Weekly insights into our crazy world.

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