Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Saturday, December 25, 2010



Recently, the US House of Representatives passed a bill you might have missed. It granted the territorial government of Puerto Rico the right to hold an election in 2011 to decide whether or not the island wants to become the 51st US state. Heard this one before? Well, this isn't the first time Puerto Ricans have gone to the polls on the subject. In 1967, 1993 and 1998, similar ballot measures failed, and the island remained a US territory. But nowadays, things are different. For the first time ever, a pro-statehood political party is in control of both the legislature AND the governor's office. Finally, it seems the people of Puerto Rico want to formally join the United States of America and lose their status as an 'unincorporated territory of the USA'...a very confusing term.

Confusing is a good word to describe Puerto Rico. Even the name itself is confusing. The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus, who named it after St. John the Baptist. However, traders and pirates refered to it as the 'rich port.' Somewhere along the way, the names for the city and the island got switched. So, today, the island is called 'Rich port' (Puerto Rico) and the city has Columbus' original name of 'St. John' (San Juan). How the island became a US territory is also confusing. After the Spanish-American War, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine Islands were ceded from Spain to the USA. While Cuba and the Philippines would later become independent nations, tiny Guam and heavily populated Puerto Rico would forever be left in limbo. Are they a colony or a territory or a commonwealth...or...or...whatever.

The confusion continues. While the 150,000 people on Guam are fine being a forgotten island, the four million folks on Puerto Rico are not. Over the last 113 years, many attempts have been made to clarify their status as 'Americans.' In 1917, President Wilson signed legislation officially making all who live on the island US citizens. Twenty years later, they were included in the Social Security Program...and later in Medicare as well. However, Puerto Ricans are not required to pay Federal Income tax, and cannot vote for president. Nor do they have a representative in Congress. All of which is very confusing. Hopefully, next year's vote on statehood will help solidify the lush island's status. Until then, the DUNER BLOG has a fun quiz for you to take. Here are five true or false statement about Puerto Rico. Good luck!

1. Miss Puerto Rico competes in the Miss America Pageant.
2. You can shop at 7-11, Costco and Wal-Mart in Puerto Rico.
3. The island uses the US dollar as currency.
4. France has an embassy in San Juan.
5. US citizens need a passport to visit Puerto Rico.

1. False. Miss Puerto Rico competes in the Miss Universe Pageant, not Miss America.
2. True. Almost all American conglomerates are active on the island.
3. True. American dollars have been used since 1898.
4. False. As a territory, it can only have foreign consulates, not embassies.
5. False. US citizens do not need a passport to enter a US territory.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010



Earlier this year, TV talk-show queen OPRAH WINFREY made the announcement that, after 25 years on the air, this would be her last season. As someone who doesn't watch a lot of daytime TV, you might not realize how momentous this announcement is. Not only is the America's top celebrity, Oprah is also a world-wide phenomenon. Her show can be seen 145 countries around the globe. It is translated into fifty different languages. People everywhere love her unbounded enthusiasm and her over-the-top segments. So it came as no surprise that her FINAL season will be the biggest ever! This week, she took the show overseas to film a week's worth of episodes down under in Australia.

But...as we said...Oprah never does anything small. Her company, Harpo Entertainment, made a huge deal with the Australian Tourism Board. They shelled out $6 million dollars for the empress (and 302 audience members) to launch 'OPRAH'S AUSTRALIAN ADVENTURE!' to the world. While many Aussies scoffed at the massive sums of public money going to an American diva, government ministers have assured taxpayers this is a wise investment. The fact is that since the amazing successful 2000 Sydney Olympics, the nation has seen its once lucrative tourism industry slide deeply during the recession. It costs over a thousand dollars for anyone to fly there, and it's not exactly cheap once you get there. The government hopes Oprah can make people forget this fact and make the world fall in love with Australia.

And she can! Let's review the first couple of days: It began with six thousand fans surrounding an elaborate stage at the famed Sydney Opera House (cleverly renamed the Sydney OPRAH House.) Oprah greeted the adoring fans with a bang. She said "Now I understand why you call Australia 'OZ,; 'cause we truly are at the end of the rainbow." Her first guest was none other than mega-hottie-actor RUSSEL CROWE, an afternoon talk show favorite. Next, an equally hunky Hugh Jackman tried to make an elaborate entrance via zip-line from high atop the Sydney Oprah House. Instead, he bumped his head, recovered with some Aussie chardonnay, and created some much-sought-after news headlines worldwide. She closed the show with a touching interview with the widow of 'Crocodile Hunter' STEVE IRWIN. A tearful Terri told Oprah how difficult her life has been since his sudden death after a mantra-ray speared his chest two years ago.

Next up for Oprah was a visit to the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge. To her surprise, the Aussies had put a hundred-foot-high 'O' erected on the side. Ten thousand red bulbs lit up to honor the queen. She'll also go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, hike half-way up the Outback's famed Ayers Rock and relax at posh resort near Melbourne. And escorting her along the way will be her 302 friends. "Life is so much better when you can share it." Oprah says!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010



The unthinkable happened in Geneva last week. You know the scene: Picture the ornate grand ballroom of the luxurious FOUR SEASONS HOTEL. Well-dressed representatives from around the world have gathered over four days to determine who will host two upcoming WORLD CUP SOCCER TOURNAMENTS, the world's biggest sporting event. There's a lot of discussion, collaboration and secrets amongst the 22 dignitaries, all conducted under the soft light of the crystal chandeliers. Finally, after many lavish meals and countless cocktails, a decision has been made. Sepp Blatter, the chairman of FIFA, strolls to the podium with the final announcement: The 2018 games will be held in: Russia! Wow! The crowd applauds. They're an outsider for sure..but, as the world's largest nation...it was not a complete surprise. Then, Sepp announced the host nation for the 2022 games: QATAR. The room is stunned!

Actually, some are stunned, some are giddy, but many are down-right angry. The US, who finished second in the voting, spent millions of dollars preparing a bid. After all, the 1994 event, hosted by the US, was the most profitable World Cup ever! Also upset was the UK. London has brand-new stadiums already built for the 2012 Olympics. The other nations alive in the last rounds of voting were also angry. The representatives from Spain/Portugal, Holland/Belgium, South Korea, Japan and Australia were aghast. But somehow, Qatar pulled off the ultimate upset. Or was it? As evidenced by the Olympic Selection Committees, the most qualified applicant doesn't always win. Or, as Sunil Gulati, the head of the US delegation put it: "It's politics, friendships, relationships, alliances, tactics. I'm not smart enough to figure out how all those played out in these two elections."

Indeed, the voting did leave many questions. Two delegates were removed prior to the final vote for unclear corruption allegations. Back-room politics are notorious in such gatherings, as evidenced by the US envoys who pleaded guilty to influencing the decision to host the 1994 Winter Olympics. It's also no coincidence that both Russia and Qatar are huge producers of oil and natural gas which gives them lots of pocket cash to throw around. The US team tried hard to match the influence of bribes and failed. Heck, they even brought BILL CLINTON to Geneva to drink and banter with the voters. But even 'Slick Willie' was no match for the 'shady sheik. ' Qatar's Swiss bank accounts had some serious cash withdrawals last week!

But the real question here is: How the hell is Qatar supposed to host the world's biggest sporting event? It's the size of Connecticut, has the population of Phoenix and is entirely covered by the unforgiving Arabian Desert. And the WOLRD CUP is held in the SUMMER! But, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar's ruler, managed to assure that his country will be ready. It plans to build stadiums with solar-powered air conditioning. (Never mind that the technology hasn't been invented just yet!). Everything will be with A/C: the player's village, exhibition centres and all restaurants, night-clubs, airports, hotels, etc. So no one will notice that the average temperature outside in July in Qatar is 104 degrees. Quipped Chuck Blazer, a FIFA rep: "I really don't see how you can air-condition an entire country."

But...while the world is abuzz about Qatar's sleazy corruption allegations...the INTERNET is abuzz with techies, excited about the future. You gotta admit, Qatar is pretty ambitious. They plan to spend $57 billion dollars (!) building the world's first zero-carbon-emission stadium. They sheik hired a Kansas City based architecture firm with big ideas. They began with the design of a Bedouin tent. Then they added the shape of the BIRD'S NEST stadium from the Beijing Olympics. Then, they took the technology used in Japan's SUKATOMO soccer stadium and housed it all under the retracting roof from Arizona's state-of-the-art football stadium in Glendale. I could start describing the plan for the air conditioning, but you're probably better off going to WIRED.COM...I really don't understand the technology.

I guess the main message from Geneva last week is: WATCH OUT FOR QATAR! This emirate means business! The state, like nearby Dubai, has lots of money and is willing to spend it. In the last couple of years, they purchased long-time British stand-bys like HARROD 'S DEPARTMENT STORE and BARCALAY'S BANK. Next up: Financial conquest of the USA. So far, they've only managed to buy MIRAMAX FILMS, so stay tuned. And remember, the 'Q' in Arabic is pronounced like 'KHA' only you use the back part of your throat...Think "CUT-TER." May Allah be with you!

Thursday, December 2, 2010



Ah...it's finally December! And what better way to start the holiday season than for everyone to gather at the town square for a CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING FESTIVAL. And no one knows how to do a Christmas trees quite like the Germans...after all they invented them! And one of the most famous tree-lighting events takes place in Charlottenberg, one of Berlin's oldest and quaintest neighborhoods. People huddled together at sunset on the cobblestone platz near the cathedral, anxiously awaiting the unveiling of the tree. But, to every one's horror, the usual stately fir was replaced by an odd modern-art monstrosity: A 90-foot high, 40-foot wide white balloon with a huge gold star on top. "IS NOTHING SACRED?" shocked Berliners screamed!

Duner's favorite German tabloid, Die Bild, quickly took up the story and has unleashed a fury of opinion. On one side, we have a modern viewpoint. Deforestation is a serious problem in Northern Europe. Even though rigorous reforms have saved huge amounts of forestland, man-made problems, like pollution and climate change, continue to threaten one of the world's oldest timberlands. And...as we all know...Germans LOVE to hike in the forests. So why do we really need to cut down a two-hundred year-old tree just for a holiday celebration? Germany prides itself on having the first major environmental political party back in 1980's (the Greens). Where is that progressive spirit now?

On the other side, we have the traditionalist Germans, who pride themselves on having the first Christmas tree. Uh-oh...sounds like it's time for another HISTORY LESSON!! (Don't you just love the Duner-blog?) As the legend goes...way back, around the year 700, the area around modern-day Berlin was still under the control of Norse Vikings. As always, they were at odds with the Catholics who refused to worship their gods. One daring priest, St. Bonafice, went to a Norse encampment and chopped down the sacred TREE OF THOR. He took the majestic fir back to his church and Christianity and fir trees have been linked since. However, it wasn't until seven hundred years later that the tree would specifically represent Christmas. In the 1500's, MARTIN LUTHER championed the Christmas tree as a protestant counterpart to the Catholic nativity scene.

Sorry...you know how I get when I start telling history lessons! Back to Berlin. Recently, the controversy has quelled. Sure, the tree...or balloon...is still gracing the square in Charlottenburg. But thankfully, there are dozens of other squares in the German capital that still have a magnificently decorated Tannenbaum to enjoy. Sure, you may have to go all the way to Potsdam, but at least all in Berlin can agree on one thing: Christmas is a time for everyone to enjoy, environmentalists, traditionalists, Norse Vikings and you!!