Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, January 27, 2011



OH MY GOD!! All of us here at the DUNER BLOG are all a-flutter about 2011's most exciting event: THE ROYAL WEDDING!! The 29th of April 29th is circled on our calendar with big stars and large red arrows!! C'mon, now: Fans of royal weddings (like me!) haven't had much to celebrate in the last couple decades. Since the LADY DI & PRINCE CHARLES wedding back in 1981, and ANDREW & FERGIE in 1992, it's been rough. We've been forced to endure wedding s with lesser nobles tying the knot in simple ceremonies (stupid bad economy). And things haven't been that great outside of the House of Windsor either! In Monaco, all three of Princess Grace Kelly's kids continue to annoy. The Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish royals are all boring. And don't get me started with that dull Emperor Akihito in Japan! So...I guess what I'm trying to say is...In the next NINETY TWO DAYS, be prepared for a "Wills-Loves-Kate-Blog-Fest." Whoo-hoo!

Part One stats today. Our topic: Wedding Souvenirs. Now, if you were to walk down a major boulevard in London or Glasgow today, you would be astounded by some of the great items available for purchase to commemorate this most glorious occasion. The most popular item is, naturally, china. The windows of Old Durham Road are showcasing a dozen different plates, serving trays, teapots, tea cups with matching saucers...all adorned with adorable pictures of Wills and Kate. Meanwhile, the Crest of London has all of these, plus limited-edition pill-boxes, wedding tankards, champagne flutes, commemorative magnets and a "Teabag Tidy" (whatever the hell that is, I don't know!) Of course you can also buy posters, bumper stickers, flags and buntings...even life-size-wax-replicas of the royal couple.

However, not all folks are happy about the avalanche of kitch surrounding late April's festivities. The BBC, Sky-News and the Daily Mail have all recently published articles decrying the (obvious) source of the souvies. You guessed it: Almost all the china is made in China. Let's go some eight thousand miles east of Buckingham Palace to Yiwu, a suburb of the industrial megalopolis Shenzen. Located there is a factory that is completely dedicated to manufacturing many of these treasures. It is operated by FU XUXIAN, an incredibly successful entrepreneur. These days, he is particularly proud of one item: A stunning replica of the famous wedding ring. With a minor in geo-science, FU studied photos of the original 18-carat Ceylon sapphire surrounded by South African diamonds. He worked around the clock to produce a plastic substitute for the stones and then casted them in a bronze-based setting. They will retail for about $2.99...a price no one in Europe can beat!

Which is precisely what the British Media is fuming about. Why is it that China always rakes it in when someone else has a major event? The Daily Mail bemoans the fact that these same factories will soon be producing the same items for the LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC games next year. Last year, it was savvy Chinese businessmen who scored big by investing in VUVUZELAS (see earlier blog) for the South African World Cup. Even Queen Elizabeth II is getting angry. The palace is considering a lawsuit against a Chinese manufacturer who claims to have "special royal permission" to mass produce commemorative Royal Wedding coffee mugs. When will the madness end?

While Duner will undoubtedly purchase several of the before-mentioned items, he is concerned about the financial message we repeatedly send when we send our hard-earned dollars to Shenzen for mass-produced, tacky items like commemorative Royal Wedding coasters. Even PRESIDENT OBAMA noted this trend during his STATE OF THE UNION address on Tuesday. He warned we were experiencing another "Sputnik Moment," when another nation races past the USA on a technological or financial field. But...if you don't believe me or the president...just ask FU XUXIAN, who is making crazy money right now, unable to keep up with the high demand for Royal Wedding commeratives. Fu says: "As a businessperson, you have to look for opportunities. Then you have to run faster than the competition." Run, Fu, Run.

Friday, January 21, 2011



Having recently seen critically acclaimed movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK, I began to wonder: Just how powerful has FACEBOOK become? We all know FACEBOOK can do wonderful things for our lives. It has reconnected me with old high school friends and past roommates from around the world. People I like...but had understandably lost touch with...are now instantly available. But what about FACEBOOK's powerful Dark Side? It starts meaningless affairs, gets good workers fired, expels hardworking students, denies good university applications and...and...well...you get the picture. But in the recent weeks, the all mighty social networking site has achieved the ultimate power: FACEBOOK now has the power to overthrow the government of an ENTIRE NATION! (Wow! Even OPRAH doesn't have that much power!)

Sorry...as usual...I got ahead of myself! Let's start over, shall we? Our story begins in the small Arab nation of Tunisia. Wedged into a corner of northern Africa, poor Tunisia isn't blessed with massive oil reserves like her fortunate neighbor, Libya. So the ten million Tunisians must find other ways to make a living. Mostly, they produce things that nearby Europe can't and ship them a short distance across the Mediterranean. Hence, Tunisia has lots of orange groves (can't grow them in Berlin), small factories (cheaper labor) and, recently, tourism (great coastline!). However, with the economic downturn hitting Europe's Mediterranean nations particularly bad (See PIGS blog), frustrated little Tunisia's once lucrative industries are vanishing. Europeans simply aren't eating as many oranges, buying any flip-flop sandals and certainly not taking expensive beach vacations.

These tough times have hit the Tunisian middle class especially hard. Many educated people have been laid off and forced to take more menial jobs. MOHAMED BOUAZIZI (nickname: Bashoosa) is a great example. Forced to deal with 30% unemployment, the resident of the town of Sidi Bouzid has sold produce since age 10 to help feed the family. Yet he always aspired for more. He applied to the Tunisian army, but was turned down. He got accepted to university, but couldn't afford tuition. He couldn't even land a custodial job. Frustrated, but not deterred, Mohamed pragmatically decided to expand his produce stand. He bought a bigger cart and saved his dinars in hopes of someday purchasing a van.

However, according to local officials, Mohamed did not have the proper permits for a larger stand. (Read: Mohamed had not recently paid off any local officials.) On December 17, officer FEYDA HAMDI approached the Bouazizi produce cart and: "slapped him in the face, spat on him, confiscated his electronic weighing scales, destroyed his fruit and vegetable stands, all while her two colleagues assisted her in beating him." Oh yeah, Hamdi also hurled repeated insults about Bouazizi's deceased father during the assault. Injured, broke, crushed in spirit and humiliated in front of his entire village by a female cop, the man whose spirit couldn't be broken, gave up. A mere hour after the incident, Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline and lit a match.

Before the invention of FACEBOOK, we never would have heard about Bouazizi's sad, sad tale. But, since the Tunisian dictator ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI didn't ban the powerful site, it was only a matter of days before the entire nation was informed and obsessed with the tragic life of Bouazizi. Bloggers hastily arranged marches which soon erupted into massive protests and strikes. Blindsided by the sudden wave of dissent, President Ben Ali rushed to the hospital. The state-controlled media flooded TV broadcasts and newspapers with images of the president at the bedside of the fruit vendor. But, alas, it was too little too late...and no match for mighty FACEBOOK. Within a month, the entire nation was bitterly against him. After more than thirty (mostly successful) years in power, Ben Ali boarded a private jet and fled in exile to Malta...not really knowing what had happened.

So...the next time you decide to do a little "harmless lurking" on the infamous social network site...remember: FACEBOOK has more power than you know! Just ask the FORMER president of Tunisia!

Friday, January 14, 2011



It's a NEW YEAR and that can only mean one thing: It's AWARDS SEASON! And no one gives out more meaningless awards than the Americans. Make no mistake: It's good to be a current American movie star/pro athlete/reality TV celebrity. Not ONLY are you an instant multi-millionaire, BUT you also spend the next ten weekends getting worshipped at galas and banquets across the country. For example, if you're JULIA ROBERTS you'll be at the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards and People's Choice this month. February is the Golden Globes, MTV Movie and BRIT awards. March brings the only legitimate one, The Oscars. If you're a talented musician like LADY GAGA, you'll soon be scooping up Grammys, Billboard's annual achievement awards, Nickolodeon Teen Choice statues and being photographed next to huge, gaudily framed gold records. Heck, even though PEYTON MANNING got knocked out of the NFL Playoffs, he'll still dominate the ESPYS next month!

Which thankfully brings me to my point. With so many awards out there, their individual magnitude is being diluted. Do you really think SANDRA BULLOCK keeps her Best Actress Oscar statue for The Blind Side on the same shelf as her MTV popcorn trophy for 'Best Kiss' in While You Were Sleeping? No way! BUT...there is still one award out there that will never be tarnished: THE MEDAL OF HONOR! Don't be fooled by the simple name...this is one special award. It's the USA's highest military honor. It's only given to one who "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States." In other words, you can't get this medal by performing a particularly passionate on-screen smooch with Matthew McConnahay!

But the MEDAL OF HONOR never gets the same treatment in the media. It's easier to find the Pepsi Spirit Awards on TV than any official military ceremony. Too bad, because this is one amazing award. First of all, recipients can only be nominated by a commanding officer or by a Congressional motion. Only the serving President can bestow the order in a ceremony regulated by tight protocol which dates back to the first MEDAL OF HONOR, which was issued by ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Abe wanted something more important to truly honor brave Union soldiers who had served heroically to save our great nation. Since then, it is only been given to a select few at any random time. How select? We've sent over 100,000 soldiers to Afghanistan over the last eight years, but only four have received the medal.

Which thankfully brings me to the most recent (and the only living Afghan war vet) to recieve the medal: SALAVADORE GUINTA. He hails from Hiawatha, Iowa and here is his fantastic story: There was a full moon on Oct. 25th, 2007 that shined down in the barren Korengal Valley in Central Afghanistan. Salvadore and his crew quietly patrolled the small villages. Suddenly, from the darkness came a thud. Al-Qaida troops had ambushed Guinta's platoon! Heavy gunfire rained down from all directions on the unsuspecting soldiers, riddling the legs of Sgt. Erick Gallardo. Guinta, the team leader, flew into action. In the distance, he saw two insurgents hurriedly dragging the sergeant's body away. Gallantly, he raced after his friend and into the barrage of enemy fire. Bullets from an AK-47 richoceted off his helmet, others would be embedded onto the rifle on his back. Determined, he finally reached his friend. Guinta drew his weapon and opened fire on the stunned al-Qaida soldiers, killing one instantly. The other fled in panic. Guinta grabbed Gallardo by the vest and dragged him to safety. (See? This guy is a real-life Rambo!)

So as you sit down this month to watch WILL SMITH get slimed with green goo on the Nickeleon Teen Choice Award show, take a minute to think about Salvatore and what America really stands for. Oh yeah...and also think about how awesome it would be to get the coveted MEDAL OF HONOR: You get a large financial stipend for the rest of your life, with cost of living adjustments. You get an automatic invitation to all future Presidential Inaugurations. You get to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with a ten-gun salute. And here's my personal favorite: All your children get to attend US Military Academies "without regard to the nomination and quota requirements." WOW!

Wait...on second thought...I don't think I'd want to face armed, angry Taliban soldiers at night in the desert. You go, Salvatore!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011



Ho! Ho! Ho! We may have already celebrated Christmas, but for the THREE HUNDRED MILLION who worship in the Orthodox Church, TODAY, January Seventh, is the true birth date of Jesus Christ. Why are there two dates? Glad you asked! Up until the year 1583, all Christians celebrated Christmas on January 7th. But, on this date in the sixteen century, the Vatican announced it was shifting all holy dates to the newly perfected Gregorian calendar, thereby officially replacing the Julian calendar in the West. From this date on, there would be two Christian calendars as the orthodox churches in the Eastern Mediterranean didn't adopt the new calendar. This is why Greeks, Russians and Coptics celebrate Christmas and Easter twelve days later than us every year.

But today, nowhere is Christmas more important than for the eight million followers of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. You might have heard, seven days ago hundreds of worshippers crowded into the pews at the All Soul's Church, awaiting the New Year's Mass at midnight. Then...all of sudden...BAM!...a bomb ripped through the church, killing 21 and injuring a hundred more. Tensions between the minority Coptic Christians and the majority Sunni Muslims exploded as protests and counter-protests flared across the the Middle East's most populous nation. Today, Coptic worshippers have been assured by the government it is safe to return to the churches and cathedrals to celebrate Christmas. But would you go to mass if you were a Coptic Christian in Egypt?

If our century has one historical theme so far, it has to be the renewal of religious strife between Islam and Christianity. Fueled by the 9-11 attacks in 2001, (don't forget, 2011 is the TEN YEAR ANNIVERSARY) and by the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we haven't seen this much bloodshed between the two faiths since the Great Crusades began in the 1200's. All across the globe, we are seeing tensions mount. Earlier this week, a court in Pakistan found a Christian guilty of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced her to death. Here in the US, the planned Mosque in Manhattan remains a lightning rod as well.

But to me, the current situation in Egypt is the most disturbing. The oldest branch of Christianity is the Orthodox Egyptian Coptic Church. After Christ's death in the year 30 AD, St. Mark fled to Alexandria. The first Christian scriptures were written down secretly and then spread around the globe. For the next two thousand years, the Coptic faith has withstood the worst: The Roman Empire, Barbarian invaders, Islamic Holy Wars, Napoleon, Hitler, Nasser...(Let's face it: the Coptics are tough!) But, throughout all these disastrous events, people in the ancient cities of Alexandria and Cairo have managed to co-exist; Christians and Muslims living together.

Another reason why we need to keep a close eye on these events is Egypt's position amongst other Arab nations. With 80 million people, it is by far the most populous Arab state. It also is the hub of all Arabic language media. All TV shows, movies, music, books, magazine originate in Cairo, the trend-setter for Arab pop culture. To insure any peace in the Middle East, Egypt needs to maintain its place not only as model of religious tolerance, but also as a functioning, mainstream, non-fundamentalist society as well.