Weekly insights into our crazy world.

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!

Saturday, September 2, 2017



Every year, the Economist magazine list their index of the most 'livable' cities worldwide. They employ a complex formula to determine this seemingly arbitrary ranking. It involves criteria like climate, crime, culture, education, transportation and healthcare. Scores fell across the USA, due to "unrest, racial violence and demonstrations," with Honolulu as the top scoring city. Let's look at the top three:

#1. Melbourne, Australia. For the seventh straight year, this southern Australian city has topped the list. Sports fans know Melbourne from the Australian Open, the first stop on tennis' Grand Slam. It also hosted the 1956 Olympics. The seaside city also scored high on transportation. Although the metro population is four million, Melbourne is home to the largest tram network in the world. Since the city sits on the same latitude as the Mediterranean, it has a splendid climate and lots of immigrants from Italy and Greece. They brought with them great food and culture. Add in a practically non-existent crime rate, and you've got the best city on earth.

#2. Vienna, Austria. The oldest city in the top ten, Vienna dates back to Roman times. Since then, it has seen many a rise and fall. It withstood a nasty siege by the Turks in 1529 and saw a third of its population wiped out by the plague in 1679. As the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, culture flourished. Vienna became the classical music capital of the world, as numerous opera houses and auditoriums opened. Most survived two World Wars and a brief Soviet occupation and are thriving again. Hence, the near perfect score on culture. NOTE: In German, Vienna is Wien...home of the Wiener-schnitzel.

#3. Vancouver, Canada. Seven of the top ten cities on the Economist Index are located in Australia and Canada. At the third spot is Canada's third largest city, Vancouver. While other North American cities have embraced urban sprawl, Vancouver did just the opposite. They drew urban limit lines and stuck to them. Instead of endless suburbs, they built multi-use apartment high-rises with businesses on street level. The result is a major metropolis completely surrounded by nature.

Finally, let's look at the least livable cities on earth. At dead last in 140th place is Damascus. It's been awhile since the Prophet Mohammad called the city the closest place to heaven on earth. Thanks to four years of horrific urban civil war, this once splendorous oasis is now heaps of rubble. Next up: Baghdad. Same story, different city. Something tells us the residents of both cities would prefer living under a dictator than living in poverty and fear with glorious democracy. Ten years ago, both places were in the middle of the rankings..

Saturday, August 26, 2017



The poor fruitcake. It's America's most lampooned dessert. No, it's not the simple ingredients. You just add candied fruit, diced nuts, a dash of spices to your basic flour cake. Rather, it is fruitcake's impressive shelf-life that is the source of ridicule. Since the fruit is candied and nuts are dry, most fruitcakes last three months...some up to a year...before spoiling. This is where the notoriety starts. Famed talk-show host Johnny Carson often joked that their is actually only one fruitcake in the USA...it just passes from family to family.

So this week, comedians nationwide are jumping at the chance to ridicule this story: A 106 year-old fruitcake has been found in the Antarctic. And here's the part that everyone expected: According to the scientists examining the artifact, it's 'almost edible." Manager Lizzie Meek noted "a very slight rancid butter smell" but still tried a bite. How did it survive? First, it was wrapped in sturdy paper and stored in a plated alloy tin. Secondly, it was stored in the world's largest icebox, so it's been frozen the entire time. Even the name of the bakery is legible. It was baked at British biscuit company in London called Huntley & Palmers.

You're wondering: How did the fruitcake end up at the South Pole? It was part of the provisions trekked in for the Robert Scott Antarctic Expedition in 1912. They must have been saving it to celebrate their return...which sadly never occurred. (The entire mission died from frostbite upon their return from the Pole). Back to last week: The New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust has been busy on Cape Adare for month, examining a dozen forgotten human settlements.  One such place is an abandoned staging hut used not only by Scott's party but Norweigan voyages as well. Here, they found the now famous tin box.

You're asking: How long have fruitcakes been around? Forever! Naturally, ancient Romans were the first. They mixed in pomegranate seeds, raisins and pine nuts into their bread. Medieval times saw the addition of honey and dried fruit. But the fruitcake really took off in the 1600's. That's when products from the tropics first came to England. Cones of sweet sugar flooded the European market, giving rise to the horrendous Sugar-Slavery triangular trade. But, let's face it...even today...most people have no idea how delicious foods came to their lands; they just came up with tasty ways to eat them!

For the time being, the 106-year old Huntley & Palmers fruitcake is being examined by the team. Despite its fame, the cake is being treated just the same as the other 1,500 artifacts recovered on Cape Adare. So it may take months for any new information. (NOTE: They also found edible jam, but since there are no running gags about jam, no one cares!) Anyhow, we here at the DUNER BLOG just can't help think that Johnny Carson is looking down from heaven. He's smiling, because a new generation is cracking jokes about fruitcakes!

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!