Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Saturday, August 26, 2017



The poor fruitcake. It's America's most lampooned dessert. No, it's not the simple ingredients. You just add candied fruit, diced nuts, a dash of spices to your basic flour cake. Rather, it is fruitcake's impressive shelf-life that is the source of ridicule. Since the fruit is candied and nuts are dry, most fruitcakes last three months...some up to a year...before spoiling. This is where the notoriety starts. Famed talk-show host Johnny Carson often joked that their is actually only one fruitcake in the USA...it just passes from family to family.

So this week, comedians nationwide are jumping at the chance to ridicule this story: A 106 year-old fruitcake has been found in the Antarctic. And here's the part that everyone expected: According to the scientists examining the artifact, it's 'almost edible." Manager Lizzie Meek noted "a very slight rancid butter smell" but still tried a bite. How did it survive? First, it was wrapped in sturdy paper and stored in a plated alloy tin. Secondly, it was stored in the world's largest icebox, so it's been frozen the entire time. Even the name of the bakery is legible. It was baked at British biscuit company in London called Huntley & Palmers.

You're wondering: How did the fruitcake end up at the South Pole? It was part of the provisions trekked in for the Robert Scott Antarctic Expedition in 1912. They must have been saving it to celebrate their return...which sadly never occurred. (The entire mission died from frostbite upon their return from the Pole). Back to last week: The New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust has been busy on Cape Adare for month, examining a dozen forgotten human settlements.  One such place is an abandoned staging hut used not only by Scott's party but Norweigan voyages as well. Here, they found the now famous tin box.

You're asking: How long have fruitcakes been around? Forever! Naturally, ancient Romans were the first. They mixed in pomegranate seeds, raisins and pine nuts into their bread. Medieval times saw the addition of honey and dried fruit. But the fruitcake really took off in the 1600's. That's when products from the tropics first came to England. Cones of sweet sugar flooded the European market, giving rise to the horrendous Sugar-Slavery triangular trade. But, let's face it...even today...most people have no idea how delicious foods came to their lands; they just came up with tasty ways to eat them!

For the time being, the 106-year old Huntley & Palmers fruitcake is being examined by the team. Despite its fame, the cake is being treated just the same as the other 1,500 artifacts recovered on Cape Adare. So it may take months for any new information. (NOTE: They also found edible jam, but since there are no running gags about jam, no one cares!) Anyhow, we here at the DUNER BLOG just can't help think that Johnny Carson is looking down from heaven. He's smiling, because a new generation is cracking jokes about fruitcakes!

Thursday, August 17, 2017



Across the US, people are counting down. The first complete solar eclipse in 99 years is just days away! Throngs of stargazers have besieged Portland, OR and Nashville, TN...the only major cities on the totality passage...places where the entire sun will be blotted out my the moon. Sales of eclipse glasses dominate Amazon.com. Tabloids are warning of swamp creatures, awakened only by a rare astronomical events. Yep, America is celebrating the solar eclipse in every way imaginable.

While other news outlets are covering the same drab stories about the solar eclipse, we here at the DUNER BLOG think differently. For us, this presents an opportunity to remember the lunar eclipse of 1504...it's quite a story! Five hundred years ago, astronomy was in its infancy. The going was tough as the top minds in the field were being persecuted by the Catholic church. Nonetheless, many still used their studies. Sailors like Christopher Columbus carried almanacs with them on their voyages. They trusted their lives to the science of the stars.

On his fourth voyage to the New World, Columbus packed the most recent almanac available. It was published by Abraham Zacuto and had astronomical charts for the years 1475 - 1506. At first, the Genoan sailor only used it for navigation. However, things suddenly changed. Six months into the voyage, ship-worms had completely infested his boats. The pests ate the wood and the vessels slowly began to sink. Two ships were abandoned in Honduras. More leaks forced the expedition to stop in Jamaica until the hulls could be properly prepared.

At first, the Carib people were friendly. They gladly traded food for beads and trinkets. However, after six months, both sides grew angry and began to fight. Although superiorly armed, Columbus' men were weak and weary. It looked like the voyage would end in tragedy...then Columbus had an idea. According to the almanac, a lunar eclipse was coming. He met with the Cacique with a threat. Columbus told the chief that his mighty Christian god would destroy the moon if he did not comply. It worked. Carib workers not only fed the Spaniards, but also helped repair their boat and Columbus returned to Spain, never to sail again.

Since then, this phenomenal event has been recreated numerous times in fiction. Mark Twain's hero in A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court uses the technique to impress the court. It also figures into the plot of King Solomon Mines. Even cartoon characters like Tin-tin and Bugs Bunny use the scheme to save themselves. Okay, readers! It's your turn. On Monday morning when you sit around looking (non-directly) at the Solar Eclipse, remember to tell this anecdote. You'll be the life of the party...guaranteed!

Saturday, August 12, 2017



Last month, the governor of Augascalientes presided over a special event: The opening of a brand-new Nissan production facility in the capital city. Carlos Lozano de la Torre stood shoulder to shoulder with a handful of representatives from Japan and his full-time Spanish / Japanese translator. The plant is enormous...21 million spare feet of factory will produce 175,000 Nissan Sentras in the first year. They'll accomplish this by never closing the plant. Well...okay...it will be open 23 hours a day, six days a week. Sunday is important in Mexico.

It's not just Nissan that's investing in Mexico. In the neighboring state of Jalisco, Honda recently opened a cavernous facility near Guadalajara. To the north, General Motors runs a plant in Guanajuato. You'll find Chrysler in Toluca and Kia in Monterrey. BMW, Mazda, Mercedes, you name it...they have a factory in Mexico. In terms of dollars, auto manufacturers have invested $22 billion in the last two years alone.

Why the sudden gold rush? It's a combination of skilled labor costs and NAFTA. With a low cost of living and an absence of labor unions, Mexican workers earn $8/hour, including benefits. That same worker will cost you $58/hour in Detroit or $42/hour in Tokyo. Next, it is easy to transport completed cars to the auto-obsessed American market. Trains from Central Mexico to Texas are busy these days. At the border, they are nearly exempt from all tariffs, since the cars were made in Mexico, not Japan or Germany.

But that's not to say that all cars made in Mexico are shipped to the US. Nope, many are sold in the domestic market. Just ask Volkswagen. Back in 1964, they were the first company to open a factory in Mexico. Their plant in Puebla remains the largest VW plant outside of Germany, employing over 13,000 workers. For decades, their top model was the ubiquitous Beetle. Mexicans fell in love with this car and bought tens of thousands of them. Even today, you'll see tons of bugs on the streets of any Mexican city.

Back to Augascalientes. People like Carlos are continuing to court the international auto market and enticing them to invest in Mexico. For example, Toyota is opening a plant in Baja California next year. This will thrust Mexico to #6 on the list of car-producing nations, passing Brazil. With South Korean companies also investing, it seems only a matter of time before Mexico captures the #5 spot. But don't look for this story in any American news source. US media is obsessed with only showing gory scenes from the Drug War...continually throwing shade on their industrious friends to the South!