Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, July 30, 2015



This week's DUNER BLOG takes our readers deep into the Amazon Rain Forest. Specifically, we'll go deep in the impenetrable jungles of Peru's Manu National Park. Here, numerous indigenous peoples live unaware of the outside world. In fact, it's against the law for other humans to interact with any of these isolated communities. These un-contacted tribes have no immunity to disease and are extremely vulnerable. Even a common cold could kill them.

However, one group, the Mashco Piro, have forced Peru to change the rules. At first, members of the tribe began to appear on riverbanks, gesturing to passersby on boats. After 100 such reports last year, the Adventist Missionary Group left food and clothes for them. Slowly but surely, contact between the tribe and the outside world increased. But in May, things took a turn for the worse. A member of the neighboring Machiguenga tribe was shot by an arrow and killed by the Mashco Piro.

This action forced the Peruvian Government to reconsider its policy. As long as the indigenous peoples remain in the forest...and outsiders stay away...all is well. Now that violent contact is being made, something had to be done. So far, agents from a Native Council have met with the Mashco Piro. They were able to communicate in the Yine language for about 20 minutes. They claimed all they wanted to do was trade fish and bananas for machetes and ropes.

All of which has anthropologists around the world clamoring for more caution. They feel the Peruvian government is being too rash and forcing contact upon the Mashco Piro. After all, these people have proven resilient in the past. They resisted Jesuit missionaries in the 1700's, and fled enslavement during the 'Rubber Boom' of the 1800's. They gained the respect of the Peruvian government last century. Surely, these events in 2015 are just a random occurrence, and not indicative of the true nature of the people..

In summary, we here at the DUNER BLOG see the Mashco Piro people as a very real reminder of the sad history of homo-sapiens in the Amazon region. Prior to Columbus' arrival in the Western Hemisphere in 1492, the Rainforests of South America were teaming with human life. Anthropologists estimate the indigenous population to be 100 million...ten times what it is today. Unwittingly, European explorers brought the common cold to the Amazon. Within 100 years, 90% had perished. Those who remained alive migrated to the remotest of places...like the Manu National Park...to survive.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015



Next week, President Obama will become the first US President to visit Ethiopia. While there, he will address the African Union, which is headquartered in the capital Addis Ababa. Barack will also confer with military advisers, to congratulate their recent victories over the evil al-Shabab Terrorist group. Nonetheless, the visit has confused many, as the word 'Ethiopia' has become a unfortunate metaphor. It's either associated with Famine or BFE: The most remotest of places. We here at the DUNER BLOG thought we'd clear up the confusion with Five important items.

Ethiopia loves the USA.  Prior to Obama, the only US President to care about the distant land was Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903, he dispatched an emissary to meet with Emperor Menelik II. Formal relations were established, including the coveted Most Favored Nation status. During the Italian invasion in the 1930's, the US stood by this accord, much to the disdain of Europe.

Ethiopia is admired by the rest of Africa. During the Scramble for Africa in the 19th century, 93% of the continent was claimed by one European nation or another. The remaining 7% was Ethiopia, which repelled all invasions. Also, it was the first African nation to join the League of Nations and the U.N. This prestige is evidenced by the flags of the continent. Nearly half of the African nations have green, yellow and red in some form on display as a nod to Ethiopia's history of independence.

Ethiopia is growing. With 90 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is full of folks who want to work. Many are, as the nation posted a 10% economic growth rate last year. Ethiopia also earned a B+ ranking from Moody's Investment Bank. While Obama is aware of these possibilities, the US lags behind China and India in investment. They are currently building hydroelectricity plants on the Atbara and Blue Nile Rivers. Other projects including light rail and a freeway to Djibouti.

Ethiopia is the birthplace of Rastafari. Monarchs have been in charge for the vast majority of Ethiopia's three thousand year history. Some dynasties claim to be descendants of the Queen of Sheba, thus ensuring Biblical status. One such ruler was Emperor Ras (Head) Tafari Selassie. When crowned in 1930, he proclaimed a new Zion in Ethiopia, the original birthplace of man. While not many adhered to the faith in Africa, it found many adherents in Jamaica and Berkeley, California.

Ethiopians regret USA for AFRICA. In the 1980's a severe drought plagued Ethiopia's Northern regions. Already in the midst of a Civil War, the situation spiraled out of control, with a million people perishing. Fortunately, Pop Music Stars stepped in. 'Do They Know It's Christmas' and 'We Are the World.' and subsequent super-concerts raised nearly a billion in aid. Unfortunately, it also formed a seemingly irreversible stereo-type (Ethiopia = Starvation) that still plagues the nation. This harmful notion is the biggest obstacle in luring Western investment today. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015



This week, Houston does NOT have a problem! After a slew of failures, including a failed launch and a fantastic atmospheric explosion, astronomers at NASA have a reason to cheer. The fastest spacecraft EVER, the New Horizons probe, reached Pluto and sent back images to Earth. For the first time, Earthlings can view the numerous canyons, valleys, mountains and craters on the distant celestial body. Even STEPHEN HAWKING is excited, tweeting: "We explore because we are humans and long to know." Nice work, NASA!

However, the most important discovery about Pluto isn't about terrain. Nope, we here at the DUNER BLOG are excited about the measurements of the planet's Equator. The probe indicates it is 1,470 miles across; quite a bit larger than previously thought. The total surface are is also bigger. At 1107 kilometers, it's slightly larger than Russia. We are also learning that Pluto's atmosphere is much thicker than previously thought, rich in possible nitrates.

So the question begs to be asked: Does this mean Pluto can be re-instated as a full-fledged PLANET again? "Not so fast!" say the astronomers. The reason why Pluto was demoted from planetary status to dwarf-planet status was the discovery of Eris in 2005. Located in the Kuiper Belt, this celestial body is 27% larger than Pluto. After much debate, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted the next year to re-define the terms, with only eight planets making the cut.

Sigh. Even with the new findings, Pluto is still smaller than Eris. Nonetheless, New Horizons has re-opened this debate. The more we learn about Pluto, the more important Pluto becomes. Eris might be larger... But does it have any moons? Pluto has five: Styx, Nix, Kerberos, Charon & Hydra. (Cool names too!) It's got gravity, a defined orbit and isn't located in some silly Asteroid Belt like Eris. C'mon, people! Let get Pluto back in the planetary club!

Pop Astronomer Neil de Grasse Tyson still disagrees. "To call Pluto a planet would be an insult to the other planets," he quipped. Does he really think planets have feelings? The real issue here has nothing to do with Astronomy and everything to do with Geography. When Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930, he called it a planet. When Abel Tasman discovered Australia in 1642, he called it a continent. Likewise, there are no measurements to determine the difference between a creek or a river. THEY ARE JUST NAMES!

Thursday, July 9, 2015



Big news from Sacramento last week. Legislators passed Assembly Bill 1658, also known as the "California Legacy License Plate Program." This means a lucky 7,500 applicants can receive the popular, old-school, black-and-yellow license plates for their antique cars. Used from 1963 - 1969, they were replaced with a safer plate with brighter colors. Since then, the plates have been a sought-after bit of nostalgia.

To celebrate, we examined current plates from all 50 states. Here are our findings:

Alabama. Sure, it's corny to have a Lynard Skynard song on every car in the state. But it's what officials decided upon back in 1997. See, for the fifty years prior, "Heart of Dixie" graced Alabama plates. In our touchy-feely world, this phrase was deemed inappropriate and something less controversial was selected instead. It's much better than the Sinatra song "The Stars Fell On Alabama," the second place choice.

Hawaii. Everyone loves rainbows!  And Hawaii has more than any other state. Designers must have worked hard to get the whole spectrum of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet all on one plate. NOTE: You can tell which island a car is from by the first letter. A-G= Oahu. H= Big Island. K=Kauai. M=Maui, Molokai & Lanai.

Oregon. When first unveiled in 1988, Oregon's plate instantly won praise. It was named 'Plate of the Year' by the Auto License Plate Collectors Association. A grand Douglas Fir tree is matched nicely with the dark blue Serif text, lavender mountains and beckoning skyline. We can just smell the forest now. Nice work, Oregon!

South Carolina. A license plate should reflect a state's image and heritage. South Carolina's Sabal Palmetto is the State Tree. It stands proudly under a crescent moon delicately illuminating an pale orange sunset. Just as we imagine Charleston to be: Beautiful and Relaxing. Are you reading, GREG?!?

Wyoming. This plate topped a recent survey on CarInsurance.com. We agree. There's a flying horse, a calming meadow and impressive mountains. But don't go drawing it: The trademarked Bucking Horse & Rider Logo dates back to 1918 when the Wyoming National Guard fought in the Great War.

Arkansas. Little Rock made a big a big mistake back in 1996 when legislators approved a new design for vehicle registration plates. Specifically, a massive diamond centered in the middle of the plates. It represents Murfreesboro, the only open-to-the-public diamond mining facility in the USA. The rest of the nation wonders why the poorest state has precious gemstones on their license plate.

Delaware. Prior to WWII, license plates were very simple. With few autos and little regulation, cars had tin squares with a couple numbers fastened above the spare tire. However, by 1950, the implosion of automobiles meant states would need bigger and better license plates. Every state but Delaware got the memo. Are you reading, Joe Biden??

Illinois. We get it. Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Illinois. Sure, his bust belongs on a plate. But what graphic designer came up with this? The most recognizable face in US History becomes a blurry blue mess. To add to the confusion, Honest Abe is always obscured by a bright Red number. You can do better, Springfield.

Michigan. From a license plate point of view, the Great Lakes State looks like a Great Mistake. "Pure" is confusing. So is the squiggle attempting to be an "M." We also HATE web addresses on plates. Are we supposed to drop everything, go online and visit Michigan.org? Whilst driving??

Virginia.  According to both the License Plate Association AND the survey in CarInsurance.com, Virginia is the ultimate loser. An uninspired font, dull colors and nothing else. We thought Virginia was for lovers. For history buffs. Nope, Virginia is for...