largest diamonds ever found. (The largest, the 3,106-carat Cullinan Diamond, weighed over a pound. It was presented to Edward VII in 1903. He proceeded to chop it up. It's now littered throughout the Crown Jewels in London.)

Back to the current specimen. Here are some more specifics about the diamond. The rock has a D-color, which means it's a rare, completely colorless diamond. It's classified as Type IIA. Such diamonds have no boron or nitrogen impurities and account for only 1% of all diamonds mined worldwide. The press release by Gem Diamond calls the stone an "exceptional, top-quality find." How much will it sell for? Ben Davis, an analyst for Liberum Capital, estimates it will fetch around $40 million.

What a great windfall for the impoverished nation of Lesotho! Guess again. The Letseng Mine is owned and operated by Gem Diamonds, a London based conglomerate with a net income of £212 million. (Oh, and their stock rose 15% after the find.) Nope, the corporation will sell the diamond and happily pocket every last shilling. Let's face it: Nine of the ten diamonds on the list were found in Africa and taken elsewhere. The Cullinan and three others are from South Africa, while the rest originally lived Sierra Leone, Congo and Botswana.

To be clear: Gem Diamonds does adhere to international regulations with regard to their local employees in Lesotho. However, their track record in nearby Botswana isn't so spotless. Here, the San People (Bushmen) are primarily nomadic. This makes it much easier to construct mines, as the land has no permanent residents and cannot be claimed by the San. Lawsuits are pending. The big problem here is this "business first, people later" attitude toward mining. It wrecks havoc across the continent. Everyone agrees: Blood Diamonds are a shameful smear on the morality of the Western world.

In short, the discovery and immediate removal of the amazing diamond from Lesotho is a sad reminder that the dreaded structure of colonialism is still alive and well in Africa. Whether it's diamonds in Lesotho, oil in Nigeria, natural gas in Niger, cacao in Ghana, rubber in Tanzania or Egyptian cotton, the result is the same. Western corporations still take the lion share of the profits on African commodities today. It only adds insult to injury when a world leader calls these nations "Shithole Countries." When will this degrading cycle ever be broken?

Friday, January 12, 2018



While 2017 will be remembered by hurricanes, wildfires and floods, at least one thing went horribly right last year: It was the first year EVER without any fatalities from commercial airline flights worldwide. Wow! To celebrate the safest method of travel, here are the TOP SEVEN most popular routes airlines fly. NOTE: All are domestic flights.

#7 Los Angeles - San Francisco, USA. 34,897 annual flights. America's sole entry links California's two metropolises. Inside the suburbs of each city you'll find six other airports that fly similar routes. If you add in all the flights between Oakland, San Jose and Long Beach, Burbank, Ontario and Orange County airports, this route would be #1.

#6. Sapporo - Tokyo, Japan. 38,389 annual flights. Two entries on our list connect Japanese islands with Tokyo and Honshu. Although the two islands are connected by the world's second longest tunnel (even longer the Chunnel), the airlines still boast impressive ridership numbers. And...yes...the Sapporo Brewery offers fun tours! 

#5. Rio de Janeiro - Sao Paulo, Brazil. 39,325 annual flights. Ginormous Brazil is the most airline-dependent nation on the list. Roads are few and rails even fewer. Airlines keep the nation going, so it comes as no surprise to see the two metropolises of Rio and Sao Paolo at #5. NOTE: At $88/average ticket price, this is also the cheapest on the list as well.

#4 Fukuoka - Tokyo, Japan. 42,835 annual flights. This route connects Japan's two largest islands, Honshu and Kyushu. Again, a bullet train is also available, but an airplane does the job in two hours, twice as fast as the train. I guess that means planes are faster than bullets!

#3. Mumbai - Delhi, India. 47,462 annual flights. It takes just over two hours to fly from India's
commercial center to the political establishment. With 1.4 billion people to look after, this results in a hundred flights every day. Airline travel is experiencing a boom in India, as constant technological advances cut times and fares. Not so much on the trains, where the same route takes 16 hours!

#2. Melbourne - Sydney, Australia. 54,519 annual flights. Another vast nation heavily dependent on air travel, Australia's top route is now the second most popular on the planet. While the numbers have grown, the airports themselves have not. Congestion leads to delays and this route is second-most delayed on the list (LA - SF is tops with 36% of flights leaving late.) 

#1. Seoul - Jeju, Korea. 64,991 annual flights. The busiest route in the world is surprising. It connects Korea's capital with it's favorite vacation spot. That's right, while the other routes are all about business, this one is all about pleasure. Jeju features beaches, casinos, nature trails and even Loveland, a sex-themed amusement park.