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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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:
#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
#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
#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
#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!
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.