Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, February 25, 2016



Big news this week from the Himalayas! The King and Queen of Bhutan released personal photos to the world of their two-week old baby...also known as the DRAGON PRINCE. He is absolutely adorable! The photos appeared on Tuesday on their Royal Facebook page. Four of the five shots are with the proud parents, but we here at the DUNER BLOG particularly enjoy the touching close-up of the sleeping tot. Wrapped in a vibrant, shimmering gold swaddling cloth, the peaceful prince looks content. We bet you have a number of questions about this item, so let's get started...

Never heard of Bhutan? It's easy to do. The remote Asian kingdom has a long history of forced isolation. Nganwang Namgyal, the nation's founding father, was a leader of a persecuted Buddhist sect in nearby Tibet. He fled to the south and found a fabulous region of mountain valleys bisected by fast flowing rivers. The charismatic leader united a number of warring fiefdoms and created Bhutan. While neighboring states of Sikkim and Assam joined the new nation of India in 1948, this kingdom chose to remain an independent state.

Your next question: Why is he called the 'Dragon Prince?' This Buddhist sect calls their homeland the 'Land of the Thunder Dragon.' A prominent tenet of the Drukpa Lineage involves the belief that the Royal Family descended from the mythical beasts. Over time, this unworldly quality created a unique type of devotion amongst the subjects. Although the Bhutanese have the right to leave the landlocked mountain kingdom, none ever do.

Just how isolated is Bhutan? Geographically, it's hard to get to. First, you go to Calcutta. Then cross the Ganges River and head northeast about 250 miles. You end by climbing 10,000 feet straight up. Culturally, the kingdom is also horribly isolated. Televisions were banned up until 1999. The Internet ban was lifted in 2001. Both came with a stern warning from the King: "Misuse of television will erode traditional Bhutanese values," he cautioned. You might think the citizenry would be angry? Wrong! It turns out Bhutan is the 8th happiest nation on earth, according to the GNH (Gross National Happiness) scale.

So raise a glass and toast the good fortune of the Royal Family of Bhutan. DO NOT, however, light up a cigar to celebrate the Dragon Prince. See, six years ago, Bhutan became the only nation on earth to outlaw smoking! (The $220 fine is about two month's salary.) Also, don't plan to move to Bhutan: No immigration is allowed. It's even difficult to visit the mountain paradise. The government slaps a $250 daily visa charge on all tourists (excluding citizens of India). On second thought...it's probably best to just look at the cute baby photo...then forget all about Bhutan!

Monday, February 15, 2016



President's Day is here! That means everyone from the Used Car Lot to WalMart is suddenly patriotic. Parking lots display Red, White & Blue ribbons and the Stars & Stripes appear on your local newscaster's tie. Another aspect of the holiday involves honoring the men themselves. Unfortunately...with 44 presidents to choose from...it is always George and Abe who appear in the Honda commercial. Sigh. To honor the hard working, yet somehow underappreciated, Commanders in Chief of the past... Here are Five Great Presidents who do NOT appear on US Currency:*

JOHN ADAMS.  No one wants to follow onstage after Michael Jackson. Likewise, replacing His Excelency George Washington must have been a tough pill to swallow. Nonetheless, the ambitious man from Massachusetts was up for the task. First on his agenda was to establish a Navy to protect our harbors from the British, who would show up fifteen years later. That's called planning ahead! Also..don't forget..as the leading political theorist at the Continental Congress, Adams was the primary writer of the Declaration of Independence. Dude, this guy is such an American patriot, he died on the Fourth of July! Why isn't he mentioned as much as Washington or Jefferson?

JAMES MADISON. Sure, it's easy to be a great president in prosperous times...like when the USA has the world's best army...but what about when times are hard? In this spirit, let's salute the only Commander in Chief to successfully defend the homeland from a foreign invasion: James Madison. Standing at a mere 5'4" (1.63m), he remains our shortest president ever. But he was tall on courage! In 1814, England was determined to destroy Napoleon..and all of his allies. This included the USA. In accordance, Royal Naval squadrons raided the District of Columbia, burning down the White House. Although Dolly Madison would get all the credit for saving items, it was her husband who rallied the army to chase the limeys away.

JAMES K. POLK. Aside from Polk Street in San Francisco, places named after the eleventh president of the USA are hard to find. That's a shame, because Polk changed our nation like no other leader. At 49, he was the youngest man to assume the office. His youthful exuberance was evident: No one ever delivered on campaign promises like Polk. And...Boy!...were they whoppers: Polk promised to double the size of the USA by adding both the Oregon Territory from England and California from Mexico. In his first year in office, he was able to negotiate annexation of Oregon. However, he had to engineer a war with Mexico to accomplish the latter. In four years, Polk completely reshaped the nation. BONUS: He also founded the Smithsonian!

WOODROW WILSON. A nasty spat between Teddy Roosevelt and Tubby Taft allowed a relative unknown named Wilson to slide into the White House in the Election of 1912. One of his first acts as President was to annually inform Congress of what's happening in the Oval Office. Called the "State of the Union Address," the idea caught on and has become a staple of the presidency. During his eight years, Wilson skillfully tip-toed around two enormous foreign policy powder kegs: The Great Revolution in neighboring Mexico and a World War in Europe. While we ended up getting involved in the latter, we stayed out of the mess in Mexico. Also: Women should give Wilson bonus points for his vociferous approval of the 19th Amendment, which gave ladies the right to vote in 1919.

HARRY S. TRUMAN. Sandwiched between Four-termer FDR and Two-termer IKE was a soft spoken president from Missouri. A last minute addition to the 1944 Democratic ticket, Truman assumed office a mere 82 days after Roosevelt's sudden death. A week later, he was in Europe, meeting with Churchill, de Gaulle and Stalin to decide the fate of the planet. Fortunately, they listened to Harry, and the United Nations was born. While enormously popular overseas, Truman struggled to win hearts back at home. He defeated Dewey for re-election in 1948 by the thinnest of margins ever. His National Health Care Plan was soundly defeated by Congress the next year. It would take another 64 years for another president to get this passed. Sigh!

*Presidents on coins / bills: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, FDR, JFK.

Thursday, February 11, 2016



Here's an item you might have missed! It comes to us from Cairo. On Monday, the Egyptian government announced they have banned ANNREJ CIESIELSKI from entering their country. MAMDOAH ELDAMATY, the Minister of Antiquities, issued the official notice to the German Embassy. Why all the fuss? It's because an overly adventurous 18 year-old skirted security and scaled the Great Pyramid of Cheops. That's against the law and comes with a hefty three year sentence. Fortunately for Andrej, Egypt is currently trying to lure tourists back to their land. So a 'life-time' ban is clearly the right punishment for the crime.

We here at the DUNER BLOG thought we'd use this incident to clear up a couple of the misconceptions about the Great Pyramids at Giza.

THEY ARE NOT BUILT BY ALIENS. A widely held belief is that ancient humans did not build the pyramids. See, they were dumb and did not possess the technology necessary to construct the world's largest structures. Only other-world, alien architects could complete such an enormous task. Rubbish! The truth is that homo sapiens have two separate epochs on earth: The Egyptian (5000 - 800 BC) and the Post-Egyptian (800 BC - present). All of our major advances as a species occurred in the first period: Agriculture, language, religion, math, alphabets, etc. To build the pyramids, Old Kingdom pharaohs assembled man's largest construction company ever. 100,000 people worked day and night, hauling stones up ramps...without the use of the wheel.

THEY ONCE HOUSED MUMMIES. Once again, Hollywood has high-jacked a historical truth and manufactured it into something completely fictional. The three great pyramids were built as mausoleums for successive Fourth Dynasty pharaohs. Not surprisingly, each was built just a bit larger than the previous leader. The tallest housed the body of Khufu--the Westernized version of the word is Cheops. In proper accordance with religious traditions of the day, the body of a pharaoh would be disemboweled and wrapped in fine cloth. However, they did not ever come back to life, groan in English, and dance the Moonwalk.

THE SPHINX IS TINY. No blog about the Great Pyramids would be complete without mentioning the Sphinx. Like the Alamo in San Antonio, the Sphinx is much smaller in real life. Cartoon movies erroneously portray it to be on par with the pyramids. But at 66 feet high, it truly sits in the shadows. Also, Napoleon's men did not shoot the nose off the face. Turks were the vandals. NOTE: Turks also blew the roof off the Acropolis as well.

THE SIDES OF THE PYRAMIDS WERE ONCE SMOOTH. Had the German daredevil tried to scale the sides of the Great Pyramid back in 2500 BC, he would have found a completely flat surface. See, when originally built, casing stones surround the base. Ciesielski would have encountered a shimmering, polished white limestone wall, not the climbable jagged boulders of today. Way back in the year 1303 AD, a massive earthquake loosened the casing stones, sending them careening down to the sand below. Fifty years later, an enterprising sultan, An-Nasir al-Hassan, carted them away to build mosques and fortresses in Cairo. You can see them today in the Alabaster Mosque and the Citadel.

YOU CAN GO INSIDE THEM. Sorry, the mummy of Cheops was looted 4,000 years ago during the First Intermediate Period. In fact, by the time Cleopatra reigned, the pyramids were already in gross disrepair. Nowadays, the only way to get inside the Great Pyramid is through the "Robber's Tunnel." This passage was made using a battering ram by a corrupt caliph in the year 820 AD. If you do decide to venture inside, do plan ahead: Only 300 tourists are allowed in every day. Don't go if you are claustrophobic or if you are overly sensitive to body odor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016



Strange news from Germany this week. The Bavarian President Horst Seehofer announced his plans to travel to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin. You're asking yourself: Shouldn't THE MERKEL handle such matters? You're right. However, Bavaria has always been the most independent of Germany's states. It is also vigorously opposed to the new Migrant policy and hopes to send a message to Berlin: Bavaria can secede from Germany, so start listening! This incident reminds us that Europe has many other regions that also claim independence. Here is an update on nine current movements:

BASQUE COUNTRY.  Europe's longest running independence movement, the Basques trace their history back to pre-Roman times. Since then, they've been part of dozens of empires, republics and dictatorships. Nonetheless, the steadfast society has kept her unique language and customs intact. Unfortunately, for six decades a terrorist group known as ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) high-jacked the independence movement and has clouded any altruistic aims for a new state.

BAVARIA. Up until the formation of the Second Reich in 1871, Bavaria was a prosperous and independent kingdom, active in European affairs. In fact, King Ludwig III did not formally abdicate until 1918. When Bavaria joined the new Federal Republic after World War II, it did so as a "Free-State." However, this is truly in name only, much like Massachusetts being a Commonwealth has no special status either.

CATALONIA. Like the Basques, Catalonia is a part of Spain. They speak their own language and are also more industrious than other provinces. This is reflected in federal taxes: Of the $15 billion they pay to Madrid, only two-thirds returns to Barcelona in spending. Every September Eleventh, or the Diada Nacional de Catalunya, everything shuts down as protesters fill the streets. They still remember the exact day...way back in 1714...when the King of Spain officially annexed Catalonia.

CORSICA. Everyone knows Napoleon was born on this French island, but not everyone knows that Corsica had just joined France the year before (1768). Prior to that, Genoa owned the isle. Before then, it had been traded from empire to empire. The Tuscans, Venetians, Ottomans, even the British all claimed Corsica. All the time, Corsicans developed their own unique culture and language (Corsu). Today, 39% of the people want to separate from France.

FLANDERS. Belgium is always confusing to young Geography students. It doesn't follow the mold. See, they speak Danish in Denmark. Poles speak Polish, etc. But Belgium is different. The country was basically created as a buffer between Holland and France. So the upper half (Flanders) speaks Dutch while the lower region (Wallonia) speaks French. Economically, however, the two groups are inseparable and the Flemish National Party only garners 35% of the vote.

LOWER TYROL. After the First World War, everyone ganged up on Germany and Austria, snatching large chunks of territory. Italy managed to grab South Tryol from the demolished Hapsburg Empire. The only problem is 95% of the population spoke German. Despite aggressive attempts from Mussolini to Italian-ize to region, this figure still remains at 70%. Despite efforts by the S├╝dtirol Freiheit Party, the region looks to remain part of Italy. See, it produces most of their Winter Olympians.

SCOTLAND. The most high profile independence movement in Europe took place in September of 2014. That's when five million Scots took the polls to vote on separation from the United Kingdom. Much to the horror of the other independence movements on this list, the referendum failed, 55% to 45%. The closeness of the numbers leads one to believe there will be another vote in the future.

SILESIA. Often in Europe's multi-cultural nations, one hard-working region ends up supporting other, less-industrious provinces. In Poland, the mineral-rich region of Silesia accounts for 14% of the nation's GNP, despite only accounting for 7% of the population. The RAS Party slogan is: "Silesian Money for Silesian People." In all, some 1000,000 people work in the coal mines, while Fiat and Opel have opened car manufacturing plants.

VENICE. Like their neighbors in Milan, many Venetians clamor for separation from greedy Rome. Like the Catalans, they yearn for a better return on their tax payments: For every five euros Venice pays in Federal taxes, they receive only three euros back in services. Despite achieving 89% of the vote (the highest of any party on the list), its highly unlikely for any change. Thanks to the Mussolini inspired constitution, it is nearly impossible to secede from Italy.