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!
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Every American kid who was born after the year 1969 grew up watching SESAME STREET. For our confused international readers...lemme clarify. The aforementioned show featured talking puppets who entertained kids while secretly educating them. The cast included memorable friends like Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Grover the Monster and his obnoxious nephew, Elmo. But my personal favorite was always BERT and ERNIE. While the other characters were solid individuals, Bert and Ernie were best buddies. They were inseparable and did everything together. Yep, as a kid, I wanted to grow up and have a friendship just like BERT and ERNIE.
Well, it turns out other Americans also wanted to up and have a relationship just like BERT and ERNIE: Gays and Lesbians. After further investigation, it's clear. BERT and ERNIE did everything together. They ate together. They played together. They even argued together. They even slept in the same room together! No wonder they're icons in the gay world. NOTE: It turns out many things you loved as a kid are also gay icons...try watching THE WIZARD OF OZ and remember this.
Anyhow, curious readers must be asking themselves: Why is Duner bringing this up now? Well, last month the NEW YORK STATE LEGISLATURE legalized gay marriage. And, since SESAME STREET is based in Manhattan, it only seemed logical that BERT and ERNIE finally legitimize their gay relationship as well. Overnight, the New York LGBT community got cooking. Online petitions, Facebook pages and Twitter campaigns popped up demanding our two favorite puppets tie the knot. It would show kids that: "Gay marriage and homosexuality in general deserve tolerance."
Not so, says the CHILDREN'S TELEVISION WORKSHOP. In response to these online demands, Public Television did not waver. Proud of their lovable characters, they issued a statement designed to finally clear the air regarding our favorite friends. "Bert and Ernie have lived together for decades as best of friends." CTW began. "Like college roommates in a cramped dorm, they share the same bedroom, sleeping in separate single beds. They were created to teach children about friendship that transcends radical differences in personality, a la “The Odd Couple”
All of this must be confusing to children. It takes something simple and adds a bunch of adult concepts like marriage, homosexuality and law. All of which brings me back to the initial reason why I loved BERT and ERNIE in the first place. I wanted to grow up and have a friendship just like them. Nothing more, nothing less.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
I know...I know...we are all sick and tired of the ARAB SPRING. First of all, it's August. We're in late summer, not spring. Second of all, Arab Revolutions are only good when the tyrant dictator is actually disposed. We cheered loudly when ZINE EL ABIDINE fled Tunisia after 23 years of one-party government. Everyone loved it when a weak and frail HOSNI MUBARAK was forced into exile after 30 years of military rule. However...the Arab Revolution in Libya hasn't been any fun: Crazy ol' GHADAFI is still livin' large in his Tripoli penthouse. Okay...finally, the main reason were all sick and tired of the ARAB SPRING is because we here at the DUNER BLOG don't believe the Arabs will ever be able to agree on any thing in any season!
Which brings us to our current participant in this dubious competition: SYRIA. Over the weekend, another hundred civilians died during violent protests in the Southern city of Hama. Anyone who's seen the movie LAWRENCE OF ARABIA can tell you what's the problem. The Arabs just can't "get along." Small disagreements quickly escalate into armed combat. After the first World War, the Middle East had a golden opportunity to create new political entities...perhaps a 'United Arab States' or a vast Arabian Kingdom. Unfortunately the only one who could agree on anything was our favorite Englishman, T.E. Lawrence. The angry Arabs became embroiled in petty infighting, which opened the door for Britain and France to come in. They drew up the silly countries that are falling apart today.
As we all know, the two biggest groups of Arabs who refuse to 'get along' are the Shi'ites and the Sunnis. Just like in the streets of Baghdad, these two groups are going at it in Southern Syria. You see, BASHIR AL-ASSAD is a Shi'ite from the Alawite sect. While Alawites comprise only 20% of Syria's population, they make up 70% of the armed forces and 100% of the government. With this unfair monopoly, the Al-Assad family and have controlled all aspects of Syria for the last 30 years. Since the people in charge of Syria are Shi'tes, they receive military and financial aid from the largest Shi'ite nation on earth: IRAN. Billions of Iranian Rials have been funneled from Tehran to Damascus over the years making the Syrian army quite powerful. At the moment, they are killing unarmed Sunni civilians and no one really cares.
Wait! Someone does care about unarmed Sunni civilians! The Saudi King ABDULLAH! Yesterday, he closed up the Saudi embassy in Damascus and issued a bunch of mean statements about Bashir. He called the killings in Hama "grotesque and abhorrent" and that they "have nothing to do with religion." C'mon, Abdhullah! It has everything to do with religion. You're playing a chess game with the Shi'ite Iranians. They just made a move in Syria. You just knocked down a Shi'ite revolution in Bahrain last April. This type of tit-for-tat warfare between these two large, powerful Islamic sects is exactly what drove T.E. Lawrence crazy a century ago.
Unfortunately, nations like Syria are doomed to civil unrest until their citizens can put aside their religious and ethnic differences for the greater good of all. Syria is a mess. We forgot to mention the 10% of the population who are CHRISTIAN. (Their alliance with Bashir is looking horrible at the moment.) And we won't even start with the DRUZE or KURD populations living in the mountains. (Talk about hatred!) Nope, we here at the DUNER BLOG believe the real hope for Syria (and the Middle East) lies in the only thing that unites them all: the Arabic Language. The younger generations throughout the region have been united by technological advances that are based in a common tongue. They are talking about Arab peace and co-existence. To us, that's the real message of the ARAB SPRING! Are you listening, BASHIR AL-ASSAD?
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
For nearly one thousand years, Cambodia's mighty temples at ANGKOR WAT have survived the worst. They've weathered hundreds of vicious typhoons. They've endured thousands of horrendous floods. They've withstood the fierce assaults from the armies of China, Thailand and India. The ruins even withstood heavy bombardment from the Viet-Cong. Heck, they were the one of the few things in Cambodia to survive a decade of abuse from the world's worst dictator ever, POL POT. (Hiss!) However, the ancient Khmer ruins are proving to be no match against the most ravenous invaders of them all: TOURISTS!
What? You've never even heard of ANGKOR WAT? According to their website, it's the "World's Largest Religious Building." Alright, let's take a quick trip back to the year 1113 AD. That's when the mighty King SURYAVARMAN II came to the throne. His 30-year reign was the 'Golden Age' for Cambodia as his kingdom was five times larger than the current nation. His empire encompassed all of modern-day Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and parts of Malaysia...Wow! A devout Hindu, SURYAVARMAN II constructed a massive complex of temples, galleries, towers, cloisters, moats and reflective pools to honor his favorite deity, Vishnu. Centuries later, when the Khmer converted to Buddhism, so did the temples. ANGKOR WAT became a holy site for both faiths. However, over the last century, neglect has ruined the ruins.
Things began to change in 1990 when the evil Khmer Rouge was finally overthrown. The new Cambodian government eased travel restrictions and began rehabilitating the massive site. "Bucket List" tourists worldwide jumped at the chance to see ANGKOR WAT and the number of visitors has risen exponentially. In 1999, there were 60,000 tourists. This year, they expect two million visitors. Construction of the new airport is under way, so by 2020, six million people are expected to arrive. These people need a place to stay, so the nearby town, Siem Reip, the closest village, has mushroomed into a miniature Las Vegas. It now boasts 320 hotels, 550 restaurants and countless massage parlors. There's even a Swensen Ice Cream Parlor. RICKY MARTIN was just there!
Unfortunately, after you live La Vida Loca there is the inevitable hangover. The government of Cambodia is completely overwhelmed by the tourism phenomenon. It simply cannot protect ANGKOR WAT, its most precious commodity. Signs on the small fences forbid tourists from climbing on the ruins...but for the wrong reason. They merely warn people that when they climb on the ancient temples, they do so "at their own risk." Ancient stone monuments are no match for Banana Republic rubber boot soles. Also, Cambodia's tiny infrastructure cannot handle the intense demand. It's no secret that all raw sewage is simply dumped into the nearby Tonle Sap Lake. JEFF MORGAN of the Global Heritage Fund bluntly says: "Tourist management sucks. They've had twenty years to work on it!"
However, according to PHILIPPE DELANGHE of UNESCO, the most pressing problem at Angkor Wat isn't graffiti or trash. Rather, Philippe is worried the ground underneath the complex. The temples were built on not so solid ground. This delicate balance between sand and water is suddenly being drastically altered, as water is currently being pumped into Siem Reap at an alarming rate. It's needed in the hotels, restaurants, massage parlors and...most importantly...to water the new 18-hole golf course! In fact, the most visited site, the Banyan temple, is already slipping into a sinkhole. So...if you're planning a trip to ANGKOR WAT anytime soon...please keep your carbon footprint in mind. And, most importantly, NO GOLF!