Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


The Presidential Palace in Bamako is empty today.

We're sticking to our slogan this week, folks!  We bet none of our readers were following the insurrection and coup d'etat Northern Mali last week. Don't feel bad...it's pretty easy to miss! Just to give you an idea of how remote this place is...in Azawad, the fabled outpost of TIMBUKTU is considered a cosmopolitan capital!  Anyhow, the rest of the last week's events were painfully predictable and reflect a commonplace cycle in African politics.  First, a group of fierce-looking, machine-gun-totting soldiers packed into Toyota pickup trucks storm into impoverished towns.  Then they announce "regime change" and raid all government buildings.  Upon hearing this, the nation's leader (This time: AMADOU TOUMANI TOURÉ) flees in exile to the French Riviera.  End of story.

We here at the DUNER BLOG want to break this cycle!  So we are not joining in with the rest of the world!  We will not say "tisk, tisk," condemn the coup, and then walk away.  We are not issuing a bland statement like the US State Department: "We stand with the legitimately elected government of Mail."  Nor are we making a silly assessment like the African Union: "This constitutes a significant setback."  And we won't even mention what the UNITED NATIONS, the leader of wishy-washy diplomacy, said.  Not us!  Instead, we are going to look deeper into the issues at stake.  Why?  Because that's what we do here at the DUNER BLOG!

The Tuareg Homeland is in five current nations.
We'll start by looking at the group responsible for the rebellion, the  MNLA (Mouvement National pour la liberation de l'Azawad).  They want an independent state called 'Azawad' as a homeland for the Tuareg people.  Yes...these folks inspired the name of a Volkswagen Sport-Utility vehicle, the Toureg.  Why would you name a jeep after this group?  Because they're a bad-ass bunch. Ask any neighboring group...like the Bambara or the Hausa.  They'll tell you what everyone has known for centuries: THE TUAREG OWN THE SAHARA DESERT.  No one knows why they want to live out there.  No one knows how they manage to live out there.  But they do...and it's their desert!  However, the West disagrees.  It has never been a fan of nomadic people.  They can't be fit into the constraints of a nation-state.  In fact, they roam around from Libya to Algeria to Niger without checking their passports once!

The MNLA wants the world to understand: The African borders drawn up by European nations are horribly arbitrary and need to be removed.  All over the continent, ethnic groups have been thrown together in haphazard fashion or split up in new nations.  Then, people are told they are no longer Berbers or Wolof or Ashanti.  Nope...from now on...they are Malian, Senegalese or Ghanaian.  Never mind that everything else (language, religion, culture) stays the same.  Here's a quote from the website of the MNLA: "Fifty years of forced cohabitation with Mali are too much. This cohabitation imposed by colonial France has produced a number of damaging effects in the country...most of all the destruction of values and the Tuareg identity."

Tuareg people are beautiful!
Sadly, the MNLA movement has been shunned by every nation on earth, and all international organizations and bodies as well.  This means that soon they'll be votes in the UN, NATO and AOS, all calling for economic sanctions on Mali.  This is the last thing the world's 12th poorest nation needs, but they will likely still be imposed.  These will hurt all peoples unfortunate enough to be included in 'Mali'... as well as their intended recipient, the Tuareg.   It seems for the time being, this is how political and social discord is handled in Africa...unless of course you're South Sudan and you have GEORGE CLOONEY on your side!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012



Can you imagine a world without encyclopedias?  That implausible reality might just happen.  Last week, ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA announced the 2010 Edition would be the last one ever printed.  Don't panic: You can still buy this last set!  The company still has plenty of the thirty-two, hard-cover, amazingly durable volumes left.  The entire set costs $1,395.00 and weighs in at a hefty 120 lbs.  Or...you can purchase the online edition.  It runs for $69.95 and is as light as feather!  Or, there's a convienent i-Phone app  for just $1.99 per month.  It's your choice.  Now do you see why the books are being discontinued?

OKAY...this being the DUNER BLOG...we simply must give some background on ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA.  It all began 244 years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland. A prominent publishing house was approached to translate the French Encyclopédie by Denis Diderot into English.  Although recognized worldwide as a scientific masterpiece, many of the articles were in dispute...particularly those about freedom of thought.   Rather than translate heresy, it was instead decided to create an entirely new edition.  Three lengthy years later, the arduous work was completed.  The first editions were sold in 1768 for 12 pounds sterling.  The three volumes (A-B, C-L & M-Z) were an instant sensation and were sold around the world.

The second edition soon followed. It was larger and expanded into the subjects of history and art.  It included articles from such prominent people as THOMAS JEFFERSON, ALEXANDER POPE and VOLTAIRE.   It was considered a must for any self-respecting university, library or dignitary to own a set of the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA.  In fact, upon his ascension to the throne in 1797, the Shaw of Persia was presented with a set.  He voraciously proceeded to read all ten books.   Afterward, he demanded that...in the third edition...the words: "Most Formidable Lord and Master of the Encyclopedia Britannica" be added to his official title.  Unfortunately, not everyone shared the Shah's love of the books.  KING GEORGE III was so disgusted with the drawings of women's pelvises in the childbirth section, he demanded these three pages be torn out of every edition. 

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2012/03/20/2445229/closing-the-book-on-britannica.html#storylink=cpy

Two hundred years and fifteen editions later, ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA hit its peak in the year 1990.  An information-starved public without an Internet purchased 120,000 copies of the 32 volume set...a record for one calendar year.  However, this figure has rapidly decreased in recent years to the paltry 8,000 set sold last year.  As we all know, the Internet has been the main reason for this decline in sales.  The launch of Wikipedia in 2001 is the most obvious factor.  With 25 million articles in 286 languages, it's used daily by 15% of all Internet users worldwide. 

While all of us at the DUNER BLOG realize these simple facts about information and technology, none of us were truly prepared for Thursday's press release.  Bob...a lower staff writer...summed it up best: "I feel like I've lost my best friend!"  It's true: Back in the day, when you had a Junior High School Social Science essay due, you'd ask yourself; "Who you gonna call?" Not GHOST BUSTERS!  Nope, you'd pay a call to the public library.  You'd rush inside to the reference section... find the correct volume.. heatedly flip through pages.. in hope of finding...YES! An entire page on ELI WHITNEY and the Cotton Gin.  Your grade was saved!  Long live the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA!

Thursday, March 15, 2012



It's hard to be a NOBEL PEACE PRIZE recipient and be sexy at the same time...but AUNG SAN SUU KYI is as close as anyone has ever come.  Sure...there have been other women who have the Peace Prize.  It's twelve, to be exact.  But no one else comes close.  Who wants to see a photo of BERTHA VON SUTTNER, RIGOBERTA MECHÚ or MOTHER TERESA in a swimsuit?   Sorry!  Once again, we've gotten off topic here at the DUNER BLOG.  In fact...today, we're not talking about sex at all!  Actually, we are just really happy that our one of our most favorite (and most beautiful) people is in the news again!  And it's not just the DUNER BLOG who's happy to see Mother Suu again.  Everywhere she goes in Burma, a pickup truck follows her just to collect the hundreds of flowers and bouquets her supporters give her every day!  When was the last time you needed a Toyota Tundra to hold all of your flowers?

Anyhow, here's why AUNG SAN SUU KYI is back in the headlines: In two weeks, the people of Burma will go to the polls to elect a new legislature...something new to the nation.  Historically ruled by native emperors and British monarchs, Burma had 14 short years of democracy right after achieving independence in 1948.   However, fiery General NE WIN ousted the republic in 1962.  For the next sixty years, military rulers have lived a lavish life while their nation sank further and further into poverty.  We here at the DUNER BLOG found it ironic that they changed the name of the country to Myanmar...a more correct, indigenous name...as opposed to the British moniker.  Well, they're right...the current state of Myanmar is nothing like beautiful, bustling British Burma anyhow.

That is, until AUNG SAN SUU KYI had the guts to stand up to the military and say: "It doesn't have to be this way!"  She's right:  Burma has a plethora natural resources.  These include oil, natural gas and precious stones.  In fact, 90% of the world's rubies are found in Burma.  During the Victorian Age, Burma was the wealthiest colony in Asia, exporting more rice than China!  However, continued mismanagement by the military junta has turned the once productive nation into a quagmire of smugglers and drug dealers.  Today, Burma is the world's #1 producer of meth and the world's #2 grower of opium poppies...great industries indeed!

However...after decades of neglect...it looks as if the West is finally noticing Burma's precarious situation.  When Secretary of State HILARY CLINTON visited Rangoon last year, she was the top US official to visit the nation ever.  Although her request to meet AUNG SAN SUU KYI was denied by the government, it still marked a turning point in the pariah nation's worldwide status.  Unfortunately, they still have a long road ahead.  Recently, U.S. State Department spokesman MARK TONER said their election process was "fundamentally flawed" noting that most members of parliament are former military leaders. "The fact that they have taken off uniforms and donned civilian clothes is immaterial."

While there might be a surprise on April First, only a fool would believe any regime change in Burmese government is possible in the near future.  SUU KYI's party the National League for Democracy, is having trouble getting their candidates on ballots.  Permits for political rallies are being denied for vague reasons.  Until the West gets serious about the situation, it looks like Burma will continue to decline until people like AUNG SAN SUU KYI are allowed to rule.  That's a shame, because it has some of the best preserved Buddhist temples and unspoiled rain forests on earth.  Not to mention tasty food! FREE BURMA NOW!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012



Over the weekend, a bunch of the DUNER BLOG staff members got together for a BBQ.  Afterwards, everyone chilled at DUNER'S place and watched the movie Pulp Fiction.  We didn't get very far, because we love the scene where JOHN TRAVOLTA and SAMUEL L. JACKSON are discussing McDonald's in Europe.  Vince: "Nah, man, they got the metric system, they wouldn't know what the **** a Quarter Pounder is.  They call it a "Royale with Cheese."  Anyhow, we all decided to blog about McDonald's this week.  NOTE: For our reader in Namibia...one of the few nations on earth without a McDonald's...here's the 411:

The first McDonald's opened in San Bernardino, California in 1940 by brothers RICHARD and MAURICE McDONALD.  The Scottish pair came up with the brilliant idea of a drive-up burger stand, thus eliminating the cost of operating a sit-down restaurant.   At the time, local diners charged 30 cents for a hamburger. With no waitresses, busboys or hosts to pay, McDonald's was able to charge only 15 cents for a hamburger...and the rest is economic history.  Although this first stand in San Berdoo has long since been demolished, the third oldest McDonald's is still operating today in nearby Downey and is fun to visit.  The brothers met their goal of making a million dollars by age 50 and sold the chain to RAY A. CROC in 1954, who turned the burger stands into the galactic empire it is today.

Anyhow, we came up with our top ten favorite McDonald's Menu Items from all around the world:

#10 Double Beef Prosperity Burger (Indonesia).  Like the McRib in the US, this sandwich is only available at special times.  It consists of two beef patties dipped in aromatic peppers and covered with onion slices.  How it brings "Prosperity" isn't explained on the website.

#9 The Kiwi Burger (New Zealand). On top of this beef patty is the usual items: Cheese, lettuce and tomato.  But then they added the unusual: a poached egg and beetroot.  When originally launched in 1991, the commercials had a catchy song which can be heard in entirety on YouTube.

#8 Spam, Rice & Egg Breakfast Platter (Hawaii). In the other 49 US states, folks generally eschew SPAM.  Short for "Spiced Ham" it's canned pork shoulder with sodium nitrate.  But in Hawaii, Spam is a delicacy and is one of the most popular items on the Breakfast Menu.

 #7 McMollete (Mexico). Once again, Micky D's shook it up. This tasty gem has traditional Mexican favorites, beans, queso fresco and pico de gallo served on top of a non-traditional English Muffin.

#6 Triple Mac (Argentina). Argentines consume more beef per capita than any other nation on earth.  McDonald's loves a stat like that...and rewarded the nation handsomely.  Argentina is the only country whose Big Mac has three beef patties.

#5 McArabia Sandwich (Saudi Arabia). Originally sold only in the Saudi Kingdom, it was so popular, McDonald's expanded sales of the sandwich to all of the Middle East (except Israel).  It consists of Kofta (beef with spices), lettuce, tomato, onions and garlic maynonaise all deliciously wrapped in a traditional pita bread.

#4 Croque McDo (France).  The most popular sandwich in France is a Croque Monsieur...commonly called Grilled Ham & Cheese in the US.  In a bold attempt to capture this large market, the McDo was introduced to mixed reviews.

#3 The Shogun Burger (Hong Kong).  The McDonald's marketing team will take over for this one: "Fresh lettuce perfectly compliments the juicy pork patty and the rich taste of Teriyaki, two extreme combinations that set a new standard for the classic burger and reignite your desire for delicacies and re-excite your taste buds."

#2 Burbur Ayam (India). This translates as "Chicken Porridge."  It has juicy chicken strips in "mouth watering porridge garnished with spring onions, sliced ginger, fried shallots and diced chillies." Don't expect this one to be market in the US any time soon.

#1 Lakse Wrap (Finland).  Apparently, McDonald's had three plans to capture the lucrative fried fish market in Finland.  The McLaks (Salmon Sticks) and the McLutefisk (Dried Salted Cod) were eliminated for obvious reasons. However...the 'Lakse Wrap' proved to be a hit.


Thursday, March 1, 2012



When I was a kid, Russia was always in the news.  It was the COLD WAR and Americans were obsessed with the day-to-day operations of the Soviet Union.  Newspapers were filled articles about LEONID BREZHNEV's failing health.  There were tons of television interviews with dissidents decrying Russia's lack of personal freedoms.  All the while, American satellites were constantly spying on the frozen land from space.  Well...the times have changed. The Russian Presidential Elections are THIS SUNDAY!  But don't look on the front page of your newspaper for an article.   My local paper has the story about the upcoming vote buried on Page C22...near the obituaries.

But that's why you read DUNER'S BLOG!  Here's a quick recap of the campaign so far: Initially, it was shaping up to be quite an event.  There were compelling politicians debating real issues that could improve the lives of all 150 million Russians.   Communist Party candidate GENNADY ZYUGANOV insisted the nation return to Soviet-style politics.  Six months ago, pollsters pegged him with 20% of the vote.  VLADIMIR ZHIRINOVKY and the Liberal Democratic Party also fared well in the polls...with the complete opposite agenda of the Reds.  A new party, A Just Russia was in the mix, as was independent billionaire MIKHAIL PROKHOROV. It looked like the PUTIN / MEDVEDEV stranglehold on Russian politics might finally be loosening.

But...as mentioned in an earlier blog...never underestimate the Power of Putin!  Mad Vlad sensed democracy was brewing in the Motherland and came up with a plan to squelch it.  First, he used the popular "Attract / Distract" method to confuse voters.  Rather than discuss a pivotal issue, like the chronic corruption that mires the economy, state-run media began a debate about changing Daylight Savings Time.  (Currently, the sun doesn't rise in Moscow until nine and it don't set until midnight!)  Instead of focusing on the alarming rise in the income gap between rich and poor, Putin proposed adding a new Federal holiday to the calendar.  While his opponents attempted to get their campaigns back to issues, Putin's party, UNITED RUSSIA, continued to focus on the trivial.

So far, Putin's plan has worked wondrously.  People all over Russia have voiced their opinions about new time zones and how to celebrate the new holiday.  No one is talking about corruption and income gaps. However...a true tyrant like 'Mad Vlad' still didn't trust opinion polls...even though they have him winning 65% of the vote.    So he went back to another tired and true campaign strategy: FEAR!  In a joint Russian / Ukrainian Secret Service Operation, officials announced the foiling a Putin assassination plot.  Photos of four, very evil-looking, Muslims appeared in newspapers nationwide.   All of which forced Russians to ask themselves the question: Which candidate can best protect me from Islam?  The answer is: PUTIN!

Putin: Russia's toughest leader since Ivan the Terrible.
After more investigation, it became clear to the writers of the DUNER BLOG why Sunday's election is getting so little media attention: It's because Russia isn't really a democracy.  Election watchdog agencies already declared last year's Parliamentary Elections "wrought with fraud."  These same groups are also concerned about the coming Sunday's election, especially after eleven top candidates were rejected by the Election Committee last year.  Let's face it: Nothing can stop Putin..who won elections in 2000 and 2004...from winning again in 2012.  Finally...one last item: Last year, Putin pursuaded the Russian Parliament to pass legislation extending the Presidential term from four to six years.  Looks like the world is stuck with Mad Vlad until 2018!  At least!