Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011



Wow! 2011 has been a most difficult year for tyrants.  First HOSNI MUBARBAK goes down in Egypt. Then MOAMMAR GADDAFI is killed. And now...the craziest dictator of them all...KIM JONG IL...is dead!  To celebrate the end of terror, we here at the DUNER BLOG would like to set the record straight about some of the North Korean's "legendary achievements" and do some serious Myth-busting!  Here are the top five:

#1 His legendary birth.  
MYTH:  It all began on a chilly February day in the year 1942.  Inside the walls of a simple log cabin...on the windswept hills of sacred Mount Paektu...a miracle occurred: The "Glorious General Descended from Heaven!"  A new star appeared in the sky, followed by a double rainbow, followed by a sacred swallow...who brought spring to North Korea two months early.
FACT:  The truth is our "Dear Leader" wasn't even born in Korea.  His father, KIM IL-SUNG, was living in Khabarovsk, Siberia at the time.  He was plotting with the Soviet Army to overthrow the Japanese occupation of Asia during World War II. 

#2 His ability to control the weather.
MYTH:  Of all of KIM JONG IL's amazing talents, this one is the best...because no one else on earth can do this.  Our "Dear Leader" controls the weather with his moods .  If he's angry, expect a violent snowstorm.  Sadness brings rain; melancholy moods warrant fog.  Expect sunshine when his shipments of caviar and cognac arrive. (KIM JONG IL spent $750,000 on Hennesey each year!)
FACT: We here at the DUNER-BLOG have a meteorologist on staff.  He confirmed: It is scientifically impossible to control the weather by your thoughts.

#3 His legendary golf game.  
MYTH: It's a shame he never competed in any PGA events...because the 'Dear Leader' had mad golf skills.  When the first ever course opened in Pyongyang in 1994, KIM JONG IL naturally played the first ever round.  His score was 38 under par!  This included a whopping five holes-in-one.  All 17 bodyguards signed oaths attesting to the feat.
FACT: We consulted the Guinness World Records.  The lowest golf score ever is 55.  It was achieved by HOMERO BLANCOS in 1962.  To beat this by 18 strokes is impossible.

#4 He invented the hamburger
MYTH: In addition to being head of the armed forces, KIM JONG IL is also the "Highest Incarnation of Revolutionary Comradely Love."  To show this devotion, our "Dear Leader" toiled day and night to come up with a wonderful, new dish for all to eat and enjoy.  His "discovery," was called a "Double Bread with Meat" sandwich. They were cleverly packaged in paper bags for easy purchase.
FACT: Pyongyang restaurants first served this "new" delicacy in the year 2004.  If you have ever eaten a hamburger prior to this year, you can de-bunk this myth yourself!

#5 He doesn't need to urinate or defecate.
FACT:  The North Korean State Media removed this legend from their website years ago.  But we still had to include it in the list!   Let's face it...even an "Ever-Victorious, Iron-Willed Commander" has to go to the bathroom!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011



Psst.  Are you planning a trip to Thailand?  Here's some good advice: Don't say anything negative about the Thai King.  Why?  Because it's against the law.  Thai officials will arrest you up, give you a sham trial and then lock you up!  Don't believe me?  Then ask JOE GORDON.  He helped translate the banned biography "The King Never Smiles."  On Thursday, he was convicted in a Bangkok court and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.  And...no...it doesn't matter if you're a Thai citizen, an American citizen or a visitor from Mars.  Say anything that "defames, insults, threatens, or is unflattering to the King" and you'll end up in jail. 

Psst.  Wanna impress someone from Thailand?  Here's some good advice:  Mention some random facts about King Rama IX.  You'll have a Thai friend for life.  Okay, it's hard to pronounce his real name (Bhunibol Adulyadej), so let's try these tidbits instead.  With 65 years on the throne, King Rama has the longest reign of any current monarch worldwide.  The King speaks three languages: Thai, French and English.  He is blind in his right eye after a car crash in Switzerland.  He holds a patent for a sprinkler design, composes jazz music and keeps two loaded pistols in his nightstand.  Finally, if your acquaintance is older, talk about how the King kept Thailand out of the Vietnam War.

Psst. Wanna know what not to talk about with folks from Thailand?  King Rama IX's wealth.  The anti-monarchists are furious about it and the conservatives are embarrassed by it.  Here are the facts: The Thai King is the richest royal on the planet.  Forbes estimates his wealth at $35 billion.  That bests Queen Elizabeth ($30 billion), the Sultan of Brunei ($20 billion) and the Saudi King Abdullah ($18 billion).  Rama owns three private jets including a Boeing 737 and an Airbus A319.  But the King is most proud of his crown jewels.  In fact, he owns the largest faceted diamond in the world.  The GOLDEN JUBILEE diamond has an amazing 545 carats!

Pssst. Are you planning to eat at a Thai restaurant soon?  Here's some good advice: Make sure there's a framed photo of the Thai King hanging on the wall.  Why?  Because everyone in Thailand worships the monarch and has pictures of him everywhere  So...if you want to know for sure the owners of the restaurant are from Thailand...look on the walls for that framed picture.  That way your meal will always be authentic and yummy!  You see, all other Asian nations (except Japan) have been colonized by a European power.  The kings and emperors of Laos, China, Burma, Korea...have all been long disposed and replaced by boring prime ministers.  But not in Thailand!  Here...and in Thai restaurants worldwide...the King still reigns supreme.

Psst. Wanna know how to annoy the crap out of your readers?  Begin five paragraphs the same exact way! Sorry about that literary stumble.  Okay...to summarize.  The love of the Thai king runs deep in the heart and minds of Siam.  This would be fine...except for the fact that the king actually believes he is above the law.  He is cool having astronomical wealth while many in his country of 66 million are horribly poor.  The final evidence of King Rama's lunacy is his official title.   As with Gaddafi and Kim Jong Il, King Rama has a ridiculous amount of flowery, descriptive words following his name.  Here it is:  (Thanks...Wikipedia!)

Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatbophit

พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช มหิตลาธิเบศรรามาธิบดี จักรีนฤบดินทร สยามินทราธิราช บรมนาถบพิตร
  • Phra—a third person pronoun referring to the person with much higher status than the speaker, meaning "excellent" in general. The word is from Sanskrit vara ("excellent").
  • Bat—"foot," from Sanskrit pāda.
  • Somdet—"lord," from Khmer "samdech" ("excellency").
  • Poraminthara—"the great," from Sanskrit parama ("great") +indra ("leader")
  • Maha—"great," from Sanskrit,  "maha"
  • Bhumibol—"Strength of the Land," from Sanskrit bhumi ("land") +bala ("strength")
  • Adulyadej—"Incomparable power," from Sanskrit atulya ("incomparable") +teja ("power")
  • Mahitalathibet—"Son of Mahidol"
  • Ramathibodi—"Rama," the Avatar of God Vishnu to become the great ruler"; from Sanskrit rama + adhi ("great") + patī ("president")
  • Chakkrinaruebodin—"Leader of the People who is from the House of Chakri, from Sanskrit Cakrī + nari ("men") + patī ("president")
  • Sayamminthrathirat—"the Great King of Siam," from Sanskrit Siam (former name of Thailand) + indra + ati ("great") + rāja ("king)
  • Borommanatbophit— "the Royalty who is the Great Shelter", from Sanskrit parama ("great") + nādha ("the one who others can depend on" or "Power/Right") + "pavitra" ("royalty")

Wednesday, December 7, 2011



Last Friday, the US Congress passed legislation re-legalizing the slaughter and sale of horse meat in the USA and all territories.  “I find it disgusting,” said Patricia Fazio of Cody, Wyoming, echoing sentiments of most Americans.  In the US, horses are placed in the "pet / companion" group of animals...along with cats, dogs, gerbils and guinea pigs.  And we all know: You don't eat your friends.  So it came a huge surprise to many over the weekend when animal-obsessed PETA announced its "temporary" support for the lifting of the ban.  What?  Has PETA lost its mind?  Hasn't PETA seen horse-themed movies like "National Velvet" and "Seabiscuit"?  Neigh!

We here at the DUNER BLOG were surprised as well...so we did some research.  And it turns out to be a little more complicated than expected.  See...our earliest ancestors ate horses long before riding them.   So it only makes sense to continue eating them ...right?  Anyhow, over time, certain cultures  attached specific 'moral / religious' baggage to each animal with regards to consumption.  For example, Jewish and Islamic cultures won't eat pigs...but Christians and Buddhists are okay with it.  Horses are one of the animals that humans can't agree on...it's fine to eat them in other countries but not in the USA.

Believe it or not...one major proponent of eating horse meat is celebrity TV-chef GORDON RAMSAY.  The Scot says we are "too sensitive" in the UK and USA towards horse meat consumption.  To force the issue, he serves it in his restaurants and receives much discord.  Gordon says it's low in fat and more tender than beef.  Yuck!  Hasn't Gordon seen movies like "Black Beauty" and "My Friend Flicka"?  You can't eat Mr. Ed!  Sorry...but he does have a point.  Around the world, horse meat is prepared in numerous delicious ways.  Here are the top eight consumers of horse meat worldwide:

1. China          2. Mexico            3. Mongolia            4. Kazakhstan
5. Italy            6. Argentina         7. Brazil                 8. Kyrgyzstan

Anyhow, despite its popularity overseas, its highly unlikely that horse meat will be accepted by American society anytime soon.  However, let's agree that eating horses in other countries is acceptable moral behavior.  This means other nations want to purchase American horse meat...and they're willing to pay $20 a pound.  So, during the ban on horse meat, many Americans sold horses illegally to the black market.  They were then smuggled into Mexico and slaughtered for a profit.  PETA felt this practice was much less humane than allowing horses to be slaughtered in the US...and hence gave tepid approval for the measure.   In a statement PETA said horses endure "more suffering on a frightening, long, and miserable journey to Canada or Mexico" than being killed in a regulated, inspected slaughterhouse in the USA.

But don't worry...they're won't be a 'Secretariat Special' at Burger King anytime soon.  So far, there are only a handful of horse slaughterhouses in the nation who want to open up: Two in Wyoming and one in Montana.  One such company, United Equine, plans to sell most of their meat to a distributor in France.  Finally, one easy way to can tell which animals are acceptable to eat...in any language...is to see if they have two separate words, one for the animal and one for the food.  For example, 'cow' becomes 'beef,' 'pig' becomes 'pork' and 'baby calves' are turned into 'veal.'  There is no word in English language for prepared horse.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Six sunburned prisoners going back to jail.

Didja know the DUNER BLOG has a slogan?  Yep! "Keeping You Informed on Stories You Might Have Missed."  We're reminding you because this week we have a goodie...a daring escape from a Mexican prison.  It all began on a dank, humid night at Islas Marias...the only remaining operating island penal colony in the Western Hemisphere.  Six determined prisoners hastily launched their craft of wood planks and empty plastic water containers into the Pacific Ocean and set sail for freedom.  All went well until the six compadres were spotted by a fishing ship 100 miles down the coast.  The captain quickly notified the Mexican Navy.  The men were sunburned but in good health and were returned..."within hours"...to the prison.

Anyhow, it seems everyone worldwide has a fascination with 'island prisons' and the curious situations they inevitably bring.  So were here at the DUNER BLOG decided to list our TOP TEN ISLAND PENAL COLONIES OF ALL TIME:

#10 ISLAS MARIAS, MEXICO.  Since its founding in 1902, Mexico's most hardened criminals have been dispatched here.  Since it's 100 miles to the shore, few have attempted to escape.  Those who do have all been captured.  So...unless Mexico solves its drug problems soon...it will remain open for a long time!

# 9 EBLA, ITALY.  This gorgeous island off the coast of Tuscany served as the site of Napoleon's exile.  While the island is no longer a prison and the French emperor is still dead...the two will be forever linked. NOTE: It was hardly a prison to begin with.  Monsieur Bonaparte was allowed six hundred servants.

#8 RIKER'S ISLAND, NEW YORK.  Although NYPD will tell you this is a jail and not a prison we here at the DUNER BLOG must include it on our list.  You simply can't watch and episode of LAW & ORDER without hearing it mentioned a dozen times.

Today, it's fun to visit Chateau D'If.
#7 CHATEAU D'IF, FRANCE.  Situated on a small island in Marseilles Harbor, this prison terrorized criminals for centuries.  Although the cells were mostly filled with evil French Huguenots, its most famous innate was actually fictional.  EDMOND DANTES, from the Dumas novel THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, was sent here.

#6  COIBA ISLAND, PANAMA.  This large tropical island had very little security...because it doesn't need it!  See, the thick jungles on the island are crawling with poisonous snakes.   The sea surrounding the island is horribly shark infested.  No need for any fences here!

#5 ROBBEN ISLAND, SOUTH AFRICA. Dutch for 'Seal Island,' it's located a mere seven miles of the coast of Cape Town.  It's always been a destination for the unwanted: contagious lepers, mentally-ill Boers, fundamentalist Muslims and zealous Zulus have all been detained here.  Today, it's a museum with a large exhibit dedicated to its most famous inmate: NELSON MANDELA.

#4 GOREE ISLAND, SENEGAL. A short boat ride from Dakar lies this tiny, but historically important, island.  Think of it as the opposite of Ellis Island...it's where three million slaves were held before being loaded on ships.  The ominous 'Door of No Return' has been visited by two US Presidents (Clinton and Bush) and was recently declared a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Devil's island looks scenic, but,,,
#3 DEVIL'S ISLAND, GUYANA.  This is the most dreadful prison in the history of humankind.  Not only was it located in the most remote place on earth, but it also infested with filthy rodents...It's estimated half of the 100,000 inmates died from disease.   The one successful escape attempt is documented in the book / movie 'Papillon.'

#2 ALCATRAZ, SAN FRANCISCO.  Originally an Arabic word (al qatras) for 'sea eagle,' San Francisco Bay's most strategic island has always been a lighthouse.  In 1850, President Fillmore signed legislation making it a military base as well.  After the 1906 fire and earthquake, inmates were sent there and a year later it was made a prison. 

#1 AUSTRALIA.  C'mon!  You knew it had to be the land 'Down Under!'  When the USA gained independence from England, Parliament needed to find a new place to send unwanted jailbirds and religious rejects...Hello Australia!  The first ship containing 778 convicts arrived on January 26th, 1788.  Today, this date is called 'Australia Day' and is the nation's major holiday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011



A surprising interview occurred last week in Midtown Manhattan.  A man...who would only identify himself as "Henry"...spoke with a reporter from CNBC.  What was all the hush-hush about?  Okay...it seems "Henry" is a pimp who has fallen on hard times.  You see, his best clients are NBA stars who want a little Overtime fun after playing basketball at MADISON SQUARE GARDEN.  Anyhow, "Henry" charges from $400 to $4,000 a night...depending on the hot-ness factor of the hottie. Thanks to the NBA lockout, he has seen his steady income vanish.  Having read lots of articles about how other "small businesses" had been effected by the NBA lockout, "Henry" empathized with them and wanted America to know his story too!  (Pimps have feelings too.)

Sorry!  For those confused DUNER-BLOG readers outside the US, here's a brief synopsis of the situation:  In a nation where sports heroes are worshiped like demi-gods, no one gets paid more than the basketball stars.  Here are the average annual salaries for professional players in the USA: NBA: $5,150,000.  MLB: $3,120,000.  NFL: $440,000.  Also making lots of cash are the owners.  Here are the average prices for a ticket to a professional game: NBA: $95.10. NFL: $77.36.  MLB: $26.91.  (Do the math...it's a lot of money!) The bottom line is that with absolute wealth comes absolute greed.  324 games have been cancelled while the two sides bicker over billions.

'Ladies of the Evening' in Manhattan are losing money.
Forgotten amongst the heated negotiations at fancy hotels are the little people who depend on NBA games for their income.  It's not just the hookers.  People like the food vendors and ticket takers at the arenas are also out of work.  The aftershocks from the strike resonate much farther than just the venues.  Luxury hotels are also hurting.  The revenue for lodging, food and beverage for fifty NBA players, coaches and prostitutes can net up to $100,000 a night.  And don't forget the press.  Denver Nuggets radio producer JESSE THOMAS said in an interview he's lost $23,500 in salary so far.  However...worst of all...is a Boston-based novelty sports products company.  Owner KEVIN KRUEGER said he's "sold only one 'Beat L.A.' T-shirt all week!"  Ouch! Every one's feeling the pinch.

NOT SO! says DENNIS COATES of the University of Maryland at Baltimore.  In 2000, he conducted a study of the effects of sports labor disputes on local economies. He studied 37 cities and discovered just the opposite to be true.  While there are many 'sob-stories' about a burger joint across the street from the arena going out of business, the overall economic impact on a city is positive.  COATES concluded that "without sports, fans tended to spend their money at restaurants and movie theatres."  This...combined with the gained civic revenue not spent on public safety...outweighed the losses at and around the ballparks.

The forgotten ball boy.
However..for the time being...we here at the DUNER BLOG are going to side with the "little guys" like "Henry." We sincerely hope they can find alternate solutions to their business woes.  (Professional Hockey players, perhaps??)  But...before we go....the most tear-jerking story about the NBA strike is from Philadelphia.  MICHAEL CHERNOW, a ball-boy for the 76ers, was particularly eloquent in his summary of the situation.  Having sat at home for the past five weeks, the teenager bemoaned: "Seeing players complain about millions of dollars is very upsetting for someone who makes only $7.15 an hour!"


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The Black Rhino is actually grey.

The year is 2211.  Our earth is much different than it was two centuries ago.  The good news is that human population has stabilized at 32 billion.  The bad news is the enormous toll it has taken on the environment.  With 95% of the earth paved over in a myriad of highways, skyscrapers and industrial sludge, there is hardly anything natural left.   So...in the future...the to only way to see the "outdoors," is to travel to eight 'biospheres.'  Inside these glass domes are methodically preserved nature reserves.  These 'gardens' are only places left where plants grow and animals live.  History books in the future bemoan the previous generations...people who had the technological wizardry to make ingenious cell phones but lacked the social skills to "get along with each other" which ultimately cost the earth all of her natural splendor.

Sound far fetched?  Well, there was a major hint on Friday last week that humankind is headed in this direction.  On Friday, RED LIST OF ENDANGERED SPECIES was updated by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).  Biologists worldwide cringed when they clicked on their website and read the horrible news:  The WESTERN BLACK RHINO was officially declared extinct.  Although three thousand of the massive creatures still exist in zoos and nature reserves around the world, they are no longer found in the wild.  And only humans can be blamed.  Why?  Because poachers have killed every last one.  See, in parts of Asia, the horn of the black rhino is falsely believed to cure disease.  Although scientific evidence has proved without a doubt that ground-up Rhino horn (keratin) has no medicinal value, people still pay exorbitant prices for the item.

Rhino horns have a higher street value than cocaine.
Why can't the poachers be stopped?  It's simply because the Western Black Rhino habitat happens to fall in nations like Cameroon and Gabon.  These states have very weak central governments and don't control much of the country outside of the capital cities.  In reality, much of the land is under the control of roving militant groups and migrant criminal gangs.  Says SIMON STUART of the IUCN Species Survival Commission: “They (the rhinos) had the misfortune of occurring in places where we simply weren’t able to get the necessary security in place."  This is why future generations will be so angry with the people who lived on earth in the year 2011.  We let a bunch of 'yahoo poachers' control our prized rain forests and did nothing to stop them.

What will further confuse future generations about people in 2011 is our conflicting attitudes towards the cherished creatures we allowed to go extinct.  On one hand, we have an obsession with African animals in our popular culture.  Our children play with teddy bears and have giraffe wallpaper in their rooms. Our movies are full of wild creatures...films like the 'Lion King,' 'Madagascar' and 'The Jungle Book' all have talking animals! We even sing about how "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and the "Eye of the Tiger." And don't forget the 40,000 zoos worldwide, where humans go to see their beloved animal friends locked up in cages.  However...on the other hand...when it comes to saving them in the wild...we throw up our hands and say: "Whatever!"

Go to the WWF website for more information.
It's true: There is no easy solution to 'shore up' corrupt African governments.  There is a complex economic cycle entrenched in the region.  Simply put, it rewards individuals who can produce natural resources for the other continents.  Unfortunately, this is where Africa gets much of its income.  Investment in African infrastructure is almost non-existent.  Let's face it...the only big money coming into Africa is for mining, oil production and rhino horn extraction. It's time for people to start looking at the big picture and realize that 25% of all mammals on earth are currently at risk of extinction.  This will happen in your lifetime unless we take action!  Let's Occupy Africa!

A dozen zoos where the Western Black Rhino can be seen worldwide:

Chester Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo
Guadalajara Zoo
Hong Kong Zoo
Honolulu Zoo
Jardim Zoologico, Rio
Moscow Zoo
Safari World Bangkok
San Diego Zoo
St. Louis Zoo
Sydney Wildlife World
Zoo de Vincennes, Paris

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Way to go, President Santos!

Last Friday, Colombian president JUAN MANUEL SANTOS proudly announced the capture and killing of ALFONSO CANO.  It was a major victory for his government's troops in the world's longest running civil war.  It all began 47 years ago, when Colombia's Communist Party lost big in national elections. Disenchanted with the whole system, the left-wing group declared themselves independent from Bogota.  Called FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), they've grown over the years into a 'de-facto nation' in their own right...it's the size of Switzerland!  Anyhow, it's been awhile since this 'Drug Cartel / Marxist State' has been in the news, so we here at the DUNER BLOG thought it would be fun to run down our five favorite FARC operations of all time.

#5 THE NARCO SUBMARINE. In 2007, the Colombian army ambushed a suspected FARC outpost on the Pacific coast near Ecuador.  Upon entering, they discovered a recently abandoned factory with assembly line production capabilities.  What was FARC building?  A 100-foot long submarine, of course!  Why?  Simple, they needed an undetectable way to get cocaine to the US.  This "Narco-Sub" could hold eight tons of drugs.  It also had a large, turbo-engine that can travel to Tijuana in ten days!  NOTE: It's estimated that FARC makes $320 billion in drug money annually.

#4 COUNTERFEIT OPERATIONS. While drug trafficking is FARC's top source of income, counterfeiting is a close second.  An estimated $160 billion of phony bills are printed each year in Colombia.  However, very little few of them end up in the USA.  Since FARC knows our Feds could easily spot a phony, they are instead passed in neighboring nations.  Ecuador, Guatemala and El Salvador have all abandoned their currencies and use the US Dollar as their legal tender.

#3 SOCCER TEAMS.  With all the money made from these two illegal operations, it means that FARC has billions of US dollars (both real and counterfeit) just lying around.  How does one launder massive sums of money in Colombia?  Buy a soccer team!  Many of the 18 teams in Colombia's 'Primera Liga' have ties to cartels.  One of the nation's most successful teams, America de Cali had all of its US assets (over $1 million) frozen by President Clinton in 2004 as irrefutable evidence pointed toward the Cali cartel's involvement in the franchise.

Colombian women earned $100 a day in Gaddafi's army.
#2 TIES TO GADDAFI. Although not formally recognized as an 'independent nation' by anyone but the government in Bogota, FARC nonetheless has some international alliances.  Fidel Castro was a supporter.  Hugo Chavez in neighboring Venezuela is always visiting.  However, FARC has always had a most 'special relationship' with former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.  So close...in fact...that the 'Desert Despot' even trusted Colombian women as personal bodyguards in his private all-female "Amazonian Guard" unit.

#1 HACIENDA NAPOLES. Ranked #7 on 1987 Forbes' Richest List, PABLO ESCOBAR was the movement's most famous leader.  Fueled by the 'crack wars' in the US, the 'Man from Medellin' was at the center of the action and made billions of dollars.  To celebrate, he built himself one of the most audacious mansions ever known to man.  The 7,000 acre 'Naples Hacienda' makes Hearst Castle look small.  In addition to an opulent mansion, Pablo added his own airstrip, bullfighting ring and zoo.  Today, it's an amusement park, with the feral hippos as the top draw! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011



The sleek new trains are the pride of Algiers.
What a day it was for the citizens of Algiers!  Amid cries of joy and chants of "God is Great," President ABDELAZIZ BOUTEFILKA made it official.  After thirty years of construction, the new subway was finally opened its doors for business.  Just like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the president clasped a pair of gigantic scissors and sliced through a giant red ribbon and bow.  Hundreds of people stormed past the handsome iron-wrought entrance and down the sparkling, brand-new stairs.  Beep! Beep! The first train pulled up opened her electronic doors to an anticipating audience.  God is Great indeed.

I know...you're asking yourself...Why in heck is everyone so down-right giddy over a subway system?  Well, as far as rivaling metropolises go, subways are major status symbols and each city thinks their system is the best.  For example, Londoners boast how "The Tube" is the best because it's the world's oldest!  (First operating in the year 1863.)  New Yorkers say their system is the best because it has the most stations...a whopping 422 in all!  "Non!" Say the Parisians.  Their Metro is the best because it has the most stations per square kilometer.  It goes on and on.  Tokyo has the most trains per minute and Mexico City has the most passengers per day.  Muscovites will tell you their stations are the most elegant...but we here at the DUNER-BLOG don't know how to measure that claim.

Everyone loves a brand-new subway!
Anyhow, the people of Algiers are not claiming their new metro can compete with these legendary public transportation systems, but it does give citizens some pretty cool bragging rights.  The city of Algiers now has the distinction of owning the second underground railway on the African continent.  That means that today, the people of Algiers can thumb their noses at the Kenyans...crammed onto a smelly Nairobi bus.  Today, they can sneer at the lazy Moroccans (Algeria's hated rival)...shelling out dinars for a taxi.  Nope, the only folks on the African continent who have anything on the proud Algerians are the Cairenes (citizens of Cairo) who have a much larger system.  BUT...if you've ever ridden on the Cairo subway, you know it's not exactly clean.

While these bragging rights are fun, the real reason why the Algerians love their Metro is what it represents.  The construction of the subway was quite the soap opera...a long story of ups and downs...that mirrored what was happening to Algeria overall.  Groundbreaking began in 1982, when times were good.  As the world's fourth-largest supplier of natural gas, a robust economy ensured the foreign construction workers would be paid.  Then came the crash of 1986, when natural gas prices tumbled. A broke treasury halted construction.  It was restarted in 1989, this time employing much more affordable local firms.   In 1991, a gory civil war between the army and religious extremists erupted and engulfed the nation.  Work ceased again.  Then, after ten years of conflict and a quarter of a million deaths later, the capital started to build again.  It all culminated yesterday with the opening of the spotless metro.

Optimistic Map of Future Metro Algiers Line
With natural gas prices at their highest ever, the future looks bright for Algeria. "This is a great day for our country," cried Algiers resident ALI HASSAN as he took his inaugural ride. "It shows we can rise from the ashes!"  And finally, for you subway enthusiasts out there, here are a couple quick stats:

Number of Stations:             Ten
Miles of Track:                     Five
Cost of Ticket:                      67 cents
Operating Company:            Paris Metro

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Evo in better days.

The dream is over for Bolivian president EVO MORALES.  Five and a half years ago, he was a national hero...the first person with indigenous blood to hold the nation's highest office.  "The people are finally in power," he famously proclaimed.  After the election, MORALES continued to impress.  He kept his ambitious campaign promise and nationalized the lucrative the natural gas industry.  Next, he turned to foreign policy and shored up relationships with other South American states.  His alliance with HUGO CHAVEZ and Venezuela helped finance public work projects.  His friendship with Brazilian president LULA DA SILVA helped erase decades of dispute.  Heck, EVO was so successful he was rumored to win the Nobel Peace Prize!  He won re-election in 2009 by a landslide.

HOWEVER...things are quite different for Evo today.  Over the weekend, Morales appeared disheveled and distressed at a press conference.  He announced he was bowing to public pressure and halting construction of the new trans-Amazon highway.  "This is governing by obeying the people," he explained.  It's true...a group of highly motivated protesters had stolen the hearts of Bolivians away from their once-savior.  Here's how: Two months ago a thousand-or-so Amazonian Indians began a 370 mile march from their home to the capital.  The difference in altitude from Trinidad (in the lowland jungles) to La Paz (the world's highest capital) is 13,000 feet.  Many walked the entire distance barefoot.  Along the way, they spoke of the deforestation to rain forest the highway would bring.  They also talked about the inevitable human development a four-lane highway brings.  With daily news coverage of the march, by the time the protesters reached the streets of La Paz, they were hailed as heroes!

The march from the jungles to the mountains.
All of which put Morales in a very sticky situation.  Many Bolivians accused him of not being true to his roots.   How could the nation's first native president build a road through a nature reserve? (C'mon...you know the answer: MONEY!) Indeed, the highway is financed entirely by Brazil.  It would provide a superior route not only to Brazil but also to Chile's Pacific ports as well.  This would make it much easier for everyone to get their natural resources to China.  In short, Bolivia would be able to conduct commerce quicker and cheaper, without investing a peso to build the road.  It appeared to be what every politician dreams of: A Win-Win situation.

The only thing that stood in the way of progress was the 15,000 indigenous folks who happened to live in the distant Amazonian province.  Since this is such a small population, Morales assumed the five million Quechua and Aymara peoples...who currently hold power...wouldn't care and see the greater good of the highway.  He was wrong.  The highland folks showed solidarity for the lowlanders and came out in force.  All week long, the streets of the capital have been filled with demonstrators. And it only gets worse for Morales.   Not only did he anger his own support base, but the Brazilians as well...they were quite eager to build.  Pobracito Evo! Ultimately, the situation boils down to the same issue facing most developing nations on the globe: How can one export raw materials to industrial nations without getting ripped off and destroying your own lands?

This is a question Morales is having trouble answering.  It takes a delicate balance to achieve industry in a rain forest.  Unfortunately, Evo was anything but gentle in his approach to the problem.  Two months ago, when the protest first began, he thundered to the media: "Whether they like it or not...We will build that road."  What happened to the humble subsistence farmer?  It seems six years of dining on caviar in palaces worldwide has made hm a bit arrogant.  Then again...maybe Evo has learned a thing or two from other politicians.  He may be eating crow today but the rumor is he is already secretly planning a new route for the highway.  This one takes a lot longer to drive, but at least it doesn't go through any silly National Parks!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011



All hell broke lose at the SCRABBLE CHAMPIONSHIPS at the Warsaw Hilton yesterday!  Tempers began to flare during a heated late-round match-up.   The favorite, ED MARTIN (an IT guy from London), was barely beating his opponent CHOLLAPAT ITTHI-AREE (an uber-nerd from Bangkok).  Suddenly, after his opponent made some curious moves, the Thai player became enraged!  A tournament official was summoned and listened to his demands.   Next...he must have bust up laughing...after what he had heard.  Chollapat wanted his opponent taken to the restroom and strip-searched.  Why?  Chollapat explained: "Because he is hiding the 'G' tile in his pants!"

After some consultation, cooler heads prevailed.  A new 'G' tile was inserted into the bag and the game continued without incident. (Meaning: No one took their clothes off!) By a slim, one point margin, the Brit hung on and managed the win.  Now...when this story first broke...we here at the DUNER BLOG were barraged with questions.  What is the Warsaw Hilton like?  Can one wager on Scrabble tournaments?  How would hiding the 'G' tile help you win?  Fortunately, we decided not to answer any of these questions, and will instead focus on the more obvious inquiry: What the heck is Competitive Scrabble all about anyhow?

After further investigation, we determined that SCRABBLE isn't just for Mom and Aunt Ruth anymore. So...if you think you've got what it takes to take your game to the next level...here's what you've gotta do the become a Scrabble Champ.  First, you must register with the NASPA (North American Scrabble Player's Association).  Then you must join a sanctioned club.  (Casual clubs cannot send players to competitions).  Then, once you've beaten everyone in your club, you advance to a local, then regional, then the National Championship.  The top ten are automatically qualified for a 'Place in Poland'  at WESPA (World English Scrabble Players Association) World Championships.  Sweet!

Now that you now how to get the gold, let's also make sure you know the rules.  In doing research, we here at the DUNER BLOG came across hundreds of pages of intricate ordinances and statuettes, but...for the sake of brevity...here are a few:  First of all, think quick! Each player is only given 25 minutes for the entire game.  If you exceed this allotment, you will be penalized 10 points for each extra minute. Also, in Competitive Scrabble, you can only use plastic tiles...not the wooden ones.  This eliminates the illegal act of 'braille-ing,' when one feels the tiles with the finger tips in hopes of finding a blank one.  Finally, tracking..or counting...of tiles is allowed.  Whew!

Nigel (Second from left) with champions from other age divisions.
Anyhow...back to last weekend's big tournament in Poland.  After his narrow win over the insane Thai dude, ED MARTIN was ousted and New Zealander NIGEL RICHARDS became the first man to win two championships.  His winning word was "Ominfied" placed on a double word score for a whopping 95 points.  He won 12,000 pounds (62,000 Zloty).   And, finally...because lots of our readers are Scrabble Addicts...let's review some of the all-time scrabble records.    The highest scoring word of all time is QUIXOTRY, which when placed between two triple-word scores (called a double-triple by Scrabblers) with the 'R' tile already in place, is worth an amazing 365 points! The longest word ever played is DISCONTENTMENTS. The most points ever scored in a Scrabble game is 830, achieved by MICHAEL CRESTA in 2006.  When this occurred, Scrabble blogger Stefan Fatsis wrote:

"Michael's accomplishment can be heralded as the anagrammatic equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962 or Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series: a remarkable, wildly aberrational event with potential staying power. Cresta's 830 shattered a 13-year-old record, 770 points, which had been threatened only infrequently."   

And you thought Scrabble was just another board game!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011



You know, there's a reason why being a bullfighter is the 'most dangerous job in all of Spain.'  It's because sometimes, the bull wins!!  And that's exactly what happened last Saturday at the FIESTAS DEL PILAR in the city of ZARAGOZA.  As the photo clearly illustrates, the matador, JUAN JOSE PADILLA took the bull's horn directly to his face.  The good news? He survived.  Doctors inserted "titanium plates and mesh to reconstruct the cheek bone structure and the eye socket." The bad news? He'll never see out of his left eye again.  Whew! Well, it looks like lucky JUAN was able to survive...but can the sport of bullfighting?

It's true, for bullfighting fans, the goring couldn't have come at a worse time.  On October First,  a mere six days prior, a law went into effect for the entire region of Catalonia, officially banned the sport forever.  In Barcelona, anti-bullfighting activists staged a rally downtown, while the last bullfight occurred at LA MONUMENTAL, the city's famous bullring.  Fans cried when the last Toro was slain.  It was a sad day for the stadium as well.  After this 'last fight' it closed its doors forever.  It's slated to become an upscale shopping mall.  NOTE: LA MONUMENTAL claimed the noble distinction of being one of the few venues in the world to host both a Beatles and a Rolling Stones concert. 

With these two sudden events, people all over the Iberian Peninsula are forced to ask themselves a tough question: Is bullfighting really a necessary part of Spanish culture?  Many feel it is.  After all, it is older than just about anything else in Spain.  It took two centuries for the Roman armies to kill every last one of the indigenous people of Hispania, who left only their name.  So when the settlers from Italy came to the 'Plain of Spain' in 17 BC, it was completely empty.   And the first thing those zany Romans did was build aqueducts for water and stadiums for gladiator battles.  (Afterward, they constructed their own homes, stores, schools, etc.)  Many of the bullrings of today are built on these ancient locations.

On the other hand, bullfighting is pretty darn gross and gory...feel free to visit the PETA website for all disgusting images and alarming stats.  They also admonish the argument of it being a 'historical icon.'  Let's face it, other insanely violent Spanish traditions...like torturing Jews during the Inquisition, or burning Aztecs at the stake...have become things of the past.  Why not bullfighting?  Statistics back up this argument.  Attendance is down 33% for bullfights over the last three years.  Polls conducted in Spain reveal that only 20% of the population 'strongly support' the tradition, but a whopping 50% want bullfighting banned permanently.

But opinion polls won't close down the bullrings.  So...for the time being...Spain is still hanging on to the proud tradition of bullfighting. There were 1,700 fights last year and each time the bull lost.  Talk about excitement!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011



On Saturday, the Government of Cuba made it official.  RAUL CASTRO repealed one of the world's silliest laws ever enacted.  As of October First, Cuban citizens can finally buy and sell cars.  No longer will the Cuban people be forced to save up suitcases full of pesos and meet in back-alleys with shady used-car salesmen...all just to get a Russian-made Moskvich.  While the new law is merely a minor step towards a more open-market system, it reassuring to the rest of the world that Cuba is at least trying to modernize its insane infrastructure.  Let's face it, when it comes to wacky laws and edicts, Cuba is in a universe of its own.

No...not a universe of it own...more of a time-warp of its own.  When FIDEL CASTRO usurped power in 1959, he engineered one of the shrewdest scams in world history.  Under the "Name of the Revolution," he instantly claimed ownership of everything on the island.  Usually, a coup d'etat in the Caribbean means the new guy occupies the government buildings and the TV stations.  But not FIDEL!  He took over all public and private structures...hotels, stores, factories, businesses, nightclubs and massage parlors.  Then, to insure he'd rule for the next fifty years, he stripped all private citizens of most human rights.  Things like Freedom of Speech and Private Ownership were instantly taken away...also in the "Name of the Revolution."  

But perhaps the most insane of FIDEL CASTRO's numerous laws, ordinances and edicts were those regarding automobiles.  Like other bourgeoisie luxuries, the import of all foreign cars was instantly banned.  Since there are no automobile factories on the island, this meant Cubans were stuck with what ever cars were on the island in the year 1959.  That means...with the exception of some Soviet imports...the cars and trucks on the highways and byways of the Caribbean nation haven't changed in fifty years.  Imagine the scene on a Havana street: A sky-blue '58 Chevrolet Bel Air honks as it tries to merge in front of a black '54 Chrysler Imperial.  (Don't believe me?  Ask me brother BIFF...he's been there!)

Sorry...back to Saturday's ordinance.   In addition to allowing individuals to sell their old cars, it also allowed for limited purchasing of new, imported cars as well.  Believe it or not, there are now a couple car dealerships in Cuba.  But wait...before you take that car home, amigo...you must first take a sworn oath, stating that the money used to purchase said auto was earned "solely through salary in an approved field and not through remittances from relatives abroad."  Since the average Cuban worker only earns $20 a month, we here at the DUNER BLOG don't see a lot of people buying many Bentley's or Maserati's any time soon.

Finally, in addition to the easing of automobile restrictions, the Government of RAUL CASTRO also announced new ordinances regarding private ownership.  Although the details won't be released until 2012, many see a new day dawning on the island.  It will take awhile, but someday in the not too distant future, we could see the island returning to its 1950's glory days...when Cuba was the coolest party destination on the planet.  Just ask LOUISE SUGGS.  She's the defending champion of the Havana Open Golf Tournament, which was last played in 1958.  She's 88 years old now, but still ready to defend her title.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011



OMG! You would not believe the plot of Sean Penn's latest blockbuster.  It goes something like this: Opening Scene: A handsome and very wealthy philanthropist is relaxing on the deck of his opulent MARIN COUNTY mansion.  The phone rings.  "Great news, Sir! We just got word from the Iranians...They're willing to talk."  Second Scene: Our hero speeds down his driveway in a sleek, jet-black BMW.  On the way to the airport he is tailed by suspicious men in dark sunglasses.  Next Scene: Camera pans an ornate and stately presidential palace, somewhere in Latin America.  In a perfectly pressed Armani suit, our man speaks to a smartly dressed dictator.  "They're just kids!" he pleads. "They're not spies. They're not terrorists! Give them their freedom!" Final Scene: After 90 minutes of car chases and theatrical gun fights, our action hero saves the day and the prisoners are released from jail.

Only this time, SEAN PENN's blockbuster wasn't a movie at all.  This time, it's real life!  It all began when three backpackers from Berkeley (where else?) were hiking to a waterfall in the mountains of Northern Iraq. (doesn't everyone want to vacation there?)  Anyhow, they got lost and wandered across the border into Iran, where they promptly arrested.  For the next two years, they languished in a dirty jail cell in Tehran awaiting trial...despite the pleas from the international community for leniency.   The story touched the heart of the actor SEAN PENN, who just happens to be friends with Venezuelan dictator HUGO CHAVEZ.  Penn flew to Caracas and convinced the dictator to call someone in his "Evil-Axis Fraternity of Dictators" to free the hikers.  It worked.  On Wednesday, state-run Iranian TV announced the release of the prisoners to the Sultan of Oman.

Best Buddies: Sean & Hugo.
Too fantastic to be true?  Yeah...we got lots of questions.  First of all...If SEAN PENN is such an amazing diplomat, why did he wait over a year to secure their release?  Good question, but there is reason.  The case of Dumb Hikers vs. Fundamentalist Shi'ite Judge was completely under the jurisdiction of the Iranian Judicial System.  This meant years of hearings and appeals. During this time, AHMADINEJAD and the executive branch of the Iranian government were forbidden to intervene.  However, once the trial finished, it was only a matter of days before "Super-Sean" could negotiate their release.  Next question: Why are SEAN PENN and HUGO CHAVEZ friends?  Well...it seems they were meant for each other. They are both into Socratic philosophy, voodoo economics and monetary elitism.  It was only a matter of time before they became BFF's.

Alright...here's the most important question: Does America really want cocky, kooky SEAN PENN negotiating their international diplomatic policy?  Is it even legal?  The answers to both questions is: NO!  The Feds want you to know this is a very unique situation.  The only reason why a private citizen was able to act on behalf of the government is because there are absolutely no diplomatic relations between Iran and the USA.  They haven't been restored since November 4th, 1979...the day the 'embassy fiasco' began.  This means Obama and the State Department have no legal jurisdiction to demand any type of extradition for the hikers.  When a stalemate like this occurs, it opens the door for a private citizen to intervene.  But don't worry...in all future instances when US citizens are wrongfully imprisoned in a country, all negotiations will continue to be handled by the federal government. Whew!

Anyhow, back to the hikers and the actor.  The former are safe, back at home at the co-op apartments, eating organic tofu and wheat germ.  Sigh.  But what about SEAN PENN?  Does the 'actor-turned-diplomat want to follow in the footsteps of RONALD REAGAN and ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER and make the jump from Hollywood to Sacramento?  Hugo Chavez thinks so.  After he rejected Obama's recent candidate for ambassador, he made an offer to help find a replacement. "I'll suggest a candidate." Chavez said.  "Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Chomsky. We have a lot of friends there.  How about Bill Clinton?"  Wow...could you imagine being at the private Caracas Party Cabana for that get-together?  I'm imagining lots of Jamaican rum, trashy porn stars and Cuban cigars!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011



Tragedy occurred in the South Pacific last week when HAPPY FEET, the world's most famous penguin, was devoured by a shark.  Thousands of New Zealanders gathered at Frank Kitts Park, in Central Wellington, for a candlelight vigil. Their beloved, proud and fearless Emperor Penguin would flap his wings no more.  Even Prime Minister JOHN KEY declared next Wednesday a National Day of Mourning for HAPPY FEET.   "I can't take it" sobbed 51-year-old KATHY GILLIAND "He was a great penguin who gave some much yet took so little."

Sorry...once again we got a little ahead of ourselves here at the DUNER BLOG.  Let's start at the beginning.  It all began on an average morning last June on Peka Peka Beach.  A woman was walking her dog when she spied a strange blob rolling along the sand.  After closer investigation, she discovered it was a Penguin!  Amazing! How could a bird, native to Antarctica, possibly swim 2,500 miles and end up on a beach in New Zealand? The geography involved is staggering: This North Island beach clocks in at 41 degrees latitude...which is the same as Rome, Italy!  Overnight, the penguin (nicknamed HAPPY FEET after the protagonist of the 2006 animated movie) became a worldwide sensation.

Oops...there I go again...getting ahead of myself!  Anyhow, back to the lady on the beach.  She alerted wildlife officials who rushed the bird to a clinic to figure out what was wrong.  It seemed our feathered friend had a belly full of tiny rocks and shards of wood.  Having never seen sand before...he does live on the South Pole...HAPPY FEET thought it was snow!  Simply put, penguins eat snow instead of drinking water.  Anyhow, our avian hero underwent emergency endoscopic surgery and was slowly nursed back to health at the Wellington Zoo.  As expected, the whole recovery was meticulously chronicled by 24-hour webcams so penguin lovers worldwide could follow his progress.   Private donations of over NZ$30,000 came flowing in. Heck, HAPPY FEET even had a Facebook Page with 50,000 friends!

But there finally came a day when HAPPY FEET would be fully recovered.  The question arose: What fate would become to our beloved penguin?  Some wanted HAPPY FEET to stay in New Zealand as a permanent resident in the Wellington Zoo.  (The San Diego Zoo also made an offer.)  Others wanted him elected to Parliament.  Some wanted him to star in a new reality TV show.  Fortunately, New Zealand Wildlife officials stepped in.  They have a strict policy on such matters.  Despite HAPPY FEET's celebrity status, he was to be returned to the wild...just like every other rescued animal.  Our buddy was loaded onto an ocean freighter heading south.  On September 4th, he slid down a ramp and was released into the chilly Southern Ocean.

This is the last photo ever taken of HAPPY FEET.
Although scared, HAPPY FEET wasn't totally alone.  Scientists had inserted a tiny tracking devise underneath his skin.  For the last two weeks, they've been following his every movement.  And...unfortunately...the same lack of direction that plagued HAPPY FEET in the first place came roaring back.  Rather than take a straight path to the South Pole, our hero has been zigzagging in a most peculiar route.  Seemingly swimming against ocean tides, he  swam to nowhere.  On Friday, his device stopped sending signals altogether.  What happened to HAPPY FEET?

News reporters stormed into the offices of SIR-TRACK, the company responsible for the electronic device, demanding an answer.  A spokesperson released the following statement: "This leads to the conclusion that either the satellite transmitter has detached or an unknown event has prevented Happy Feet from resurfacing."  Of course, they are sugar-coating the god-awful truth.  Everyone knows HAPPY FEET was eaten by a shark.   Wildlife expert COLIN MISKELLY was a bit more on the level.  “Maybe, just maybe, he will surprise us all by turning up at a monitored Emperor penguin colony, where the transponder inserted under the skin on his thigh will remind us all that once upon a time, a long time ago, he was more than just another penguin.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011



If you live in the USA and watch the FOX TV Network, you've been bombarded by promotions for an amazing new hit show debuting tomorrow night.  It's called THE X-FACTOR and looks a hell of a lot like AMERICAN IDOL.  Okay...you tell me if you see any similarities.  First, auditions are held nationwide where thousands of screaming kids proceed to make fools of themselves.  Then, the lucky twelve winners move on to the next round, where they perform in front of a live studio audience.   Celebrity judges then give insightful critique mixed with witty banter as a smarmy host cheers.  Finally, voting is held by fans to determine who gets the American X-Factor Billy Idol Award.   Ahem!  This doesn't sound like two completely different TV shows...does it?

Sorry about the cynicism...but this is really confusing.  So we here at the DUNER BLOG decided to straighten things out.  Our story begins with SIMON FULLER, a pudgy, pink-faced Brit from Sussex.  Although pig-like, he became the it guy for British music.  He managed the SPICE GIRLS, discovered AMY WINEHOUSE and introduced POSH SPICE to DAVID BECKHAM.   He is also one very creative dude.  In fact, he's the guy who dreamed up the fantastic formula for the hit TV show described above.  Called it POP IDOL, it debuted on ITV Network in the UK in 2001 and became an instant hit. Viewers loved the format but also fell in love the lead judge: The honestly-rude but cuddly-cute SIMON COWELL.  From Eton to Edinburgh, a whole nation anxiously waited to hear what insult Simon would hurl next.  The ratings went through the ceiling.

It was only a matter of time before the hit TV show crossed the pond to American shores...but not without some changes.  The three other hosts (Pete, Nicki and Neil) were jettisoned and replaced with washed-up '80's bubble-gum-pop-sensation PAULA ABDUL and unknown (but black) RANDY JACKSON.  Called AMERICAN IDOL, it would go on to become the most popular TV in American history...passing up both ALL IN THE FAMILY and THE COSBY SHOW.  The Two Simons basked in their success.  Who would have thought two simple blokes from Hertfordshire could become international celebrities?  Unfortunately...as we all know...absolute wealth corrupts friendships absolutely.  COWELL felt his personality was the reason for the show's success, while FULLER knew it was his creativity.  Bickering led to lawsuits, which continue today.  But who won?

In the UK, SIMON COWELL won.  He launched a new show called X-FACTOR designed to knock out his rival .  Although similar to the POP IDOL, it added new dimensions.  First of all, there are four categories.  The first two are Boys and Girls aged 12 - 25.  Anyone over the age of 25 is the third group (American Idol has a 28-year-old age limit).  The final category is for group acts.  Another difference is the Mentor Stage, where each judge advises and helps contestants in each category.  The main section of the show is the same, except the winner gets a guaranteed record contract.  It is now in its eighth season and has produced stars like LEONA LEWIS and ALEXANDRA BURKE.

In the USA, SIMON FULLER won.  In 2002, he was signed on as the executive producer of the original show with a whopping contract with FOX.  Four years later, they added ginormous extensions.  For ten straight years, it topped the Neilson Ratings, much to the chagrin of SIMON COWELL, who was jealous of FULLER's wealth.  He plotted to do the same thing he did in the UK: Launch X-FACTOR and leave FULLER in the dust.  But in 2004, he lost a lawsuit which forbid him launching the show in the USA show until the year 2011.  Well, it's now 2011 and it's time for America to see which Simon has got it right.

NOTE: The real winner here is FOX.  They broadcast both shows: IDOL in the spring season, X-FACTOR in the fall.  Cha-Ching!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011



People worldwide are all asking the same question: Where is MUAMMAR GADDAFI?  Not since the "Where's Waldo" craze has everyone on the planet been so intent on finding someone.  However, we here at the DUNER BLOG are proud to announce that we know where the evil tyrant is! He's hiding in neighboring Niger.  (NOTE: It's pronounced KNEE-gair) How did we come to this conclusion?  Well, it wasn't easy...that's for sure.  Respected news sources like the BBC and CNN are hesitant to release any false information, so we had turn to less legitimate sources: tacky tabloids and wacky websites.   We compiled information from unnamed family sources and quotes from unidentified tribal leaders.  And here's what we've found:

A month ago, Gaddafi announced that he would "fight to the death" to save Libya.  But...as the situation continued to deteriorate...he changed his mind and decided he liked being alive.   On Monday he fled in exile.  However, it's hard to sneak out of Libya when you have NATO monitoring your every move.  There are dozens of war ships from the US, UK, Canada, Italy and France all patrolling the Mediterranean...so you certainly can't leave by boat.  Likewise, there are three aircraft carriers watching the skies...so poor Muammar can't fly out either.  Heck, there are even submarines waiting for him if he tries to swim away underwater!  Nope, his only option is to escape overland to a friendly neighboring nation and hope satellites can't detect him.

Aisha Gaddafi
There are six nations that border Libya.  Egypt and Tunisia are out: Gaddafi's buddies Mubarak and Zine al Abidine were both overthrown earlier this year and the new regimes have strict anti-tyrant foreign policiesChad and Sudan are also a no-go: Gaddafi burned those bridges twenty years ago when he declared war on them over a silly border dispute.  Which leaves us with Algeria and Niger.  Algeria seemed like the natural haven for our displaced despot.  After all, his daughter Aisha and sons Mohamed and Hannibal (only Gaddafi can get away with naming his son Hannibal!) fled to Algiers last month.  Wrong again!  Nope, the last time anyone saw Muammar was when he and his 200 heavily armed vehicles came to the border town of Ghat, headed for Niger!

Why Niger?  According to the German tabloid DIE BILD it all has to do with a woman.  And...no...it's not his wife.  Her name is LADY MABROUKA and she is a cosmic voodoo sorceress.  Apparently, for the last ten years or so, she has become Muammar's most trusted advisor and confident.  Here's how it works.  LADY MABROUKA goes to the Ritz in Paris.  If you want to speak with Gaddafi, you must meet with her first and then hope she allows you to meet with the man.  (The tabloid also claims she tips the Ritz staff with 500 euro notes.) Anyhow, LADY MABROUKA is from Niger and is friends with RISSA AY BOULA, a Tuareg tribal leader who runs most of the country.  She's arranged for safe passage across the border.

The Lady Mabrouka
But...the real problem facing any nation offering safe haven for Gaddafi and his lady is the ROME STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT.  This pact forbids the harboring of criminals like our buddy Muammar.  Since Niger is a member state, they are obligated to turn him in to the Hague for a trial.  If they knowingly keep Gaddafi...and break the statute...they risk the ultimate punishment: No more Western aid.  Niger receives around $50 million in donations annually.   The best place for Muammar? "Zimbabwe" says Africa expert Andy Weir. "Mugabe has no relations with anyone, so there is no extradition issues.  Plus, he is already seen as hero in Harare, a true icon of pan-Africanism."

Where ever you end up, Muammar...one request...keep acting crazy and we'll keep blogging about you!

Thursday, September 1, 2011



Move over, STONEHENGE!  The world's largest clock is now located at BURNING MAN!  For those of you not living on the West Coast of the United States, BURNING MAN is a week long festival which celebrates people who want to "design art and express their individuality."  The concept is to create a temporary city, in the middle of the Nevada desert, for one week.  Over 50,000 people arrive to a makeshift city to showcase their fantastic creations.  Then, on Labor Day, everyone packs up every last scrap and leaves the desert as if nothing had happened.  This happens to be the festival's 25th anniversary.  To celebrate, artist JIM BOWERS, with the help of scientists from LAWRENCE BERKELEY LABORATORIES, have constructed the world's largest clock.  It's over a mile wide, with enormous hands and awesome lasers that shoot into the sky.

All of which puts the Guinness Book of World Records in a bit of a quandary.  Is this temporary creation really the biggest clock ever?  After copious amounts of research, we here at the DUNER BLOG have concluded that...no, it isn't  Clocks that sit on the ground are silly.  Only birds can see them...and we all know that birds can't tell time.  The only huge clocks that matter are those on erected on towers so that everyone can see them and know the time of day.  So, on this Labor Day, we'll salute those who know the nine-to-five grind and  we will count down our five favorite clock towers of all time.

NOTE: This list does not include the Campanile on the University of California in Berkeley, which is the coolest bell tower in the universe...not just earth!

Prague's famed clock
#5 Prague Astronomical Clock. In the year 1410, Czech clockmaker JAN HANAS unveiled his gigantic astronomical clock to the delight of crowds crammed into the Old Town Square below.  Not only does this baby tell time, but it also plots the phases of the moon and sun.  It is the only functioning 'astrolabe clock' in the world.  It's resilient too.  During the Prague Uprising in 1945 it took a licking and kept on ticking when negative Nazis fired on it.

#4 Kremlin Spasskaya Tower.  Located in the heart of Moscow, this proud clock tower has kept Russians on time since 1491.  Think about all the rulers during this period! This list includes Czars like Catherine the Great, Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible.  Then it rang for dictators like Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky and billionaires like Mikhail Prokhorov.  The clock changes moods with the regimes.  During the Soviet era, a large red star was erected on top which remains today.

London's Big Ben
#3 Railway Station Tower Tsim Sha Tsui. Constructed at the height of the Victorian colonial period, this massive clock tower is 164 feet high.  The bells chimes in synchronicity with the trains, who arrived in Kowloon from the rich trading city of Canton, just up the Pearl River.  Next to the railway station is the Star Ferry terminal which whisks passengers to Hong Kong Island.  The station was abandoned for a modern underground terminus, but the clock tower remains as a tribute to a glorious past.

#2 Big Ben. When it opened to the public on May 31, 1859, Big Ben was the tallest clock tower on earth.  Nowadays, it's the third tallest, but it still has the distinction of being the tallest clock tower with four faces.  What amazes us about Big Ben is the clock's spectacular endurance.  In 150+ years, it has only broken down once.  In 1976, a chiming mechanism cracked and for a horrendous twenty-six days Londoners had to go without their beloved Big Ben chiming away every hour on the hour.

The Abraj al-Bait Towers
#1 Royal Mecca Clock Tower.  There's a new sheriff (an Arabic word!) in town, and he lives in Mecca.  Opening next year...just in time for Ramadan...it will be not only be the world's tallest clock tower but the fourth tallest building in the world as well.  It's also a hotel, apartments...heck...it even has two heliports! Not only does it chime every hour, but also five times a day for prayers.  The Saudis are hoping this clock, complete with an immense telescope, will become a new standard in a new era...with Mecca Standard Time replacing Greenwich Mean Time.

I tell you...people really get carried away with their clock towers!

Friday, August 26, 2011



You might have missed the insanity that has crippled the world's largest democracy the last two weeks.  But don't worry!  We're here at the DUNER BLOG to fill you in.   Yesterday in Mumbai, populist activist ANNA HAZARE ended his hunger strike after ten days of ingesting nothing but water.  To celebrate, he went straight to McDonald's and inhaled five Chicken Maharaja-Mac sandwiches.   Okay...maybe not...but everyone else in India certainly was celebrating.  Somehow, a crazy old man had single-handedly managed to hold the massive nation of India hostage.  In Bangalore, fifty thousand angry, pro-Hazare protesters crippled traffic.  In Delhi, the Indian parliament was deadlocked debating emergency Hazare leglislation.  And in Mumbai, TV stations had 24-hour coverage of the decaying, withering 74-year-old body on their news networks.  Yuck!  Let's all just thank VISHNU it's over!

Oops...we forgot to mention what the fuss is all about.  It's all about corruption.  Our hero, ANNA HAZARE, is from Ralegan Siddhi, an impoverished village in Maharasta.  This Indian province has it rough.  Half of the year, it's wrecked by monsoons and typhoons.  The other half of the year, it's subjected to drought and 110 degree heat.  Nonetheless, Anna was determined to help his village. While he couldn't control the weather, he instead fought against the second worst problem afflicting Ralegan Siddhi: Graft.  In order to receive emergency federal aid after a disaster, villages must to first bribe government officials.  But, since they didn't have Rupees just laying around, Anna instead started a grass-roots campaign to raise awareness about the issue.  Over the last 30 years, his movement has gained a tremendous amount of steam.  ANNA HAZARE went from village idiot to national hero.

Okay...you're asking yourself...of all the problems facing India...is Corruption really the most pressing issue?  The answer is: Yes!  Let's look at the stats.  According to a recent study by TRANSPARENCY INDIA, nearly half of all Indians (that's half a billion people!) admitted to paying a bribe to a government official.  Another study by a Swiss-bank-watchdog-group reported that Indian citizens have a whopping $1.4 trillion dollars in 'black money' stashed away in secret bank accounts.  Yes...that is a lot of money.  The group reported India has more 'black money' in Swiss bank accounts than the rest of the world combined!  And it's not just private citizens.  Graft is also a problem in government.  Currently, 120 of India's 522 members of Parliament are under federal indictments.  Hmm...maybe ANNA HAZARE isn't so crazy after all!

What also bothers Hazare is the general acceptance of corruption in Indian society.  The aforementioned study focused also on one field to help make this point: The trucking industry.  Like everywhere else in the world, Indian highways have occasional 'truck inspection stations' where all trucks must be stopped to be weighed.  But unlike freeways in the US and Europe, Indian weigh-stations have makeshift booths in front of the scales where every driver must stop and pay a fee.  The study concluded that Indian truckers pay $5 billion in such bribes annually.  It's that bad.  A famous Hazare quote goes like this: "In India, your parents must bribe the hospital to get your birth certificate.  Your life only gets more expensive from there."

While everyone in India today is applauding ANNA HAZARE for starting a national debate on this appalling subject, many are questioning his methods for achieving it.  Specifically, his blatant comparisons of himself to revered national hero, MAHATMA GANDHI.  It's true, Anna looks like Gandhi, dresses like Gandhi and often makes speeches in front of huge posters of Gandhi.  His continued use of hunger strikes...a Gandhi favorite...to make his point has angered many, especially RAHUL GANDHI.  He worried that sensationalized and theatrical stunts like this simply have no place in a modern nation and "set a dangerous precedent for a democracy."

We here at the DUNER BLOG aren't sure who 's right or wrong...but we do have some advice for any readers planning a trip to India.  Be sure to get plenty of 100 Rupee Notes before you leave.  You'll need them to get your suitcase out of baggage claim!