Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013



In most U.S. households, a sacred event occurs every night at 11:00 pm sharp.  That's when American males, aged 18-55, gather around the TV for their favorite television show: SPORTS-CENTER.  It's basically an hour-long news program dedicated to athletics.   Like CNN, they begin with the top headlines of the day.  Usually, this means football, basketball and baseball.  Lesser sports like hockey, golf and car racing are shown later in the broadcast.  But what about Soccer?  Well, it's hardly ever seen on the show.  It's no surprise...the least popular sport in America barely gets any coverage at all!

However...that is all changing!  Recently, men across America have noticed European soccer highlights creeping into their sacred SportsCenter broadcast.  As always, the news anchors start off with funny banter.  "Hey Stan!  Mind if I kick it?  Let's start with Arsenal!  Down 2-0 with ten minutes to go..."  They then show 15 to 20 seconds of exciting highlights...often enhanced with laser graphics.  What a difference! Soccer, once banned as too boring, is now included in every SportsCenter broadcast.  The English Premier and Spanish Leagues account for the majority of the coverage, with the BundesLiga and the Italian Primera Division also getting mention.

Why the sudden change?  C'mon!  This is America, and it's about Money ($$).  Recently, Walt Disney / ESPN Empire purchased the TV rights to upcoming events in Europe.  Specifically, they will air the next Champions League and the 2016 Euro-Cup...the two largest soccer tournaments in Europe.  Why? ESPN hope the Euro-Leagues have the moxie that American soccer lacks.  Americans need superstar, multi-millionaire  celebrities/athletes.  We want hunks like Cristiano Ronaldo!  Highlights from superstars like Lionel Messi are perfect for SPORTS-CENTER announcers to preen about.  Soccer & ESPN: A match made in heaven.

Not so fast.  Polls indicate otherwise.  A recent survey asked: Which sport do Americans like to watch on TV the most?  The results: Football (33%) Basketball (16%) and Baseball (13%) are still top dogs.  Soccer came in tenth at 2%!  That's behind Figure Skating, which got 3%.  However, there is one statistic that works well in soccer's favor.  Of the 41 million US kids who play organized sports, 17 million (42%) play soccer.  The future of American sports will definitely have more and more soccer.  GOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLL!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013



The unthinkable happened in Belize last week.  Eager to complete construction of a highway on time, construction workers scoured the local countryside for rocks.  They saw a large mound, bulldozed it, scooped up the rocks and used them as 'road fill.'  It turns out 'the hill' was actually an ancient Mayan ceremonial tower. Archaeologists worldwide are outraged!  The Nohmul Pyramid dates back to 250 BC and is the largest site in the country.  The workers claim it was an honest mistake...they thought it was a natural hill.  They were just doing their job.   

Let's examine the workers' point of view.  Today, it's hard to imagine a Great Kingdom once existed on the these lands.  Belize is dirty, poor and run-down.  However, two thousand years ago, Nohmul was a prosperous city with 40,000 residents.  Twin 100 foot-high ceremonial towers were joined by a raised causeway.  Below, ten bustling marketplace plazas sold goods from all over Meso-America.  No one knows why the Mayan Kingdom suddenly vanished a couple centuries later, but we do know that 80% of the ruins remain un-excavated...including the 12-square-mile compound of Nohmul.  This neglect makes them easy targets for an under-educated construction crew with a Caterpillar bulldozer and three dump trucks. 

The sides of the Pyramids used to be smooth!
Unfortunately, this sort of tragedy has happened again and again throughout human history.  In 1168, the savage Syrian Sultan Salah-al-Din conquered Egypt.  Desperate to spruce-up dirty old Cairo, he ordered his men to tear off the smooth stones from the nearby pyramids.  The limestone was hauled it into town and used to make new structures.  You can see it today!  The famed Citadel Mosque is actually built from these very bricks.  The same fate occurred to another popular ancient accomplishment: The Great Wall of China. During Mao's Cultural Revolution, desperate peasants dismantled parts to construct their homes.  And don't forget the Turks! During the Venetian War, they foolishly stored gunpowder in the Parthenon in Athens.  Prior to the explosion in 1687 it had a roof and four walls!

Anyhow, back to Belize.  An investigation is underway.  The law states that any "willful destruction of an ancient site or monument has penalties of 10 years' imprisonment or $10,000 for this kind of destruction."  However, it's unlikely anyone will be punished.  Unfortunately, Nohmul lies on privately-owned land.  The owner Denny Grijiva, is an aspiring politician and "knew nothing of the operation."  Sounds complicated. This week, the Cabinet of Belize will address the issue.  Don't expect that bunch of lazy slobs to do anything!

The best we can hope for is a new awareness of the precarious situation we face.  In addition to forgotten ruins, the world is filled similar problems.  There are endangered animals, threatened rain forests and disappearing habitats everywhere. Sadly, we only find out about such treasures after they are gone.  Fortunately, we here at the DUNER BLOG have a solution.  We propose every student in the Western Hemisphere must spend one year of High School unearthing ancient ruins.  We'll start with my 14-year-old son! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013



Last Tuesday, the ABBA Museum opened in Stockholm with great fanfare.  And it's better than anyone expected!  In addition to the gold records and vintage photos, there are interactive exhibits as well.  Jubilant fans don green, sequin-studded suits and photograph themselves with wax statues of band members.  You can also pretend to record a hit in a re-creation of their famed Viggsö Studio.  Talk about fun!  However, since ABBA never achieved Super-Stardom in the USA, most Americans do not know much about the fearsome foursome.  So, inform the uninformed and to celebrate the great, we have constructed an ABBA quick guide.

Their Name.  The band originally was known as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid.  For obvious reasons, their manager STIG ANDERSON wanted something more catchy.  At first, he tried BABA.  Then it was FABB.  But they finally all agreed on ABBA.  At first, the band was worried it would be confused with the popular canned fish brand of the same name.  Fortunately, few folks outside of Sweden like canned fish.

Their Awards.  While the band has accolades galore...including Grammy's, BRIT Awards and a Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame induction...they are most proud of their EUROVISION Song Contest Award.  Never heard of EuroVision?  It's a mix of American Idol and the Olympics. Every year since 1956, each European nation submits a song and artist to the event.  Back in 1974, Sweden's entry took the competition by storm.  ABBA wisely chose the song "Waterloo," as the event was held in Brighton that year.  Following the win, the band became instant stars.

Their Album Sales.  Controversy abounds about the total number of records sold by the band.  According to the record books, they have sold 200 million certified albums.   In reality, the rights to produce ABBA albums in places like Baluchistan are non-existent.  Hence, in actuality, it's estimated 375 million ABBA albums have been sold.  This places them at third on the All-Time List.  That's behind the Beatles and Elvis but ahead of Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones.

The Marriages. What makes ABBA so fascinating is the chemistry within the band.  In addition to being band members, the foursome were also two married couples. Anita and Björn were husband and wife from 1971 - 1978...the band's peak period.  The same is true for the other band members Benny and Anni-Frid, who were married from 1975 - 1981.    TRIVIA: Björn wrote the song "The Winner Takes It All" about his divorce.

Their Royalty.  Sweden's Royal House dates back to 970 AD when Erik the Victorious united Svealand and Gothia.  Although ABBA are considered pop royalty by their rabid fans, they are indeed common citizens.  But not Anni-Frid!  In 1992, she married a Prince from the defunct...but still royal...House of Reuss in Central Germany.  Her official title is now:  Anni-Frid, Princess Reuss, Countess of Plauen.  
Their Reunion.  Unlike other disco bands, ABBA managed to maintain their popularity over the years.  (Sorry, KC & the Sunshine Band!)  Their seven studio albums all went platinum.  Their numerous 'Greatest Hits' compilations are found in every one's music collection.  Unfortunately, relationships between the band members themselves deteriorated...we mentioned the double divorce earlier.  In 2000, they turned down a Billion Dollar offer for a concert tour.  But time heals all wounds and the foursome came together in 2008 for a reception for their hit movie / musical:  'Mamma Mia!'   

Tuesday, May 7, 2013



Bad news from Bangladesh.  The death toll is now 700+ in last week's horrific building collapse in Dhaka.  Five separate factories were all crowded together under one ridiculously large concrete roof.  A mere ten days prior, government inspectors had ordered the building shut down after the large cracks in the foundation had recently became even larger.  Greedy owners ignored the warning.  See...WalMart penalizes Bangladeshi sweat-shops big time for delivering their orders late.  (Yes...this very sweatshop in Dhaka sells directly to WalMarts in the USA!)

In response, bloggers worldwide are asking readers to think twice about where they purchase their clothes.  Remember: There is an alarming reason why those jeans are so cheap.  To make this easier, we have researched the seven largest clothing retailers in the USA and gave each a grade.  Here they are, ranked by earnings.

#1: WalMart (Bentonville, AR). Everything costs less at WalMart.  The ruthless retail giant scours the third world, looking for "factories" to produce their latest fashion lines.  Bangladesh is merely the most recent nation exploited by WalMart.  Last year, Thailand ordered WalMart-affiliated factories shut down for hiring 8-year old girls.  In 2010, it was Honduras and Samoa who trafficked kids into textile factories.  The list goes on and on...  Anyway you look at it, WalMart is bad news in the Karma Department...don't shop there.  Grade: F

#2 Target (Minneapolis, MN)  Based in a notoriously liberal Green State, Target tries very hard to promote itself as "environmentally friendly."  In 2007, they proudly proclaimed their stores to be "Free of PVC."  Consumer groups are skeptical, since the majority of their products come from China.  As far as clothing lines are concerned, Target holds its cards close to the vest and won't reveal if they bought clothes from a specific sweatshop in any county. For lack of transparency:  Grade: D+

#3  Sears  (Chicago, IL)  While most American retailers target the productive factories in the People's Republic of China, Sears prefers to exploit Mexico and Central America.  First, representatives sign contracts with large warehouses.  Next, the bosses pay off local officials.  They turn a blind eye to offences like 24-hour work shifts and mandatory pregnancy tests.  Another violation: Workers in at an El Salvador factory affiliated with Sears must earn bathroom trips and access to drinking water.  Wow! It takes a lot of shady stuff to get a $10 polo shirt.  Grade: D-

#4 Kohl's (Menomonnee Falls, WI)  Newsweek gave this expanding retail giant high marks in its recent "Green Rankings," noting the chain's commitment to solar power and reusable shopping bags.  However, they were named in the recent lawsuit in American Samoa, where hundreds of illegal Asian immigrants were being held against their will.  Also, the NAACP gave Kohl's an "F" for its treatment of people of color.  Grade: C

#5 Marshall's (Framingham, MA).  Also known as TJ MAX, this retail giant has been successful in not revealing the locations of factories for their large garment division.  In fact, shareholders continually demand more transparency in this department...and don't get it.  Specifically, they are concerned about the allegations from the group "No Dirty Gold." who allege their jewelry counters are stocked with blood diamonds.  Grade: D+

#6 J.C. Penney (Plano, TX).  After years of hardship, America's favorite store has re-branded itself and is back in the black.  Sadly, workers in India are the one paying the price.  In fact, three of them died from a mechanical accident in a Penney-affiliated sweatshop back in 2008.  This prompted a Indian government study which concluded sweatshop employees rarely break the cycle of poverty and become "modern slaves."  Grade: C-

#7 L.L. Bean (Freeport, ME).  Okay!  L.L. Bean is the not the 7th largest retailer.  They're actually 21st.  But...we wanted to close with a positive example for our readers.  So while you may not wear flannel shirts or Chino Pants, you gotta love L.L. Bean's policy.  They provide information on every product they sell: Where it was made, how it was constructed...all with a 100% guarantee.  While roughly half of their inventory comes from overseas, they make sure all of their products are from regulated factories. Grade: A+