Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011



Last week, the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, OTTO VON HABSBURG, was laid to rest in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.  He was 98 years old.   The burial rites were conducted under strict accordance with the detailed laws of the empire.  First, thirteen days of mourning were observed.  Next, five requiem masses were held in three separate nations (Austria, Germany and Hungary).  Finally, over one-hundred-thousand Austrians crammed into the Heldenplatz to pay their final respects before the body was entombed in the IMPERIAL CRYPT.  But...here's the gruesome part...the entire body wasn't laid to rest.  Also part of Habsburg tradition, Otto's heart was removed and buried in an abbey in Budapest.  Why?  To forever show the solemn unity of the two peoples.

Okay...you're confused.  You're asking: "Who is OTTO VON HABSBURG, anyhow?"  Born in 1912, our "King without a Kingdom," was a mere lad when the TREATY OF VERSAILLES was signed a couple years later.  The controversial treaty abolished the monarchy, broke up the empire and founded a new Austrian Republic.  It also forced the royal family into exile in Switzerland.  Our Otto was only nine years old when his father died. Otto was then crowned Emperor...of nation that didn't exist.  However, his mother, EMPRESS ZITA, thought otherwise.  She firmly believed her son would someday rule over the empire again.  Otto became fluent in German, Hungarian, Croatian, English, French and Latin...so he would be able to address his future subjects.  This all may sound crazy; but the empress was right.  It was clear most Austrians despised the proxy "republic" and longed for a return to the glory days of Habsburg rule. 

Another person who also knew how Austrians felt about their government was none other than...get ready to boo...ADOLF HITLER.  He saw Otto...now a respected 37-year-old author and statesmen...as an arch-rival who already owned the hearts and minds of Central Europe.  (Anyone who has ever seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC knows this!)  One of the fist actions Hitler took after the Nazi annexation of Austria was to issue a death sentence for Otto.  RUDOLF HESS even took it a step further; authorizing any German citizen the right to kill Otto on the spot.   Hitler also demanded immediate confiscation and seizure of all Habsburg property to insure Austria could never return to the monarchy he so thoroughly detested.  However, none of this mattered to our brave Otto...he was too busy ferrying 15,000 Austrians (including many Jews) out of the country to safety in neighboring lands.

When World War II began, Otto left Europe altogether.  The Allies also knew of his importance, so our hero was secretly relocated to Washington DC, where he served as an unofficial ambassador of Austria.  When the war ended, there was very little interest in reviving monarchies and Austria was returned to a republic.  Once again, Otto was banned from his native state.  In fact, for the first year after the war, the poor guy didn't even have a passport!  Finally, CHARLES DE GAULLE stepped up and arranged for him to have a one from MONACO.  For the rest of his life, Otto worked tirelessly as an advocate for a united, peaceful Europe where three faiths (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) could all live together.

Too often in European History classrooms, the great Austrian Empires are lumped together with the horrendous German Empires.  In actuality, Vienna fought against Berlin.  The Austrians often lost on the battlefields.  (Not only to the Germans, but the French, Turks and Italians as well.)  However, the Habsburgs were successful in other, much more important realms.  They helped plant the seeds for great cultures that grow in the countries they used to rule.  Their main goals were to build cathedrals, schools, universities and opera houses in the lands the conquered...not death camps.  So, in order for the world to better appreciate these often forgotten achievements, we here at the DUNER BLOG propose that the word for the German language should be renamed to AUSTRIAN.

NOTE: And also...since this is the DUNER BLOG...here is Otto's official name:  He is Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Habsburg.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011



Normally, when a city closes road for repairs, it's not headline news.  However...LOS ANGELES is by no means a normal city...so last weekend's freeway closure became a top national story.  For those of you lucky enough not to have heard about this, here's a quick summary:  In order to widen the 405 Freeway to twenty-six lanes, (exaggeration) a bridge needed to be demolished first.  This meant...gasp!...closing the crucial artery for an entire weekend.  Instantly, ten million people began to panic, thanks to media-fueled frenzy predicting the worst.  No...it would be even worse than the worst...Los Angeles would be engulfed in deadly CARMAGEDDON!

Just how did this all get so out of hand?  Well, it's a simple fact that in America, and particularly in L.A., local news stations are in a constant competition for higher ratings.  While feel-good pieces about firemen-saving-cats-in-trees are sweet, it's a fact that FEAR-BASED stories get higher ratings.  Within days of L.A. county supervisor ZEV YAROSLOVSKY's initial press conference, the minor story mushroomed into headline news.  Prognosticators painted a dire picture of a gridlocked city, with motorists trapped in their cars, gasping for air.  Of course NONE OF THIS HAPPENED, because by the time JULY SIXTEENTH came, everyone in L.A. was too terrified to walk outside. 

But don't worry...this being Los Angeles, there were a number of really wacky things that actually did happen.  You see, Californians are notorious at finding a way to CASH IN on just about anything, and CARMAGGEDON was a perfect opportunity to do just that.  Naturally, T-shirt sales skyrocketed, because that's what people wear in L.A. (We like: "I'll tell you my alternate route...if you tell me yours!")   Local businesses also got involved.  The Santa Monica Pier gave free passes to anyone with a San Fernando Valley Zip code.  Gladstone's restaurant in Pacific Palisades served up special $4.05 entrees.  Body Wellness offered a gridlock-relief yoga class.  It was...like...oh my god...totally bitchen!

However, there was one crazy CARMAGEDDON caper that had everyone here at the DUNER BLOG laughing so hysterically, we simply must share it with our readers:  One airline, JET BLUE, offered to fly folks over the freeway to avoid the traffic altogether.  Flight #405 ran only two days and was a mere 29 miles, from LAX to Burbank.  The in-flight meal was an L.A. favorite: Vietnamese spring rolls, chicken skewers, pitas and hummus.  Yum!  The fare was $4 for coach, $5 for business.  JET BLUE airline lost a bundle of cash, but gained a ton of FREE PUBLICITY...another L.A. favorite!

Finally, environmentalists also saw CARMAGEDDON as a vehicle to get their message out.  Activists reminded residents about how other great metropolises like London and Paris have "car free" weekends...why not L.A.?  Public Transport reported record ridership, especially on the Red Line subway that connects downtown to the valley.  But the most creative activists were the handful of bicyclists who decried to environmental waste of the Jet Blue publicity stunt.  (It did use a lot of jet fuel.) Anyhow, a dozen cyclists gathered at Los Angeles International airport and proceeded to race the plane across town.  And they won, beating the Airbus A320 jet to Burbank by fifteen minutes.  NOTE: The rollerblader racers lost.  WE LOVE L.A.!

BONUS JOKE: "So in the end it wasn't CARMAGEDDON after all.  More like CAR-DASHIAN: A whole lotta hype, but nothing real happened." -Jay Leno

Tuesday, July 12, 2011



It was party time last Saturday night in the Central African city of JUBA...especially at 12:01 am (East Africa Time).  Fireworks, sirens, air-horns and million drums deafened eardrums as the city erupted in joy and jubilation.   As determined in a vote in January, JULY NINTH, 2011 would be the first Independence Day for the new nation of SOUTH SUDAN.  Oyee!

You're probably asking yourself: Does the world really need a new country?  Isn't 224 countries enough? Well, the real problem is the British and French drew up some pretty stupid "countries" one hundred years ago....and some of the borders simply must be re-drawn.  Let's face it: When 98.83% of the population votes to secede, everyone worldwide just has to suck it up and learn about a new nation.

But don't worry! We here at the DUNER BLOG are here to help and will now answer some questions about SOUTH SUDAN submitted by readers.

With a quarter of its area gone, is Sudan still Africa's biggest country? -- Jeffrey, San Francisco.
You're right, Jeffrey!  Sudan is no longer the largest nation (in terms of area, not population) on the African continent.  As of Saturday, the coveted distinction of Africa's biggest nation now belongs to: Algeria!  In fact, Sudan is now third on the list, behind the Congo...but still ahead of Libya.  NOTE: South Sudan is now the world's 45th largest nation.

Gimme some vital info about South Sudan: Capital, Language, Currency. -- Greg, Shanghai.
Not exactly as question...Greg...but we'll help you out.  The capital city is Juba.  It is the southernmost navigable port on the Nile River.  Located close to the Equator (4 degrees N), the city is hot, muggy and muddy.  The official language of South Sudan is English, although many speak Arabic.  In addition, three million citizens speak Dinka.  The currency is the South Sudanese Pound, although no bank notes have been issued.

Doesn't South Sudan have a lot of oil? -- Marvin, Mexico City.
It sure does!  Not surprisingly, petroleum reserves were the thorniest issue in the Sudanese divorce.  See, all of Sudan's four oil refineries are all located in the North.  Crude oil...along with all of its enormous profits...is simply pumped away from the South to the North.  Not any more!  As of Saturday, all oil revenue will be split 50/50 between the two states.  Note: The USA cannot legally purchase Sudanese oil as it is still under the jurisdiction of a terror-supporting regime.  Hence, Chinese companies own 80% of their reserves.

I heard South Sudan is a tough place to be a woman.  Is that true? -- Sureshnie, Johannesburg
It's true...The statistics aren't good for the ladies of South Sudan...especially if you want to be a mom.  The new nation starts off dead last on the international list of nations' Maternal Mortality Rates.  This means one in fifty women die in labor.  Almost all babies are born at home as the entire nation has only two hospitals. Get this...there is only one doctor for every half million people.  (Talk about long waits in waiting rooms!)

Do you really think this crazy new country can survive? Tracy, Manhattan.
Although most impoverished, landlocked nations do fail, we here at the DUNER BLOG believe South Sudan has a chance.  First of all, it isn't beset with religious strife, which cripples so many developing nations.  For example, the first president, SALVA KIR MAYARDIT, is a Catholic with a Muslim son.  Also, its remote location has spared it from development.  The BOMA NATIONAL PARK is home to world's second largest wildlife migration.  Finally, be sure to watch out for their national basketball team in the next Olympics.  The Dinka are the tallest people on earth!  Just ask MANUTE BOL or LOUL DENG!

One more thing: The nation's official anthem is: "SOUTH SUDAN OYEE!"



Wednesday, July 6, 2011



In what is rapidly becoming the most anticipated event on FOURTH OF JULY, yesterday's HOT DOG EATING COMPETITION rocked!  Held each year on the famed CONEY ISLAND boardwalk, Monday's intense competition was once again won by JOEY CHESTNUT.  The five-time champ managed to consume a whopping 62 Hot Dogs in the allotted time of ten minutes.  While it wasn't his best performance (Joey holds the all-time record of 68) our hero still hoisted the "Bejeweled Mustard Yellow Belt" high over his head.   The 40,000 spectators packed on the boardwalk stands cheered in jubilation!

Never heard of the NATHAN'S HOT DOG EATING COMPETITION?  Don't feel bad...it is a rather odd tradition.  It all started in the year 1916 when four recent immigrants were celebrating the Fourth of July on the Coney Island boardwalk.  Unfortunately, the festive gathering turned argumentative when one man, JAMES MULLIN, declared that he was the most patriotic of the four.  Just how this disagreement turned into a competition involving eating hot dogs and why people choose to re-enact it again are hard questions to answer.  But...for whatever reason...every Fourth of July since, folks have gathered in South Brooklyn at Nathan's Hot Dog stand to see who can be the next king.

Over the next century, enthusiasm for the event had its ups and downs.  One year it was held underneath the Brooklyn Bridge with only a handful of competitors.  The competition, which used to receive limited news coverage...like a small article buried on page 37 of the NEW YORK POST...slowly began to mushroom. Nowadays, it's televised live on ESPN and seen by 1.8 million viewers worldwide.   Interest surged in 2001 when the colorful TAKERU KOBAYASHI won his first title.  The diminutive Japanese citizen amazed the world with his tenacious eating skills and went on to win an unprecedented seven Mustard-Yellow belts.

Unfortunately, with fame and fortune comes a huge level of bureaucracy.  These days, contestants need to qualify to get to Coney Island by winning one of eight regional hot-dog eating competitions.  Such events are held under the close eye of the INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF COMPETITIVE EATING, or IFOCE for short.  (Either way, it must be one the silliest organizations ever founded.)  The rules state that everyone must first sign a contract  which strictly forbids any participation in non-IFOCE events.  This agreement lead to a nasty legal dispute when KOBAYASHI appeared numerous times on Japanese TV shows, which absolutely love silly stuff like this.  Consequently, the "Japanese Tsunami" was banned from Coney Island forever.

However, KOBAYASHI has not gone away quietly, much to the chagrin of MLE (Major League Eating).  Last year, he was arrested by NYPD when jumped onstage in protest.  This year, he rented the rooftop of the Manhattan bar 230 FIFTH.  Beside an enormous TV airing the live ESPN broadcast, he "competed" against Chestnut and the others.  He managed to eat 69 dogs: One more than the all time record!  While he had two judges present, it will not be recognized as a true record.  "I want to remain free to compete in events," Kobayashi said. "Today was a great success." GEORGE SHEA, the irate MLE president, replied: “The champion of the world is crowned in Coney Island. Always has been, always will be. He put a tin crown on his head and called himself king."

Leave it to Americans to come up with something as stupid as a Hot Dog Eating competition...then ruin it 100 years later with legal absurdities!