Weekly insights into our crazy world.

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!