Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017



Across America, people look at their December calendars, anxiously counting down the days to Christmas. Afterward, we look at the day after the holiday and we see in the box...next to the number 26...the odd entry: BOXING DAY (UK, CAN, AUS). Americans scratch their heads and wonder what this holiday means. We asked our British friends about it...and guess what? Most people in the UK don't know what Boxing Day means either. This sounds like the perfect topic for a blog.

Before we start, let's clarify what Boxing Day is not. It has absolutely nothing to do with the sport of boxing. (You don't love people on the 25th, but then sock them in the face on the 26th.) Most people think the term derives from 'boxing' up used wrapping paper, unwanted gifts and discarded fruitcakes for the rubbish heap...but that's not the case. Nor does it have anything to do with horse racing, Premier League Soccer, cricket or jumping into frozen lakes.

Nope, according The Guardian the origins of Boxing Day "lie not in sport, but in small acts of kindness." During the Middle Ages, parishioners collected money, gifts and food for the poor in alms boxes during the Christmas Mass. These were then opened by the poor the next day. During the Victorian era, the process was expanded. Although the domestic staff of large manors had to work on Christmas Day, they were given the next day off for their own families. Before leaving, servants, maids and cooks were given extra wages, gifts and food in fancy boxes.

During the Victorian Era, there were thousands of manors with tens of thousands of people working in them. Not surprisingly, the day evolved into an important event for a large percentage of the British population. Boxing Day became an official bank holiday in 1871. Since then, the holiday has been celebrated in a variety of ways. Since the help was gone, aristocrats went hunting or to the race track. This expanded into the soccer and rugby leagues. Today, Boxing Day matches are now a fixture on the sports calendar.

These days, Boxing Day has an entirely new purpose. Gone are the traditional trips to church to give boxes to the poor. Nope! Today, Boxing Day is the busiest shopping day of the year in the UK and Canada, with billions of pounds in retail sales. In fact, it is just like Black Friday in the US. Stores ceremoniously open their doors at 5am, welcoming in a mad rush of consumers clamoring for bargains. Sigh. Let's just hope people take their purchases from Oxford Street home, put them in a fancy box and give them to the homeless.

Friday, December 15, 2017



The Egyptian government is worried. No, it's not about the Muslim Brotherhood. Nope...It's not another attack on Coptic Christians. And it has nothing to do with Jerusalem becoming the capital of Israel. Nope, today, the political ministers in Cairo are worried that the Nile River will dry up. Since 95% of the population lives in the Nile River Valley, this means 85 million lives are in danger!

Why do Egyptian ministers think the Nile River will dry up? Because 1,500 miles upriver, the Ethiopian government is busy building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). It's now 70% completed and will be operational next year. Once done, it will be Africa's largest, producing 6,000 megawatts of power. Today, only a third of Ethiopians have electricity, so this is really quite an accomplishment.

This is exciting news for Ethiopia...a nation previously only known for drought and starvation. But downriver in Egypt, concerns are high. See, Addis Ababa has been a bit hush-hush on the nuts and bolts of the dam. The Ethiopian government raised the $5 billion to build it without foreign help, so the outside world has little idea of what's going on. We do know it will take ten years to fill a reservoir that will bring the power. Cairo worries about these projections as well as the safe maintenance of the flow of the world's longest river.

As any History Teacher will tell you: Egypt is the 'Gift of the Nile.' However, the annual flooding went away decades ago. The High Aswan Dam opened in 1965. Since then, the Nile flow levels are controlled...so the Nile won't dry up anytime soon. However, the flow will be cut by 25% beginning soon. This will mean less water and power in the long run. That's why Egypt is demanding a Pan-African committee to be formed to look deeper into the environmental affects of the GERD before any operation.

While this conflict may seem odd and insignificant, expect many more to pop up in the future. Simply put: Fresh water reserves cannot keep up with the world's rapidly expanding population. Across Asia, disputes rage. Turkey wants to control the Euphrates, putting Iraqis at risk. Thailand is angry with Laos for their dam on the Mekong. And in the Americas there's the Colorado River dispute. Americans drink every drop before it gets to Mexico!

Saturday, December 9, 2017



Americans have many norms that confuse people in other countries. For example, we insist on having ice in our beverages. Americans think coins are basically worthless, and only to be used as 'spare change' for the homeless. We wear shirts with words on them: "I'm with stupid." But perhaps the most confusing thing Americans do is use a driver's license for all personal identification.

See, in the other 242 nations on earth, the government issues standard, uniform identification cards for all her citizens. (Note: These are not to be confused with a passport, which is for international affairs.) Now, when you need ID for a credit card or alcohol purchase in any nation other than America, a federal ID card is the main form of identification. Weird, huh? Anyhow, this difference becomes apparent when Americans try to check into hotels overseas. Desk clerks cannot figure out what driving a car has to do with renting a room.

This was all supposed to change back in 2005 when Congress passed the REAL ID ACT. After the horrific 9/11 attacks, it was brought to light that the Saudi terrorists all used driver's licenses from various US states in preparation for the onslaught. With so many different IDs, it makes it difficult to keep tabs on the people we need to be keeping tabs on. People like TSA officers really need to see, instantly, more information than a state issued driver's license can provide.

Sadly, after multiple failures to pass, a watered-down version of the REAL ID ACT ended up becoming a law in 2005. Instead of issuing all citizens a national ID card, individual state driver's licenses will still be used to board a plane. However, the government is requiring that states adhere to stricter codes and regulations to insure TSA agents get the information on passengers they need. So residents of twenty states, including California and New York need to go to a DMV to get a new card. But don't rush. This week, Congress extended the deadline to October of 2020 to get the new, enhanced driver's license.

You might have noticed I only used the term "American" in this blog when referring to people. But, in actuality, we are the UNITED STATES of America. Maybe this driver's license issue is one of the last remaining instances when state's rights being placed ahead of federal rights. Come to think of it...Maybe our nation would be better off with more regional government. We'd really love to see 50 individual currencies as well!


Saturday, December 2, 2017



Nothing gets the tabloids of the world more excited than a Royal Wedding! So, when Prince Harry popped the question to actress Meghan Markle last weekend, news outlets from Sydney to Stockholm went wild. They're still a-flutter with probing questions, wacky predictions and wild speculation. As your trusted source for news about royalty worldwide, we here at the DUNER BLOG are ready to answer your queries.

Which role made Meghan famous? She is best known for playing Rachel Zane on the TV show Suits. It airs on the oddly-named USA Network. Fans have watched the outgoing character rise from a lowly paralegal in Season One to a full-fledged attorney in Season Five. On the silver screen, she played the hot FedEx girl in the comedy Horrible Bosses. However, the role that made Meghan Markle famous was as briefcase girl #24 on the Howie Mandel-hosted game show Deal or No Deal!

How did Harry and Meghan meet? Naturally, Harry was asked this question during a recent BBC interview. It all began with a simple BLIND DATE last year. See, Meghan was friends-of-a-friend with Princess Eugenie, who also helped play matchmaker. They met for a drink in London last year. When did Harry know she was the one? "The very first time we met." Harry admits. So people...the next time a friend wants to set you up with someone...think twice about turning them down!

What will her royal title be? This will be announced after the wedding. In all likelihood, Meghan will become the Duchess of Sussex...just like Kate Middleton became the Duchess of Cambridge. This will not stop the press from calling her Princess Meghan, as the word 'Princess' has special place in the heart of Disney-loving girls worldwide. Prior to any of this, Meghan must become a British citizen and be baptized into the Church of England.

Is she the first American royal? Given the large number of Royal houses worldwide, dozens of Americans have become royalty. The most famous being Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco and Queen Noor of Jordan. Meghan will be the second American to join the House of Windsor. For eight months in 1936, Wallis Simpson was a de-facto Queen, but the abdication of Edward VIII unceremoniously ended her curious reign.

Will the Queen attend the wedding? Although no official word has been given, many feel her Highness will not be at the ceremony. No, it doesn't have anything to do with Meghan being an American. Rather, Meghan, like Willis Simpson, is divorced. Although the Church of England now accepts divorce, the queen does not. She also skipped her own son's second wedding on the same grounds: Camilla is divorced too.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



November is an important month for many Americans. For most, it's a time to give thanks for having four days off work. Others choose to remember our military veterans. In sports: It's rivalry time in College Football and it's time for the coveted Breeder's Cup in horse racing. However, for us here at the DUNER BLOG, November means one thing: The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

Not familiar with this holiday tradition? It began 20 years ago to promote the famed lingerie line's new store in Midtown Manhattan. A makeshift runway featured Stephanie Seymour parading around in a push-up bra and matching panties. Then, she was followed down by a dozen other scantily-clad supermodels prancing around in their undies. What's not to love? At first, the fashion show proceeded Valentine's Day, but in 2001, they switched to November, as Christmas sales are much more lucrative.

Things became BIG TIME the following year, when ABC aired the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in Prime Time. As popularity grew, the show was moved to various other fashion capitals, like L.A., Miami, Paris and Cannes. But this year, the ambitious company decided to expand to Shanghai. A great idea has ran into a myriad of problems. Media covering the event are angry about burdensome restrictions. For example, no shots of the exterior of the Mercedes Benz Center are allowed. Although tickets were not released to the public, they are selling online for thousands of dollars.

However, the biggest issue facing the Fashion Show involves travel visas. Naturally, four Ukrainian and Russian models were denied visas, due to Cold War restrictions still on the books. Next, pop star Katy Perry was blocked. Why? Well, two years ago, she performed a concert in Taipei. She waved the Taiwanese flag while wearing a sunflower dress. In China, this is grounds for denying a visa. But the biggest blow to the event is the omission of IT GIRL Gigi Hadad. She was banned for a multitude of online posts celebrating the Dalai Lama.

While Bella's long legs will be missed, the show will still be held in a week on November 28. But many other entertainment and sports moguls are taking notice. Although China is an enticing, billion-strong market to tap, hosting an event in the People's Republic is strenuous. There are many confusing and arbitrary laws and regulations. Surprisingly, no complaints involve the objectification of women. So long as the supermodels don't form a resistance party opposed to the government, they can wear whatever they like!

Friday, November 17, 2017



Cities in the USA are filled with silly old laws. For example, in Peoria, Illinois it's illegal to give a dog a lighted cigar. Don't wear boots in a hotel lobby in Tucson. Catching fish with your bare hands is a no-no in Gary, Indiana. Finally, digging for treasure is a third-degree misdemeanor in Eire, Pennsylvania. Since no one ever violates these ordinances, they stay on the books and are only mentioned in silly blogs.

Which brings us to New York City's goofy Cabaret Law. It states: "it is illegal to dance or sing" at any bar in the metropolis without a license. So if you've ever shook your booty while at a Manhattan cocktail lounge, you've broken the law. (I am definitely Guilty on this one!) The curious law was passed in 1926 as part of crackdown on Prohibition-era speak-easies. It was amended in 1936 to allow radio and piano playing, but it remained on the books until two weeks ago, when it was finally repealed by the city council.

The main problem with the Cabaret Law is enforcement. Currently, there are more than 25,000 restaurants and bars in the Big Apple...but only 97 of them have licenses. During the 91 years of the ordinance's existence, the law has only been used a handful of times. In the 1940's, NYPD conducted raids at Harlem nightclubs. Billie Holliday and Thelonious Monk were cited for singing the blues and playing trumpet without Cabaret Cards. In the 1990's, Mayor Rudy Guiliani enacted it as part of his plan to clean-up Times Square.

Not surprisingly, there have been several legal attempts to fight the curious ordinance. Not only is the arbitrary enforcement a problem, but it also has civil rights issues. (Frank Sinatra famously walked out of a police station after officers informed him he would need to be fingerprinted prior to obtaining a Cabaret Card.) A current case filed by Brooklyn nightclub owner Andrew Munchmore caught the attention of his councilmember and current mayor de Blassio.  Together, they were able to repeal the law, which goes into effect on November 30th.

Whew. Unfortunately, New York City still has a handful of similarly odd ordinances which also need to be repealed. For example, in Staten Island, you may only water your lawn if the hose is "held in your hand." It's also to illegal to "be masked or disguised by unusual attire" in Manhattan. This means everyone in Halloween costumes should be cited. No word yet on whether the New York City Council is moving on these issues. But when they do, the DUNER BLOG will keep you informed!

Friday, November 10, 2017



For decades, November 7th was an important holiday in Russia. It marked that fateful day...way back in 1917...when the Bolsheviks captured the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Although the czar had already abdicated, Alexander Kerensky's Provisional government was still carrying their torch. The event is similar to the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. Events were exaggerated and the day became a symbol of the poor rising up against the rich. Both evolved into major holidays.

Under Soviet rule, the November 7th holiday became a centerpiece in the regime's show of might. It began with a magnificently large military parade through the heart of Moscow. Up front are highly synchronized marching troops bearing portraits of Lenin and Stalin. They are followed by dozens of jeeps and tanks and more soldiers. The highlight is the 100-foot long missiles proudly displayed in launch formation.  Here was the route: Beginning at Novokuznetskaya Plaza, the parade proceeds down triumphantly-wide Bolshoi Boulevard. Next, they cross the Moskva River and it culminates at Red Square. Here, Stalin, Khrushchev or Brezhnev address their adoring countrymen. Wow. A communist tradition unlike any other!

Imagine the dismay of these Communist Party Chairmen if they could see their beloved Red Square on the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution on Tuesday. Sure, there was a small military parade...but with a catch. Instead of actual soldiers, actors were marching in their place. A Kremlin spokesman reminded journalists: This event is not related to the October Revolution. Rather, it commemorates Victory Day in 1941. That year, things were different. After the parade, troops went straight from Red Square to defend the capital. See? They are wearing Battle of Moscow uniforms, not the cool Bolshevik overcoats.

Other than this staged display, not much happened in Moscow on the famed centennial. The Communist Party was allowed to have 5,000 people stage a rally, but journalists were weary of covering it. In fact, November 7th is no longer a public holiday. A recent poll showed that 58% of Russians do not know why it is important. As for Putin, he spent the "holiday" at the opening ceremony for a new church. Rather than attend the Red Square events, he chose instead to remember the "destruction of religious buildings" under Lenin.

We wonder if Putin remembers the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution back in 1967. He was a teen living in St. Petersburg, but it would have been impossible not to be in awe of one of the largest parades in human history. Or maybe Putin fears what actually occurred on October 7th, 1917 recurring. On this date, all bank accounts in the nation were seized by the government and every citizen was declared financially equal. Nothing like this has ever happened in any country. But could you imagine how wealthy every US citizen would instantly become if it happened today? Screw the 1%!

NOTE: November 7th is still a holiday in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. There were also celebrations in Havana. Also: When the October Revolution occurred, Russia used the old Gregorian calendar. When they switched, the new date fell on November 7th.

Friday, November 3, 2017



Last weekend, the lowly Cleveland Browns lost again. This time to the Minnesota Vikings. What makes this unique is the site of the game: It was the last of four games the NFL played in London this season. While stuffy Brits and American Gridiron seem like unlikely companions, the game marked the ten year anniversary of the so-called London Games. Let's take a closer look at what NFL.com calls a "highlight of the UK sporting calendar." To the mailbag we go!

Where are the games played? Stanley, Hong Kong. London has a plethora of stadiums. A recent Olympics host with five Premier League teams in the metro area, the city has ample facilities. The first two games were played in historic Wembley Stadium and the last two were placed in Twickenham Stadium, home of the National Rugby Championships. They are the first and fourth largest stadiums in Europe.

Didn't NFL Europe fail ten years ago? Joseph, St. Louis. Good point, Joseph. In 2007, the upstart league went under. Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly thanked the fans for their support and privately acknowledged the league was losing $30 million a season. Officials then drew up a new offensive strategy: Concentrating only on London. Having a Sunday evening game in Greenwich Mean Time means the East Coast can watch the game at 9:00 AM Eastern Time...a time when you cannot have local game. The TV advertising revenue alone offsets any losses incurred by the teams themselves.

Will London get a new franchise? Beth, Seattle. This is where things get a little dicey. See, the current format of 30 teams equally spread between two conferences and eight divisions works well. Adding one team would ruin this. So the plan is to force a current team to relocate. Tops on the list is the Jacksonville Jaguars. See, billionaire owner Shahid Khan already owns a Premier League team. Some feel NFL owners approved the Jags sale to him solely for the purpose of moving them to London.

What will the nickname be? Sue, London. We saved the most important question for last! The obvious choice is the Monarchs, the name of the former NFL Europe team. Other royal nicknames include the Knights, Dukes, Kings and Beefeaters. Or maybe it will be a royal house. The London Tudors sounds pretty good. How about something uniquely British like the London Gin? Or a historic event...The London Fire? Nope, although it is clearly a longshot, we'd like the team to be called the London Beatles!

Friday, October 27, 2017



In just over two weeks' time, dreaded Daylight Saving Time ends for the year. The good news is you get to sleep an extra hour on Saturday night. The bad news is the sun will be setting just as you get off work at 5pm. Depressing. It makes one wonder how the heck did such a crazy system ever start in the first place. Well, guess what? We here at the DUNER BLOG have the answer.

Believe it or not, the first person to suggest the concept of turning back the clock was Ben Franklin. However, he did not intend it for Americans. Here's the story. On one of his many trips to France, Franklin penned a piece about the night-owl habits of the Parisians. To save on the number of candles used during the endless night, he suggested shifting clocks and firing cannon at sunrise to stir people out of bed. The whiny article received little attention at the time.

It wasn't until the First World War that Daylight Saving Time was instituted on a national basis. Necessity is the mother of invention, and in 1916, Germany and Austria were losing the war. To conserve coal for the war effort, a plan was hatched to slow heating homes during the evening. Clocks were shifted during the summer. Called Sommerzeit, it was difficult to tell whether or not it actually worked or not. Nonetheless, the Allied powers copied the Axis. In 1916, the UK adopted the policy and the US passed legislation a year later as well.

Since then, the quirky policy has seen hundreds of revisions, alterations and rejections. For example, France repealed it after the war only to reinstate it decades later. The US has expanded DST by two months, Australia trimmed it by a month. Muslim countries discontinue the practice for the Ramadan month. Russia tried year-round Daylight Savings, but it only lasted three years. In short, for the last hundred years, people have been turning clocks back and forth and it's become a horrid mess.

Thankfully, we here at the DUNER BLOG have the solution to the world's time troubles. Let's all go back to Roman Standard Time. Back then, they only had sundials to tell time. So when the sun came up, that was hour ONE. Lunch time would be around FIVE, you get off work at NINE and go to bed sometime during dark hours. Let's face it, starting the day at midnight makes no sense whatsoever. Sometimes, modern human just overthink things..

Saturday, October 21, 2017



This week's blog comes to us from a remote place, high above the Arctic Circle. Here, you'll find two of the world's largest islands: Greenland (#1) and Baffin (#4). The former is a colony of Denmark (with self rule). The latter is part of Canada's Northwest Territories. Wedged in between these two large landmasses you'll find tiny Hans Island, the unlikely subject of this week's submission. See, both Canada and Denmark claim this island as their own.

While the Arctic islands are enormous in size, they are tiny in population. Since they are mostly covered in permafrost, only a small sliver of southern coastal regions are habitable. Greenland's population is 56,000 people. (Green Bay, Wisconsin has twice as many!) Mostly native Inuit, the handful of settlements are serviced by the Danish and Canadian Navies. Their scheduled deliveries include medical supplies, petroleum and treasured can foods and soda. Afterward, they continue north, along the coast, for a most important ritual: Reclaiming Hans Island, their sovereign territory.

How do both nation claim Hans Island as their own? Simply put, it's a case of overlapping treaties. The original was implemented by the League of Nations in 1920. It ceded the island to Denmark. After World War II, a new territorial agreement came into effect. It defined islands within 12 mile coastal zone to be sovereign territory. This placed the island in Canadian territory. However, no one cared about the island until 1984, when a Danish minister visited. Citing the League of Nations, he left behind: a sign claiming Hans Island, a Danish flag, and a bottle of schnapps.

Soon thereafter, the Canadian Coast Guard saw these items. Alarmed, they went to the island to investigate. Afterward, they left behind: a sign claiming the island, a Canadian flag and a bottle of whiskey. Guess what happened the next time a Danish Navy squadron sailed by? Yep, they took down the Canadian flag, left a new sign and guzzled the schnapps. This so-called Whiskey War has been silently waged for decades, without a single casualty...other than a hangover. Pretty cool!

Sadly, this and other lighthearted land disputes are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These days, our earth is getting smaller and smaller. Even the tiniest of Arctic islands might have petroleum deposits. Everyone knows: Oil changes everything. While legislation failed in the Canadian parliament in 2004 to resolve the issue, and it's likely to come up again soon. But for the time being, let's just enjoy a truly silly moment in World History. Cheers!

Friday, October 13, 2017



While Americans are busy debating what pro football players should do during the National Anthem, there have been many important developments overseas. A great example is the stunning developments from Iraq. Yesterday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that ISIS will be completely defeated by years' end!! While the hurricanes and shootings will certainly be remembered, we here at the DUNER BLOG feel the year 2017 will be defined by historians 100 years from now by this event.

Things really turned against ISIS last week. A joint force of Iraqi and Kurdish forces freed the strategic city Hawijaw last week. Across the border in Syria, Raqqa, the "capital" of the rouge state, is nearly recovered. These, combined with the fall of Mosul in July, has reduced the once-enormous "nation" to a couple of villages along the Syrian border. News sources in Europe have the story splashed across the front page, but in our local newspaper it was on page 14. Naturally, it was pushed back by the coverage of the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal.

Perhaps the lack of coverage in the US press is due to the lack of participation of the US Army in the offensive. American air strikes with the Russians have kept the skies clear, but the vast majority of the dirty work has been performed on the ground with conventional troops. Here, the Kurdish, Iraqi Security troops and the Syrian Democratic Forces risk deadly odds by performing house-to-house searches. Casualties have been high and one has to admire their fortitude in battle.

Also encouraging are the high number of defections by ISIS soldiers. Thousands have surrendered to invading forces in Raqqa and Mosul. It's clear the luster of the horrid terrorist group is gone. Back in 2014, when ISIS defeated much more heavily armed troops, the leaders claimed they had divine intervention. This was integral in the brainwashing behind the rationalization of such horrid policies like child sex slaves and daily executions for trivial crimes. But the current losses show that no god would ever endorse such evil policies.

Is ISIS gone forever? Of course not. Their leaders are currently busy digging bunkers, preparing for a future jihad. But what is dead is the ISIS dream. Gone are the visions of creating a new caliphate, resurrecting the borders of Islam's greatest extent. The year was 741 and the armies of Islam controlled half of Europe and vast portions of Africa and Asia. Nope, all that's left is a couple crazies in caves. So, America: Let's take a minute to celebrate this remarkable achievement...and then we can go back to those disrespectful NFL stars!

Thursday, October 5, 2017



Xenophobia is on the rise in American media. It's becoming increasingly difficult to find a positive news story from a foreign country. For example, do a quick Google search on Mexico. You'll see that eight of the ten items involve crime, cartels and narcos. It's even worse for Nigeria or Turkey. That's why we here at the DUNER BLOG are so excited about a 'feel-good' story from the most maligned nation on earth: Pakistan.

As everyone knows, superheroes have taken over worldwide. Five of the top ten grossing movies of 2017 involve Batman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman. Then there's Comic-con. Ten thousand people cram into convention centers dressed in fantasy costumes. So it comes as no surprise that comic books are also popping up again in unlikely places like Pakistan.

Meet Pakistan Girl. Just like every other superhero, she has an amazing backstory to explain her secrets. Sarah...her alter-ego...was a normal girl in a small town with a pet cat. Then, one day...BAM! An explosion destroys everything. Sarah awakens months later amidst the rubble, only to discover she has super-human powers! Her costume is shades of green (the national color of Pakistan.) And, of course, the crescent moon symbol is across her chest.

Like Wonder Woman, Pakistan Girl uses her superpowers for GOOD. However, crimes are a bit different in her part of the world. For example: In one episode, our favorite heroine saves a girl taken hostage by a bribe-seeking policeman. BAM! In another, she whips a man who assaults a woman in the marketplace. SNAP! "There is a huge shortage of female role models here" noted author Hassan Siddiqui. "She is someone the girls of Pakistan can look up to."

So far, reaction to the comic book has been quite positive. The hope is that a comic book will be something girls struggling with literacy can actually comprehend. Sadly, there are a lot of girls in Pakistan who don't go to school...around 11 million! Don't forget: Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai raised awareness to this problem. But it will take more than medals and superheroes to get Pakistan to spend money on education. Sad.

Saturday, September 30, 2017



September has been a tough month for North America. Three deadly hurricanes have ravaged Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Two massive earthquakes struck in Mexico. Even a volcano is erupting! We here at the DUNER BLOG are optimists and struggled to find positive items to cover amidst the tragedies. At first we wanted to report about Frida, the super-sniffing dog who finds people trapped in the rubble. While the pooch is definitely blog-worthy, we instead chose to write about one building that cannot be toppled by any temblor: The Latin American Tower.

First, some background an why Mexico City is so vulnerable to earthquake damage. Five hundred years ago, 80% of the current metropolis was underwater. Lake Texcoco was big, but shallow. To make room for the Hemisphere's largest city, hundreds of square miles of the lake was drained and built upon. The problem is landfill takes centuries to permanently settle. This loose ground weebles and wobbles during a strong quake, toppling anything built on top.

For this reason, Mexico City officials banned the construction of any skyscrapers in the early 1900's. However during the post-war 'Mexican Miracle,' the Suguros Insurance Company managed to successfully lobby officials to lift the ban. Why? They believed in architect Augusto Alvarez and his revolutionary anti-earthquake plan. First, he would conduct soil tests by simulating a quake. Next, the 26,000 tons of concrete in the tower would be supported by 361 pylons, sunk deep into the ground. When the 44-storey tower opened in 1956, it was the tallest in Latin America...hence the name.

It didn't take long after opening day for the building's design to be tested. The very next year, a 7.9 Richter Scale earthquake struck Mexico City. It toppled the Angel of Independence Monument, but the Latin American tower survived. Although the golden angel will always be the main symbol of the city, the tower became a new favorite as well. The next year, the building received an 'Award of Merit' from the American Steel Institute. It became the "tallest building ever exposed to a huge seismic force." It would survive the horrific 1985 earthquake as well.

So it came as no surprise that the venerable structure was unscathed by the recent seismic activity as well. It's also no surprise that architects in other earthquake-prone cities began to copy Alvarez...the Amazing Mexican...and his innovative designs. For decades, buildings in Tokyo, Seoul and San Francisco emulated his concept of sinking pylons deep into the earth. They ceased using the simple, flat foundations of traditional buildings. So...if you ever go to Mexico City, be sure to shell out 100 pesos to visit the observation deck. The views at sunset are particularly breathtaking.

Friday, September 22, 2017



Last month, the American restaurant chain Denny's launched a new ad campaign. Designed to promote the ever-popular 'Grand Slam Breakfast,' the pitch centers around a new cartoon mascot: The un-creatively named 'Sausage.' Since the marketing blitz began, Sausage has been bombarded on social media. He's been called a 'terd in a fedora' and many are questioning what ad agency could blunder so badly. While we here at the DUNER BLOG agree that Sausage is indeed a failure, he's not nearly as bad as past fast-food mascots in the past. Here's our TOP FIVE:

#5 Grimace. In 1971, McDonald's created McDonaldland, a fantasy world inhabited by cartoon versions of menu items. While everyone loved the Hamburgular, the FryGuys and Mayor McCheese, others were downright scary. Grimace is a chubby purple monster intent on stealing your milkshake. He cannot speak; he only utters odd chortle noises. Weird. Although wildly popular at first, all the characters in McDonaldland were unceremoniously dumped in 2003, with only Ronald surviving.

#4. Taco Bell Chihuahua. During the nasty 'Burger Wars' of the 1990's...when McDonald's and Burger King viciously attacked each other...Taco Bell took another marketing approach. Meet Gidget, a six-pound Chihuahua. What began as regional ads in New England quickly spread to a national
sensation. Folks wore "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" T-Shirts and Gidget became a minor celeb. Although many Latinos found the dog hilarious, others did not. In 2000, Taco Bell gave into media pressure and fired Gidget.

#3. Quizno's Rats. The most baffling entry on the list comes courtesy of the submarine sandwich chain Quizno's. While most people associate rats with dirt, grime and disease, one ad firm saw the rodents as cute, cuddle and wacky. In oddly filmed commercials, the rats would appear and speak in strange rodent
voices. Sometimes, they'd dress up in funny hats. For three years, the wise-cracking furry spokes-rats informed us of upcoming promotions and specials. After a sluggish reception, they were replaced by the much safer 'MMMM..Tasty!' campaign.

#2. The Noid. For decades, Domino's guaranteed pizzas would be delivered in thirty minutes or less. To promote this, a series of commercials were released with a new character. The spots centered around a rabbit-eared loony dressed in a tight red leotard. The large 'N' on his chest stood for Noid. Filmed in Claymation, the bumbling bandit tries to thwart delivery attempts. The main idea is to 'Avoid the Noid' and get your pizza on time. After numerous reckless incidents involving
Domino's delivery drivers, the campaign was scrapped in 1997.

#1. The King. On Halloween, the worst costume is the simple plastic mask. Only the eyes move and the mouth is stuck in a permanent, creepy and fake smile. Nonetheless, the folks at Burger King continue to frighten children and adults alike with relentless spots on TV featuring "The King." The silent spokesman just sits next to diners at the fast food chain in cringe-worthy encounters. BK gets the top spot on this dubious list because he is the only mascot still on air. Enough already!!

Thursday, September 14, 2017



The 178-acre University of California campus in Berkeley is full of wonders. There's the 307-foot tall Campanile, a near replica of the bell tower in Venice, Italy. (only two feet shorter). That's still good enough to be the third-tallest worldwide. With twelve million books, the Doe Library is the sixth largest in the nation. Sproul Plaza is still home to protests, but it's most fondly remembered for the Free Speech Movement in 1964. All of these sites are connected by forests of Redwood, Aspen and Oak trees. Surprisingly, this is where today's news item comes from!

In these forests of Berkeley, you'll find an enormous squirrel population. They are a constant presence who appear out of nowhere the second they hear the magic sound of a bag of Doritos being ripped open. This event caught the attention of Mikel Delgado, a UC Post-doc eating lunch in the Faculty Glade one day. She became curious: What were the squirrels doing with their horde of Corn-Nuts and Cheetos? Inquiring minds cannot be silenced. Delgado went on to head a team of researchers, determined to answer this question.

Here's the nitty-gritty of the two-year study. Students placed groups of nuts in random places in the forests. They contained pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts...sixteen different types. It didn't take long for the squirrels to scuttle down from the trees to snatch them up. Then, using GPS trackers, the researchers identified 45 separate squirrel. Next, they followed them to their tree homes and observed something fascinating. Squirrels organize their homes much like humans do: Each type of nut was placed together in an orderly fashion. Even when they mixed up the nuts, the squirrels would re-arrange them in the correct order.

"Squirrels put away their groceries the same way you do." explained Dr. Jacobs, head of the lab. "Fruit on one shelf, veggies on another. Then, when you are looking for an onion, you only have to look in one place." The bottom line is that squirrels are much smarter than previously thought. They have cognitive abilities and employ complex problem solving techniques. This might explain the species' amazing success. They live on five continents and endure some of the harshest environments on earth. You see these critters on the beach, in the desert and on mountaintops.

For the time being, the 45 squirrels have become minor celebrities. They've been interviewed by London's Daily Mail. Their photo was on page two of the South China Morning Post. Naturally, they have their own Facebook page and Twitter accounts. All of which has prompted the university to issue an official statement regarding Human/Squirrel Etiquette. (This is Berkeley after all). After stern warnings of the harmfulness of Fritos, it also reminds students not to take squirrels with them on Spring Break.