Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013



The weekend box office totals are in.  Let's check them out.  As expected, the action/comedy Pain & Gain staring THE ROCK and MARKIE MARK is #1.  The latest Sci-Fi thriller from TOM CRUISE INC. is #2.  No surprises there.  However, the film at #3 is a shocker.  The movie '48' chronicles the amazing story of JACKIE ROBINSON, the first African-American to break the color barrier in baseball.  While you already know about the Brooklyn Dodger slugger...you might have missed another story about a former Major League hero from yesteryear in the news this week.  On Thursday, the oldest living former baseball player CONNIE MARRERO turned 102 years old.

Never heard of Marrero?  Don't feel bad...he played in only four seasons for the Washington Senators in the 1950's.  The right-hander was known for his deadly curve ball which earned him the uncreative nickname "El Curvo."  His career 297 strikeout victims included legendary players like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Nellie Fox.  A confused slugger Felipe Alou called Marrero's delivery:  "A windup that looked like a cross between a windmill gone berserk and a mallard duck trying to fly backwards."  Try hitting that pitch!

Wondering why Marrero's career was so short?  Well, it took our hero quite a while to make it from the sugar cane fields of Central Cuba to the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium.  In fact, Connie didn't pitch in the major leagues game until he was 38 years old.  Conrado (his real name) spent his twenties pitching for Cienfuegos Elephants in the Cuban Amateur League.  His slider and change-up were impossible to hit.  One day, he caught the eye of a scout for the Havana Cubanos of the Florida International League.  Back in those days, Cuba and Florida were best friends.   Cuba had two baseball teams in the Florida Minor Leagues.  

Connie earned a spot on the team and continued to impress.  He won 70 games in three seasons...including a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Smokers.  As expected, Havana's parent team, the Washington Senators, called Marrero up to play in the majors.  Again, El Curvo did not disappoint.  American League sluggers fanned at his impressive array of slow-stuff.  Marrero won 39 games over four seasons.  His best outing was a one-hitter against the Philadelphia Athletics in 1951.  Unfortunately, age caught up with Connie...in 1954 he was the oldest player in the majors.  That year, he was released by the Senators.  Marrero retired to a lavish apartment in Havana where he still lives today. He continued coaching kids on how to pitch until he lost his eyesight in 2008.

Unfortunately, Connie Marrero never got to pitch to fellow barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson. Back then, there was no regular season inter-league games, and the Washington Senators had only one World Series appearance in 50 years! However, Marrero and Robinson did both appear in the 1951 All-Star Game in Detroit for their respective leagues. While Jackie made movies about his experience, Connie tried to stay out of politics and only talked baseball. However, in 1999, he was asked by Fidel Castro to throw out the first pitch in a friendly game between the Cuban National Team and the Baltimore Orioles in Havana's Estadio Latinamericano. However, Marrero continued throwing pitches. He didn't yield until Manager Sparky Anderson came up to the mound and grabbed the ball out of his hand.

Fidel Castro and Bud Selig:  BFF's.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013



At the DUNER BLOG, we search the globe for stories you might have missed.  Last week, we took you to Polynesia to uncover Samoa Air's controversial new policy.  This week, we journey deep into the humid jungles of the Central African Republic.  We'll try to sort out what motivated last month's bloody coup d'etat and how the new "president" is acting to get his woeful nation back on track.

Let's start some basic geography.  The landlocked Central African Republic is slightly smaller than Texas.  The North is covered in savanna, which give way to tropical forests and dense jungles. Finally, the mighty Ubangui River forms the nation's Southern border with the Congo.  The French-built capital, Bangui, is found on this river.  It lies one mile below the rapids and serves as a port for goods produced further inland.  Of the nation's four million inhabitants, a quarter live in this sprawling capital.  The remaining three million are divided up between eighty officially recognized groups in the interior.  In short, it's like most other African nations: It was drawn up in Brussels in 1894 when European ministers looked at maps and played a real-life version of the board game Risk

Next, we'll examine the nation's name.  The Central African part is correct, but the Republic has never existed.  (In fact, for a dozen years, the nation was officially known as the Central African Empire!) Anyhow, the nation gained independence from France in 1960.  Within months afterward, the entire region slipped into anarchy.  See, megalomaniac leaders in the capital Bangui claim to rule the vast nation. Ahem! These despots just embezzle enough money to purchase an army to stay in power.  The worst such violator was BOKASSA THE FIRST, Emperor of Central Africa.  His 'coronation' cost $20 million dollars!  And this figure doesn't include his $5 million diamond-encrusted crown.  Other Presidents For Life include DAVID DACKO and FRANCOIS BOZIZE.

Unfortunately, the new "president" MICHEL DJOTODIA could end up being worse.  While he doesn't have the audacity to proclaim himself a divine monarch, he does want a life of luxury.  After shooting up the Presidential Palace, the rebel leader decided it wasn't nice enough for him and his rag-tag army.  So the motley crew drove to the lavish, Five-Star Ledger Plaza Hotel and Resort across town.  Djotodia is now living in the top-end, $3,850-a-day private villa and drinking inported cocktails served on calalily flower petals.  Meanwhile, his generals and lieutenants are slumming it in the executive suites, which cost $675 a night.  At any rate, it doesn't sound like they really care about the politics of the Central African Republic.

The real tragedy here is the senseless deaths that occur every time a military junta comes to power in Africa.  This time, thirteen South African peacekeeping soldiers were indiscriminately killed by Djotodia's child soldiers in last month's bloddy Battle of Banjui.  We can add these killings to the 28 people murdered in Mali in February, when another junta occurred.  And...until the UN, EU, USA and African Union think outside the box and come up with a big picture plan for the mineral rich, yet incompetently run African continent...we can count on more of the same in upcoming months.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013



This week, the hit song "22" by American Pop Star TAYLOR SWIFT broke into the Billboard Top Ten.  The track is the country star's Ninth Top Ten song...impressive.  However, this blog is not about Taylor Swift.  (Let's face it:  Every one's favorite promiscuous blond starlet already gets enough press!)  Nope, this blog is about MAX MARTIN, the songwriter who wrote the song.  "22"  is Max's 43rd Top Ten hit, which will place the Pop Svengali as the Second Most Sucessful songwriter of all time.  This puts him above Bruce Springsteen who is now at #3.  Sorry...Max...but the Beatles will always be #1!

Never heard of MAX MARTIN?  Don't worry, he wants it that way.  The reclusive songwriting genius lives in seclusion somewhere near Stockholm, Sweden.  His waterfront mansion includes an elaborate recording studio.  However, not just anyone can work at Maratone Studios.  You already have to be a star.  And you need lots of cash.  And, you have to travel to Sweden to work with Max...he will not come to you.  Don't believe us?  Just ask Kelly Clarkson.  Three years after winning American Idol, her sagging singing career needed a boost.  Hello, Max! Kelly went to Sweden and recorded 'Since U Been Gone.'  The song went to #2 on the charts and has become his her signature song.    Other washed-up stars who came to Sweden for "career pick me-ups" include Britney Spears, P!NK and Justin Beiber.

However, it wasn't always this easy for Max.  Born Martin Karl Sandberg in 1971, he grew up idolizing ABBA and dropped out of high school to become a rock star.  Unfortunately, his glam-rock-techno band sputtered in live performances.  However, the catchy melodies of the songs caught the ears of recording executive Denniz Pop (not his real name).   The head of Cheiron Studios had just launched pop band Ace of Base into superstardom and needed more songwriters.  The two really hit it off.  For the next decade, the Stockholm studio became a pop music factory, churning out hit after hit.  In 1999, Britney Spears recorded '...Baby One More Time' and the Backstreet Boys sang 'I Want It That Way."  Both hit #1 and are Pop Music classics.

Katy Perry & Ke$ha would be nothing without Max.
And while Max tries to keep his name out of the headlines, he can't hide from one group: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).  They have awarded Max their highest award: "Songwriter of the Year." an astounding  five times.  Simply put, Max knows how to write a #1 smash.  In 2008, he began collaborating with then-unknown singer KATY PERRY.  Together, they've penned a whopping seven #1 hits on the Billboard Singles Charts.  (That's as many as the Rolling Stones have!)   And don't look for Max to slow down any time soon.  He continues to search for the amazing musical hook that gets fans excited.  Said Martin:  "If they hear it once on the radio, I want them to like it immediately... it's the piano and 'oh, baby, baby'...that's what grabs you."

Number One Singles:

"...Baby One More Time" Britney Spears
"It's Gonna Be Me"  *NCYNC
"I Kissed a Girl"  Katy Perry
"So What"  PINK
"My Life Would Suck Without You"  Kelly Clarkson
"3"  Britney Spears
"Raise Your Glass"  PINK
"California Gurls"  Katy Perry
"Teenage Dream"   Katy Perry
"Hold It Against Me" Britney Spears
"E.T."  Katy Perry
"Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" Katy Perry
"Part Of Me" Katy Perry
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"  Taylor Swift
"One More Night"  Maroon 5

Tuesday, April 9, 2013



This week's news item that you might have missed comes to us from far-off Polynesia.  Samoa, to be exact...an island chain found halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.  While the islands may be remote, they still cannot hide from the Global Economic Crisis.  Specifically, skyrocketing jet fuel costs threatened to bankrupt tiny Samoa Air.  Just how small is Samoa Air?  Their total fleet consists of a mere five planes.  They serve ten destinations in Samoa, American Samoa, North Tonga and the Cook Islands.  In summary, Samoa Air is one of the smallest airlines on earth. 

However, an announcement last week by Samoa Air CEO Chris Langton instantly catapulted the isolated company into an international sensation.  How?   By being the first airline ever to base all fares on an individual's weight.  Confused?  Here's how it works: When you arrive for your flight at Apia International Airport, things start off normal.  First, you present your passport to authorities. Next, you head to the check-in counter to process the ticket, check in your luggage, etc.  Then, things get different. You must climb onto a giant scale.  Afterward, your fare is calculated using a simple multiplication.  Next, you swipe the credit card and pay for the adjusted fare.  Finally, you go through security and proceed to the gate.

Okay, Okay...let's try to answer some of your many questions.  We'll start with the nitty-gritty of the calculations.  Samoa Air charges 2.40 Tala per kilogram...which in American...converts to about .90 cents per pound.  This means a 190 LBS person with a 35 LB suitcase (luggage is charged the same rate) would pay about $145 to fly on their main route from Apia to Pago Pago.  However, let's say you're big-boned and weigh 295 LBS.  Instantly, that same seat now costs $205 for the same flight.  Also: Children 12 years and under are charged a standard fare...possibly to discourage Samoans from starving kids prior to a flight.  Get it?

Naturally, people worldwide don't "get it" and are understandably angry over Samoa Air and their new policy.  A blogger in the UK called it "derogatory to humans."  Similarly, a column Dallas Morning News referred to weight-based pricing as "insulting to large people everywhere."  For the time being, citizens of Samoa are approaching the fares with mixed emotions.  "It is inevitable" said Apia resident Mitieli Lacalevu.  "Samoans understand that everything comes down to net profit."  Samoans also understand they live in the fourth most obese nation on earth...with a staggering 86% of the population being overweight.  Simple math will tell you: Weight-Based Pricing was the only way possible for the airline to stay in business.

How has Samoa Air responded to all the criticism?  "After the initial shock wore off, there's been nothing but support," replied the company's CEO Chris Langston. "Our planes are run by weight, not by seat. Travelers need to be educated."  Let's educate ourselves about the airplanes used by the airline.  The Cessna 172 is tiny and holds only five passengers and the pilot.  (NOTE: That's the same plane that was overloaded by pop star Aaliyah ten years ago with tragic consequences.)  Hence, people have always been weighed prior to takeoff.  This is not done to embarrass them, but to save their lives.  We here at the DUNER BLOG salute you, Samoa Air, for having the courage to address the real issues facing your business in a frank and practical manner.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013



Our mission at the DUNER BLOG is keep you informed on "stories you might have missed."  And while no informed world citizen has failed to notice NORTH KOREA's recent antics, there has been sooo many recently, we felt the need to summarize.   Let's check out the People's Republic of North Korea's shenanigans this year so far...

February 12. Underground Nuclear Test.  On this day, an army spokesman proudly announced to a skeptical world that North Korea had successfully completed another nuclear test.  Seconds later, scientists at the USGS conducted research.  They confirmed the occurrence of  a 4.9 earthquake in North Korea on the same date.  The epicenter was only a kilometer below the surface...another piece of evidence that it was likely a bomb.  However, we don't know for sure if it was a nuclear blast or just a bunch of TNT to simulate one.  So far, no traces of radiation have been found in neighboring nations.  However, what makes this test unnerving is that North Korea said it was a miniature devise...one that can me mounted on a missile and sent to the USA or Japan.

February 26.  Dennis Rodman Visits.  When Kim Jong Un became "Dear Leader" back in 2011, only one foreign Head of State agreed to meet him: China's President Hu.  This worldwide disrespect angered the dictator, who desperately needs attention.  He kept asking presidents, prime minsters, dictators and despots...and kept getting rejected.  Finally someone important agreed to visit North Korea!  Unfortunately is was insane basketball star Dennis Rodman.  For three days, the pair watched a hoops tournament, ate caviar and drank champagne.

March 14.  Assasination Attempt.  Last month, the South Korean Secret Service issued a troubling statement.   According to their agents, a violent gun-battle involving Kim Jong Un's motorcade occured on the streets of the capital.  They assumed it is connected to the recent abrupt dismissal of a high military official, Kim Jong Chul.  This enraged his supporters...which is not smart ...especially considering that in North Korea, the army generals are the only ones in the country who have access to firearms.   Naturally, Kim Jung Un denied everything.

March 26. B-2 Bombers Come To Korea.  Every year, the USA and South Korea conduct joint military operations in March.  See...much like sports teams...armies practice to be prepared for the main event.  However, this year's scrimmage was decidedly different.  Just to show Kim Jong Un who is boss, the U.S. Air Force brought along...for the first time ever... their star player: The B-2 Bomber.  The stealth bomber is undetectable to radar and can fly around the world without refueling.

April 2.  Jong Un Declares War.  Infuriated by the US government's overt display of force, Kim Jong Un responded in his favorite manner: Violent Threats.  Specifically, he announced a nuclear attack on Korea, Japan and the USA, the "sworn enemy of the Korean people."  Military expects have softened nerves by reminding us about the many failures of North Korea. For example, their last nuclear rocket crashed unceremoniously into the Sea of Japan.  For the time being, we here at the DUNER BLOG believe the Dear Leader's bark is much worse that his bite.

NOTE: While conducting research for this blog, we came across the Korean Central News Agency's (KCNA) hilarious website. It has great stories like "Man steals yacht.  Sails to North Korea to Live in Paradise."