Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Saturday, April 29, 2017



Time: Monday Morning, 3:00 AM. Place: New Orleans. Scene: A fleet of black flat-bed trucks arrive at the Battle of Liberty Place. Out came dozens of masked men. Knowing their lives are in grave danger, snipers have been placed on rooftops of nearby buildings to protect them. After receiving the final OK from HQ, they begin their dangerous task: Removing a Confederate obelisk that has withstood 126 years of opposition.

By dawn, the massive marble icon was gone...without a single KKK shooter. Mayor Mitch Landrieu applauded the action. "It sends a clear and unequivocal message on diversity, inclusion and tolerance," he summarized. After the courts and City Council's tremendous resolution earlier this year, it's clearing time for Confederate monuments in the Crescent City. One obelisk down, three statues to go. Next up is the Beauregard Statue at the college. All four monuments date back to the 1800's. They have been accepted by locals as part of their history: good or bad. But suddenly, everything changed in 2017, and they became symbols of hate and had to be instantly removed.

Why this week? Basically, New Orleans is finally feeling the political ripple-effect that began a year ago in South Carolina. That's when nine African-Americans were shot in a horrific racial attack. Voters demanded elected officials do something in response, so they removed the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse. This triggered a domino-effect across the South. Confederate statues in Atlanta, Memphis...and now New Orleans...have all succumbed to the political fall-out from this one event. So they are all being removed.

Meanwhile, historians across the nation are left scratching their heads. The act of erasing and thus attempting to change the memories of the past is always risky business. Just ask the Senators of Ancient Rome. After killing Julius Caesar, they began dismantling his many monuments and statues, hoping to change public opinion. The process even had a title: Damnatio Memoriae or 'Condemnation of Memory.' It didn't work and Caesar remains relevant two thousand years later. However...this time...it will work. Everyone in New Orleans will forget about the Confederacy. It's as easy as removing a statue!

In actuality, the people of New Orleans have been largely receptive. The obelisk honored the Crescent City White League...so few folks protested. However, the last two monuments to be removed may prove a little more difficult. Confederate general Robert E. Lee is considered a genius of military strategy. Confederate president Jefferson Davis held office for five years. They were both amazing leaders. Sigh. It's just sad to see such an enormous decision made so hastily and without a public vote. Removing statues of Hitler and Stalin is much easier!

Saturday, April 22, 2017



Last Sunday was Easter. All across the world, Christians came together for one of their most important holidays. Pope Francis spoke at the Vatican. President Trump hid eggs in Washington DC.  Filipinos nailed each other to crosses. However, there is one place where celebrations were definitely muted. Sadly, it's the same place where Jesus Christ spent his entire life: The Middle East.

Exactly two hundred years ago, a 17-year-old named Jesus first began preaching about a new faith. After his death, conversion began rapidly. By the year 200 AD, over two million people believed. In the Middle East, Christianity replaced Roman deities and pushed Zoroastrians into the desert. However, things changed dramatically in the 700's, with the coming of the Prophet Mohammed's first jihad. Almost everyone became Islamic. Christian populations plummeted at first, but stabilized after Sunnis became more tolerant. As expected, Christians settled in the more arid regions and had limited rights under the Caliphates.

Despite this, when the new millennium began seventeen years ago, an estimated 20 million Christians still lived in the Middle East. They are not Catholic or Protestant. Rather, they hail from ancient branches of the faith that Americans are not familiar with. The largest is the Coptic Orthodox Church, which commands 8 million followers...10% of Egypt's population. As the oldest branch of Christianity, it dates back to 42 AD, when the Apostle Mark came to Alexandria. ISIS has been aggressive hating the Coptics lately. They killed 58 people in church bombings on Palm Sunday. Hence, there was not much merriment on Easter this year in Egypt.

Also not having much fun on Easter this year are the 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq. The Chaldean sect is unfortunately based in Mosul, an ISIS base city. They fled and for the last four years they have been living in refugee camps, awaiting word if they can return. Although Mosul was liberated from the evil group last month, Shi'ite forces are in control of the city today. Sadly, they are not as welcoming as the Sunnis of Saddam. Likewise, the Assyrian Orthodox was largely protected under Bashar al-Assad, but faced executions under ISIS and rebel groups.

In short, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 succeeded in a goal not seen much by the outside world: Discrimination against Christians in the Middle East. The ensuing invasion of Iraq by the USA has been horrifyingly difficult for the Chaldeans, and their lives have been further marginalized. The instability in Syria has also been tough on Christians. Finally, the rise of ISIS has resulted in 400 deaths of Christian Coptics in Egypt. The outside world seems oblivious, and just assumes that everyone in the Middle East is Islamic. What would Richard the Lionhearted think?

Friday, April 14, 2017



For the second time this month, the Spanish Navy has crossed into British territorial waters. At question is an enormous patrol boat called the Infanta Cristina.  The vessel has sailed past the centuries-old demarcation, separating Gibraltar from Spain. When asked for a motive for the incursion, Spain's foreign ministry quipped they didn't recognize the waters as belonging to Gibraltar and that their boat was on a routine patrol.

No so fast! British Prime Minister Theresa May was quick to remind Spain of Article 10 in the Treaty of Utrecht. Both nations signed the pact back in 1713, ceding the island and said territorial waters to the United Kingdom. Spain instantly regretted this, and tried to regain control a dozen years later. A six-month siege failed. Fifty years later, when England was busy fighting rebelling American colonists, Spain tried again to siege Gibraltar...and came up short. Two centuries later, the chaos of World War II served as an opportunity to grab the colony. Again they failed.

Readers are wondering: Why is Spain again trying to claim Gibraltar today? What world event is giving them another chance? The answer is Brexit! The logic is simple: By pulling out of the EU, Great Britain is also pulling out of all agreements, including the 300 year-old Treaty of Utrecht. Many in the UK scoff at this, reminding the EU of their constitutional duties to let people chose their sovereignty. In 2002, 98% of Gibraltarians voted to stay in the United Kingdom. Just ask Fabian Picardo, the colony's Chief Minister. "Unnecessary, unjustified and unacceptable," he clamored. "Spain's unusual obsession with Gibraltar must end!"

Just why is Spain so occupied with the dream of taking back Gibraltar? Although tiny (a mere 2.6 square miles), the symbolism of owning "The Rock" is powerful. Just ask Prudential Insurance Company. Their logo features a drawing of the domineeringly large 1,398 foot limestone promontory. First called the Pillars of Hercules, it was renamed Jabal-al-Tariq (Tariq's Mountain) in the year 711. This is when the Moors invaded Europe. This name has stuck and Gibraltar remains one of the world's most recognizable mountains...a Herculean symbol of strength.

The conflict is a simple reminder of a rivalry that has never been forgotten. We've got the world's two largest colonial powers going at it again! Before we get carried away, let's get back to the treaty. At the time, Spain chose to retain Minorca, Majorca and Ibiza and ceded away Gibraltar. That was a smart move! Last year, over three million Brits flew there and spent wads of money. You're winning, Spain! It's time to back off. Just ask Argentina what will happen if you try to do anything militarily to a British colony!

Saturday, April 8, 2017



To see what defines a decade in American culture, it's best to turn to Pop Music. For example, the top selling musician in the 1950's was Elvis Presley. Meanwhile, the 1960's had the Beatles, while the 1970's had the BeeGees. All speak volumes about what average Americans valued in that period. Think about their hair, their message, rebellious attitude, colorful polyester pants, etc... You get the picture. So we here at the DUNER BLOG thought it would be interesting to see which pop musicians are tops in the new millennium. Using a simple formula, here are our findings:

#5. LADY GAGA. Album sales: 25,000,000, #1 Hits: 3. Born Stefani Germanotta in NYC's Upper West Side, this Italian spitfire attended numerous art academies as a teen. Then, Stefani spent five grueling years, releasing dozens of demos and trying a dozens of crazy costumes in hopes of making it big. Fortune smiled on her when she hooked up with producer Rob Fusari. He claims to have given her stage name after the Queen song Radio Ga Ga. In 2008, Just Dance was released, ushering in five solid years of hits. Although her third and fourth albums flopped, this year's Super Bowl Halftime Show reminded everyone of the Power of GaGa.

#4. JUSTIN BIEBER. Album sales: 18,000,000. #1 Hits: 4. While everyone loves to pick on the Bieber, please remember: Every generation has an equivalent teen idol. It's one of the music industries' surest bets: Selling music to teen girls. That's why *NSYNC and Sean Cassidy exist. And while Justin has had lots of difficulty adjusting to fame in his personal life, his celebrity continues to grow. We expect him to change from music to entertainment soon. Justin will soon be the go-to host for any music show and will soon become the new Ryan Seacrest.

#3. KATY PERRY.  Album sales: 16,000,000. #1 Hits: 9. This glam girl from Santa Barbara released her first album with her real name: Katy Hudson. This confused people who thought she was the actress of the same name. So she re-branded herself as Katy Perry. Her silly-lesbian song "I Kissed A Girl" hit #1 and Katy signed with Capitol Records. For her second album, she teamed with Swedish songwriter Max Martin. 'Teenage Dream' racked up five more #1 hits, tying her with Michael Jackson as the only person to accomplish this feat. Unfortunately, her music future looks dim. Her current single has yet to crack the Top Ten. Currently, she seems more interested in politics than music and could soon run for office.

#2. TAYLOR SWIFT. Album sales: 32,000,000. #1 Hits: 4. Born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, Taylor moved to Nashville as a teen. At age 14, she became to youngest person to ever sign a contract with Sony Music. It was a smart move. Her self-titled debut quickly moved from the Country charts to the Pop Music charts. Eager to show her musical talents, Taylor wrote every song on her second album, Fearless. However, on her third and fourth albums, she too went to Sweden to employ the talents of Max Martin and had four #1 hits. With a rabid fan base, look for Taylor to continue to dominate the industry.

#1. RIHANNA. Album sales: 35,000,0000. #1 Hits: 13. Far and away, the most bankable Pop Star of the new millennium in Robyn 'Rihanna' Fenty. While it took years for GaGa and Katy Perry to break into superstardom, things went pretty quickly for Rihanna. Like many people in Barbados, she worked in the tourism industry. She and two friends sung karaoke songs in a beachside club. One night, famed producer Evan Rogers just happened to be there on vacation. He told Rihanna to lose her two classmates and call Jay-Z in the morning. The rest is music history. She has managed to find the perfect song and manages to stay relevant every year. Congratulations!