Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Monday, March 24, 2014



We here at the DUNER BLOG keep a close eye on events in Egypt.  See, Cairo is the 'Pop Culture Capital' of the Arab World.  Almost all Arabic-language movies, TV shows and music originate here. Monitoring Cairo media gives us a barometer of current Arab public opinion.  That's why we are particularly alarmed with a verdict yesterday in a closely-monitored court case in Minya, a city just South of Cairo on the Nile River.  Judge Said Youssef sentenced five-hundred and twenty-nine people to death for the murder of one policeman.

Just in case you forgot...Here's what happened in Egypt last August: Despite winning the elections, President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood Party were removed from office by the military. The blatant coup d'etat  forcibly occupied government buildings and arrested the Commander In Chief and his cabinet.  Hastily, they named Chief Justice Adly Mansour as interim President. Such hostile actions are not tolerated by the African Union, who quickly suspended Egypt...the continent's second largest population...from the political body.  

However, reaction to the events was quite different in the USA.  Usually...when army tanks roll up to a presidential palace and abduct an elected official...the State Department issued dozens of 'stern warnings' and statements of 'immense disapproval.'  However, the Obama Administration didn't consider the events in Cairo worthy of the term 'coup d'etat.'  Barack said he was "deeply concerned" about the events...but not enough to suspend military aid.  In fact, a dozen F-16 jets were sent to Egyptian Air Force the next week.

Back in Egypt, protesters occupied main squares to show their anger over elected officials being forcibly removed by the military.  In Minya, hundreds stormed into a police station, where an officer was killed.  The army intervened and arrested everyone.  One you're arrested in Egypt, you are at the whim of one of the world's worst judicial systems. Only 16 of the 529 defendants were present in court for the proceedings, which took place last week.  And those who did appear before the jury have to do so in a metal cage.  That imagery certainly skews any hope of impartiality.  No one was surprised when all were given death sentences.

Defendants in a cage at a trial.
Today, many in Cairo are outraged at the upcoming mass extermination of civilians.  “This is way over the top and unacceptable,” cried Mohammed Zarie, a Cairo human rights activist. “It turns the judiciary in Egypt from a tool for achieving justice to an instrument for taking revenge.”  We here at the DUNER BLOG must agree.  The Obama Administration's integrity is questionable.  On one hand, we plead for democracy in the Middle East and demand elections.  On the other hand...when radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Fatah win these elections...the US forgets about these values and supports military coups.  Confusing...isn't it??

Tuesday, March 18, 2014



With the Second Crimean War in full swing, we here at the DUNER BLOG thought it would be helpful to our readers to review the First Crimean War.  Here are five items everyone should know:

1. The Holy Alliance vs. the Great Powers.
In grand European conflicts like the Crimean War, two rival leagues of nations are involved.  On one side....we have the Holy Alliance of Russia, Prussia and Austria.  Why so holy?  In post-Napoleonic Europe, these three nations feared democracy and revolution.  Instead, they they tired to steer the continent towards Christian-based autocratic states.  One the other side...we have the Great Powers of England, France and Sardinia (Italy). Their goals were simple: They wanted to re-draw Europe's borders in their favor.

2. The Sick Man of Europe.
By 1850, the once-great Ottoman Empire was in serious decline.  Greece and Serbia had broken free and other sections would soon follow.  This prompted Czar Nicholas of Russia to call Turkey "The Sick Man of Europe," as the Ottomans were unable to maintain a healthy empire.  Like Putin today, the Czar wanted to expand Russia westward.  Using the proxy excuse of liberating Russian Orthodox pilgrims in the Ottoman-held Holy Land, Russia declared war on Turkey.  First, they invaded Crimea.  Unfortunately, Nicolas' 'Holy Alliance' did not hold together and Prussia and Austria declared neutrality.  Meanwhile, England and France decided to join Turkey's defense.

3. The Charge of the Light Brigade. 
The Crimean War is known as the first 'Modern War.' In addition to advanced weaponry, trains brought troops quickly and telegraph lines brought news instantly.  One exception was England's 'Light Brigade.'  Unlike the 'Heavy Brigade,' which had guns, the 'Light Brigade' was a cavalry armed only with lances and sabers  Under curious orders, they bravely and fiercely attacked better armed Russian troops...who thought they were drunk.  Of the 660 Brits in the regiment, 118 died, 60 were captured and 335 horses were shot.  An allied French general summed it up: "C'est magnifique, mais n'est pas la guerre." (It's magnificent, but it isn't war.)  Ten years later, the incident would be immortalized in a famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

4. Florence Nightingale.
Once upon a time, a wealthy Englishwoman (named after her Italian birthplace) had visions.  She dreamed of helping people and logically became a nurse.  Decades later, a fellow friend and noble named Sidney Herbert became Secretary of War.  He tabbed Florence as a leader and sent her to Crimea to nurse.  As an established writer, her letters to the London Times enchanted a nation, giving rise to women's rights. Also important: Ms. Nightingale championed a revolutionary new concept in hospitals: Sanitation.

5. The Peace of Paris.
After the stunning loss at the Battle of Balaclava, Russia sued for peace.  The proceedings were conveniently held in Paris and soundly ended in France's favor.  Crimea remained Turkish and the Black Sea was declared neutral waters.  In reality, Russia signed the treaty and waited.  A mere twenty years later, everyone in Europe had forgotten about the Black Sea.  After France's defeat to the Prussians, Czar Nicolas fought Turkey again, without any French or British support.  This time, Russia successfully annexed the Crimea.  Fifty years later, Stalin would ethnically cleanse the peninsula. Crimea has remained solidly Russian ever since...

Monday, March 10, 2014



One of our favorite sporting events of the year is in full-swing right now.  The Iditarod Dog Sled race is nearing the final stretch!  It's a close race between four-time champ Jeff King and newcomer Aily Zirkle.  Not familiar with the Iditarod?  It's a fabulous event, rich in history, steeped in tradition and filled with cuddly canines.  To help you follow the action as well, here is a brief primer:

While the overland route to Nome had been used by the Inupiaq, Athabaskan and Russian peoples for centuries, it became famous in the year 1925.  A diphtheria epidemic was wiping out native populations.  The only antitoxins available were in far-off Anchorage and there were no planes available to get them.  Governor Bone took swift action  A 20 pound cylinder of serum would sent...by dog sled...to Nome. 

When a musher named Gunner Kaasen and his dog Balto slid down Fourth Street with the life-saving delivery, they were duly anointed heroes.  Interest and celebration of the event spread across the county...amazingly without the help of Twitter or TMZ!  Soon, the man and the dog were soon household names.  Don't believe us?  There is a statue of Balto the dog in New York's Central Park!

Despite Balto's celebrity status, interest in dog sledding waned over the next fifty years.  The Gold Mines of Iditarod were emptied.  Also, bush-planes became the favored means of transport.  The advent of snow mobiles in the 1960's further pushed the dog sleds out of relevance.  However, all this changed in 1958, when a man named Joe Reddington moved to Alaska.

He bought a homestead near Flat Horn Lake.  Part of his land included the over-grown route of the once-famous Iditarod Trail.  Joe became enthralled with the stories of the past and decided to recreate it.  In 1967, a 25-mile race between Wasilla and Kinick occurred with much fanfare. Although only a fraction of the original distance, it captured the hearts of many and Joe became known as the 'Father of the Iditarod."

Early setback plagued the race.  The 1968 race was cancelled due to lack of snow, and numerous dogs died from moose attacks the next year.  But international interest kept the spirit alive.  Finally, in 1973, the route expanded to encompass the entire, original 1,049 miles from Anchorage to Nome.  Dick Wilmath won this first installment, in 20 days, 49 minutes, and 41 seconds.   While minor changes are made due to weather, right of passage and other issues, 95% of the route remains true to the original "Mission of Mercy."

We here at the DUNER BLOG love stats, so here are some Iditarod records.  The fastest time belongs to John Baker.  He accomplished the feat in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds.  Rick Swenson holds the record for the most wins with 5.  There are also records for the dogs as well.  (They do all the work...you know!) Granite, Andy and Stormy are the only dogs to win the 'Golden Harness' three times.  Also...the race isn't just for questionably sane men.  In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the race.  Susan Butcher is the only person to finish in either first or second place in five consecutive years.

Here a some interesting Iditarod factoids. Only Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are allowed to race.  You cannot enter your Beagle or Chihuahua...The rules were changed in 1998 and Dog Boots were allowed.  This pleased animal rights activists, but angered past winners, whose times would be easier to beat...The Red Lantern Award goes to the team that finishes last.  The name refers to a red lantern that is lit when the race begins and not extinguished until its over.  The longest time ever was 32.5 days. 

Monday, March 3, 2014



Every student of American History knows about the California Gold Rush.  It all began in 1848 when John Marshall found nuggets while working in a saw mill.  An instant mass-migration followed.   Called 'Forty-Niners,' they extracted an estimated $20 billion (modern-day dollars) in gold from the Sierra Nevada foothills.  Within twenty short years...the gold was all gone...and California shifted to its focus to its current industries: Farming, making Levi's jeans and filming pornographic movies.

But that all changed last week!  Over $10 million dollars of gold was discovered again in the foothills!  Here's what happened: A couple was taking an afternoon stroll along their ten acres of property in Gold Rush Country.  They passed by some rusty old can lids sticking up from the ground.  While they had seen them before, this time they decided to come back with a shovel and investigate some more.  They found eight rusty old cans containing 1,427 US gold coins from the 1800's.

They contacted Kagin's Incorporation, a numismatic firm, to analyze them.  Imagine John and Mary's (not their real names) surprise when they learned what they found.  There were 1,373 $1 Gold coins, four $5 coins and 50 $10 coins.  Since gold never corrodes, they were all in good shape, with one third of them in mint condition.  Almost all of them were from the San Francisco mint.  The rarest was a 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle worth about $1 million.

The obvious question is: Why did the original owners chose to bury $2,000 instead of putting it in a bank?  Well...believe it or not...the more things change, the more they stay the same.  After organizing their loot on the kitchen table, the couple became scared.  "I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear" worried John.  (More likely is a crazed meth-head breaking and entering.)  So what did they do?  The couple placed them in an Igloo-brand cooler and hid them under a woodpile. 

In reality, the couple should have left them there and contacted the black market instead.  Within days of their announcement, a little known 1969 Federal Court Ruling was invoked by the IRS.  The so-called 'Treasure Trove'  clause states that: "property that does not belong to you that has been lost or abandoned (treasure-trove), it is taxable to you at its fair market value."  The Feds hope to get at least half of the claim.  Expect a lawsuit, hassle and years of appeals.  But...for the time being...the spirit of the Forty-Niners lives on in California!