Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015



Here's a story you might have missed. On Sunday evening, the Prime Minister of Barbados made an important confession. Speaking to members of his DLP Party, Freundel Stuart admitted he finds it "awkward to stand up and pledge allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen" at the beginning of every meeting. He didn't stop there.  Next month, he will enter a bill in Parliament to renounce the monarch. Hopefully, the transition to a full republic should be finalized before the 50th anniversary of statehood in November of 2016.

It's true: Barbados is not a major player in World Politics. BUT... It is the home of beloved Pop Music star Rihanna. Therefore, this blog is important. Here's how it all began: Evan Rogers of DefJam Records was vacationing near the capital, Bridgetown. At a club, he heard a 16-year-old girl perform covers of Beyonce and Mariah Carey hits. In addition to amazing vocals, she had dance moves and a million dollar smile. Within seconds, Evan got on the cell phone to Jay-Z and the rest is Pop Music History. Rihanna has a whopping ten #1 hits and 21 Top Ten Hits.

You're asking: Is this blog about Rihanna or Barbados? Well, to understand Rihanna is to understand Barbados. See, she is a very typical Barbadan. A whopping 93% of Barbados' population are descendants from African slaves. From 1625 to 1810, Britain imported over a million Africans to this tiny island. This number is twice as many people as the entire USA imported. But Barbados is half the size of Rhode Island. This legacy of the human genocide has not been forgotten on Barbados.

Also...like Rihanna...the economy of Barbados has been on the upswing for the last decade. While the other British Commonwealth nations in the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad and the Bahamas) have struggled, the standard of living in Barbados has increased since independence. They boast the third highest such rate in North America, trailing only Canada and the USA and besting Mexico and Costa Rica. In addition to the thriving tourist trade (where Rihanna used to work), the island produces lots of Rum. The Mount Gay Distillery employs thousands of people.

Hopefully, by years' end, it will be all be official. Barbados will leave the Commonwealth, form an independent legislature and plunge into the international scene with a bright future ahead. While few instant economic windfalls will occur from the move, the symbolic gains will be immediate. Four centuries of colonial rule...good and bad...will be forever in the past. Finally, Queen Elizabeth's portrait will be removed from all Barbadan coins and bills. Who will replace her?  Duh! Barbados MOST FAMOUS person: Robyn RIHANNA Fenty.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015



Last week, the staff of the DUNER BLOG were on assignment in Sacramento. To avoid traffic, we took a short-cut on the Capital City Freeway. Built in the 1950's, the road winds through parks and over a river, with rows of trees on each side. This sparked debate about which California Freeway is the most quaint. Here are our favorites.

Cabrillo Freeway. Route #163. San Diego's first freeway opened in 1948 with great fanfare. It provided a link between Downtown and rapidly growing Mission Valley. To do so, it would bisect Balboa Park. Architects worked hard to maintain the idyllic greenery while still allowing a 45 MPH speed limit. They succeeded. The highlight is passing under the 1915 Cabrillo Bridge, which is modeled after its namesake in Toledo, Spain.

Capital City Freeway. Route #160. Sacramento's first freeway opened in 1947. At first, pedestrian lanes and rows of trees graced the sides. However, the walkways were soon replaced by more auto lanes. Cars...not people...could now zoom from the State Capitol, over the American River and into the rapidly expanding suburbs. Fortunately, the trees still remain.

Pasadena Freeway. Route #11. The 'World's First Freeway' was truly a landmark in transportation history. See, it differed from the 'Parkways' of the East Coast, as it had specific exit and entry ramps. Also, no businesses or residences were allowed on the sides. However, the Pasadena Freeway was similar to the 'Parkways' in that it still tried to emulate the feel of a Park. Thick groves of trees line each side and the median. Finally, Art Deco fans will love the four tunnels that provide quick passage to Downtown Los Angeles.

Richard M. Nixon Freeway. Route #90. Aside from a small city park in Pennsylvania, this tiny three mile freeway in Yorba Linda is the only thing named after America's 37th President. Why only three miles? Well, originally, the plan in 1959 was to build an east-west freeway from Marina Del Rey to Orange County. However, only the beginning (Marina Fwy) and end were built. The Eastern Section was renamed after the only Californian-born President.

Warren Freeway. Route #13. This bold highway slices through the steep slopes of Piedmont Valley. Tall Redwood, Oak and Eucalyptus Trees line both sides.  Like the Nixon Freeway, this route was also intended to go much further. But the Berkeley City Council rejected plans to convert Ashby Avenue into a freeway in 1960. It's sad. You'd think a former California Governor and Supreme Court Chief Justice would get a bigger freeway named after him!

West Valley Freeway. Route #85. In the 1950's most of Santa Clara County was covered in orange orchards. Hence, construction began in 1957, orange trees framed most of the highway. Today, housing subdivisions butt up against most of it, but a few sections of fragrant fruit trees still remain.

Yosemite Freeway. Route #41. All the freeways in Fresno are named after the National Parks they (eventually) lead too. There's the Sequoia Freeway and the King's Canyon Freeway, but these Parks can't compare with Yosemite! Built in the 1970's, this freeway embodies the ultimate California dream. A fast way out of Fresno!

NOTE: When referring to freeways, Southern Californians always employ the article "The" and the name of the freeway, e.g. "The Orange Freeway." Northern Californians just say the number of the freeway. "Take 580 West."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015



Springtime is just ten days away! And no one celebrates the Coming of Spring like Central Asia. Since ancient times, the Spring Equinox is the region's biggest party. Called Nowruz (Persian: New Day), it is an official holiday in fourteen countries including Iran, Georgia, Uzbekistan and...the best STAN of them all...KYRGYZSTAN! Confused? Here are five things you need to know about NOWRUZ.

#1. Spring Equinox. Given the scientific nature of their society, it comes as no surprise that Ancient Persians were advanced astronomers. Priests calculated...down to the exact second...when the sun is precisely over the Equator. BAM! This is when the festival officially starts. Today, Central Asians have digital clocks counting down the days, hours and minutes left to the start of Nowruz. It is much like the New Year's Eve countdowns in the US.

#2. Zoraster. Also known as Zarathustra, he is the prophet of the Zoroastrian faith and is credited with 'inventing' the holiday. Born in 1250 BC, he predates Moses, Buddha and Jesus. His simple message is to seek out truth 'asha' and reject lies 'druj.' There is no pre-determinism: Individuals choose their fates. By doing good deeds, we increase the divine force and we all creep closer to being a better planet. Zoraster chose the First Day of Spring as the main holiday because it is the happiest day of the year.

#3. Omar Khayyam. Just like Clement Clark Moore's poem began our Santa Claus cult, Persian poet Omar Khayyam's poem 'Nowruznama' cemented Nowruz traditions. His descriptions of the celebrations in the Royal Court were detailed. Today, homes recreated these decorations, songs and meals. Here's an example:

Wind and rain have gone. Lord Nowurz has come.
Friends, convey this message. The New Year has come again
This spring be your good luck. The tulip fields be your joy.  

The meal of choice is noodles. But don't just wolf them down. Untangling them first will help straighten out your soul. NOTE: You can thank Omar for the Nowruz Santa equivalent: Haji Firouz. He even wears a red suit with a silly hat!

#4. Fire Jumping. The main symbol of Nowruz is fire. To incorporate this into the celebrations, Iranians perform the Chahar Shanbeh Soori, which loosely translates into Crazy Fire Jumping. People light bonfires in the streets and then run and jump over them. While in mid-air, you shout: 'Zardee Maan Aztoh,' which rids you of sickness and bad luck. When you reach the other side of the fire-pit, you will have health and good luck.

#5 Nowruz and Islam. Up until the year 750 AD, Zoroastrianism was a major religion. It commanded as many adherents as Buddhism and Hinduism and dwarfed the tiny Christian and Jewish populations. But it was no match for Islam. Voracious jihads converted all but the most fervent followers, who were forced to locate to remote regions of Yazd in Eastern Iran (where they still live today!) However, powerful Islam was unable to stop Persians from celebrating their favorite holiday. Today, its popularity is as big as ever. Iran will close down for the next two weeks to celebrate the now-secular NOWRUZ.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015



Last Sunday's episode of  THE SIMPSONS sparked a lot of debate at the DUNER BLOG headquarters. See, the plot involved a Nigerian Princess who comes to Springfield to negotiate a deal with the nuclear power plant. We won't spoil the surprise ending, but the TV show raised the obvious question: Does Nigeria really have Royal Houses with Kings and Princess?

You bet! The region known today as NIGERIA has always been a bustling center of human activity. Thousands of years ago, it was the core region in the famed Bantu Migration. During this epoch, people began migrating south and eastward...eventually settling everywhere. With superior iron weaponry and persistence, Bantu-speaking people overran most of the sub-Saharan part of Africa. Today, the Niger-Congo language family boasts 400 million speakers.

How was the accomplished? With organized KINGDOMS...that's how! By the time outsiders arrived in Nigeria in the 1800's, they found these formidable city-states. While Islamic armies managed to convert the Sokoto and Kano Kingdoms into Caliphates, they still remained independent entities. Likewise, the British forced the Yoruba and Igbo Kings to sign treaties, but the native monarchs remained on the throne. After independence in 1960, the Nigerian Government granted semi-autonomous status to 82 monarchs. They are all still active today.

Look at it this way: On an international level, King Alaafin of Oyo isn't very powerful, but on a regional level, the "Obo" is the ultimate authority. British, Islamic and Nigerian armies have all come and gone, but the local monarchy remains constant. In the case of the Oyo, King Alaafin can trace his ancestry back five centuries. Across Nigeria, these royal houses have a palaces, complete with throne rooms. They still serve as courts, and oversee marriages, disputes and the policing of the population.

Yoruba Women are the BEST!
Back to Princess Kami, the character on the Simpsons. While at first, the people of Springfield laughed at her. However...by the end of the show...our beloved characters respect her royalty. Even Montgomery Burns bowed in her presence! Unfortunately, these are just cartoon characters. Hopefully...someday...Americans can begin to see Nigerians as something other than just e-mail scam artists. Nigeria is a fascinating and unique place draped in human history and culture!