In Fond Remembrance of ‘Mad Men,’ Which I Never Watched

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Earlier this week, approximately (I don’t know which night of the week it aired, or on what channel, or whether it was an hour or a half-hour show), the influential “Mad Men” finally closed the door on the saga of Don Draper. Draper was the cynical, funny and deeply flawed antihero of the series, set in the fast-moving fashion-conscious Manhattan of the 1960s.

In the finale, we see (from what I hear) the hard-drinking, womanizing Draper — who had crashed and burned, and left Madison Avenue, in the vernacular of the era, to “find himself.” Instead of finding himself he found inspiration for his biggest hit ever, Coke’s legendary “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” spot. Which, actually, a real person wrote. And he was nothing like the character of Don Draper wrote.

John Hamm Mad Men Don Draper Ted Rall anewdomain What will fans of “Mad Men” do now that all those memorable characters are gone once and for all?

Don’t ask me. I’ve never watched the show.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize Don Draper in a crowd, or the actor who played him, whoever he is. I wouldn’t recognize him even if I woke up with him sitting on my face. But that doesn’t mean that I’m unaffected by the devastating wrap-up of the “Mad Men” saga.

I plan to periodically check Netflix to see when they post the entire run so I can binge-watch the whole series at once.

That is to say I just might “Mad Men” if and when I ever happen to feel like it. That might be never. It might be so soon. I have no idea. But it is nice to know the option is there, just in case I’m ever on house arrest or in a prison with exceptionally generous television streaming or something. It’s an option I have that I probably won’t ever use, that’s all. It’s an option. Like voting.

Though I’ve never seen or heard the soundtrack of “Mad Men,” I can’t tell you how much it has influenced me.

According to articles I’ve read, the return of thin lapels and skinny ties, a look I’ve always approved of for men and adhered throughout the 1980s and 1990s even when other guys looked upon me with contempt, was in part due to the popularity of “Mad Men.” . 

Also, I’ve heard there is 1960s music in the show. Sounds cool. Of course, I don’t know which 1960s music we’re talking about. Girl groups, like The Ronettes and The Crystals? Pop, like the Beatles? Simon and Garfunkel? I bet it wasn’t anything like the Stooges or the Seeds or the Standells or the Mysterians, because if it were anything like that Nuggets stuff my friend Cole the film critic would have insisted that I watch. And then I would have. But he didn’t. 

Another way the show impacted me was when friends asked me if I watched it, and I said no, they either changed the topic or moved off in search of someone else they had more in common with. 

Like “The Wire,” “Girls” and until recently “Game of Thrones,” the last of which I later caught up upon on HBO Go but still happen to be like seven episodes behind — will I go back? who knows? — “Mad Men” was one of those shows I rarely failed to read about in TV recap stories because it sure sounded like a program I’d enjoy were I to give it a chance.

So I may be the biggest “Mad Men” fan of all, right?

Anyone can be into a show they’ve seen.

But takes real commitment to dedicate yourself to one you may never — indeed, probably never will — watch. Long live “Mad Men!”

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Help, My Mailbox Is Gone! A Tale of Loss and Progress

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My local mailbox used to be very important to me.

This story is set in the mid-1990s. Email had caught on, but connections were still via dial-up. Sending file attachments was an ordeal; a simple graphic might take 30 minutes to upload, and if you forgot to press *70 to deactivate call waiting the transmission would inevitably get interrupted. So I still used the mails, mainly to send cartoons to my syndicate, and marketing samples to prospective clients.

One morning, when I looked out my fourth-floor apartment window across the street from the Frederick Douglass housing project in Manhattan, I noticed that my mailbox was gone.

This being Manhattan pre-9/11 (they removed a lot of them for fear of terrorists…what, mailing themselves?), my next-nearest mailbox was three blocks away. But I liked having a box right across the street. Why walk six blocks (round trip), sometimes through sleet, if you don’t have to?

I called the main post office at Eighth Avenue and 34th Street, the iconic block-long hulk across from Penn Station with the famous “sleet nor snow” motto carved across the top.

“Good morning. I’d like to report a missing mailbox.”

“Please hold.”

Click. Click. “The Girl from Ipanema.” Click.

“Hello, distribution.”

“Hi. I’m calling because my mailbox is missing.”

“Hold on.”

On and on it went until finally, I got the Right Person.

“Where is the box?” she asked. PC keys clicked in the background.

“The southwest corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 101st Street.”

“Hold on.”

I held. There was clicking, searching, sighing, coffee sipping as well as slurping.

“Okay…your nearest box is at 200 West 101st Street.”

“That’s the one I’m calling about.”



“All right,” the Right Person said. “The mailbox you should use is right there across from you, at the corner of Amsterdam and 101st!”

“No. It isn’t,” I said. “I’m looking at it right now. There are four bolts sticking out of the sidewalk where it used to be. Which was until yesterday. Now it’s gone.”

It was at this point that I began wondering whether the box had been stolen, and if so by whom, and whether my cartoon about NAFTA was ever going to make it to San Francisco, and whether the post office lady was teasing me.

She was not.

“Sir,” she said, releasing an exasperated I-can’t-believe-this sigh, “I don’t understand why you don’t just use the mailbox that’s right there across from your address. What’s wrong with that one?”

“It’s not there.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it’s not.”

“Sir,” she continued, “I can see it right here on my computer.”

“I’m looking right out the window!” I said. “I’m right here, looking at where it was, and I’m telling you, it’s no longer there.”

“Sir,” she said with an air of finality, “if you think you know more about mailboxes than the United States Post Office, I can’t help you. Good day.”

She hung up.

I put on my shoes and walked up to 104th Street.

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What The Vindication of Edward Snowden Really Means

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Edward Snowden has been vindicated. This week marks the first time that a court – a real court, not a sick joke of a kangaroo tribunal like the FISA court, which approves every government request and never hears from opponents – has ruled on the legality of one of the NSA’s spying programs against the American people.

Verdict: privacy 1, police state 0.

Yet the police state goes on. Which is what happens in, you know, a police state. The pigs always win.

A unanimous three-judge ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, states unequivocally that the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the USA Patriot Act is fatally flawed. Specifically, it says, Congress never intended for Section 215 to authorize the bulk interception and storage of telephony metadata of domestic phone calls: the calling number, the number called, the length of the call, the locations of both parties, and so on. In fact, the court noted, Congress never knew what the NSA was up to before Snowden spilled the beans.

On the surface, this is good news.

It will soon have been two years since Snowden leaked the NSA’s documents detailing numerous government efforts to sweep up every bit and byte of electronic communications that they possibly can — turning the United States into the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, where nothing is secret and everything can and will be used against you. Many Americans are already afraid to tell pollsters their opinions for fear of NSA eavesdropping.

One can only imagine how chilling the election of a neo-fascist right-winger (I’m talking to you, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker) as president would be. Not that I’m ready for Hillary “privacy for me, not for thee” Clinton to know all my secrets.

Until now, most action on the reform front has taken place abroad, especially in Europe, where concern about privacy online has led individuals as well as businesses to snub American Internet and technology companies, costing Silicon Valley billions of dollars, and accelerated construction of a European alternative to the American dominated “cloud.”

Here in the United States, the NSA continued with business as usual. As far as we know, the vast majority of the programs revealed by Snowden are still operational; there are no doubt many frightening new ones launched since 2013. Members of Congress were preparing to renew the disgusting Patriot Act this summer. One bright spot was the so-called USA Freedom Act, which purports to roll back bulk metadata collection, but privacy advocates say the legislation had been so watered down, and so tolerant of the NSA’s most excessive abuses, that it was just barely more than symbolic.

Like the Freedom Act, this ruling is largely symbolic.

The problem is, it’s not the last word. The federal government will certainly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take years before hearing the case. Even in the short run, the court didn’t slap the NSA with an injunction to halt its illegal collection of Americans’ metadata.

What’s particularly distressing is the fact that the court’s complaint is about the interpretation of the Patriot Act rather than its constitutionality. The Obama Administration’s interpretation of Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” said the court ruling. However: “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

Well, ain’t that peachy.

As a rule, courts are reluctant to annul laws passed by the legislative branch of government on the grounds of unconstitutionality. In the case of NSA spying on us, however, the harm to American democracy and society is so extravagant, and the failure of the system of checks and balances to rein in the abuses so spectacular, that the patriotic and legal duty of every judge is to do whatever he can or she can to put an end to this bastard once and for all.

It’s a sad testimony to the cowardice, willful blindness and lack of urgency of the political classes that the New York court kicked the can down the road, rather than declare the NSA’s metadata collection program a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Service is for Suckers

Monday was Memorial Day, when Americans are supposed to remember military veterans, particularly those who made sacrifices — lives, limbs, sanity — fighting our wars.

As usual, rhetoric was abundant. People hung flags. Some placed flowers on military graves. There were parades, including one in which a reporter got hit by a drone. President Obama added an oddly pacifist twist to his annual speech, noting that it was “the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”

Excuse me while I puke.

Talk is nice, but veterans need action. Disgusting but true: when it comes to actual help —spending enough money to make sure they can live with dignity — talk is all the U.S. has to offer.

It isn’t just last year’s scandal at the Veterans Administration, which made vets wait for ages to see a doctor, then faked the books to make itself look responsive — and where a whopping three employees lost their jobs as a result. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 57,000 homeless veterans, some just poor, others suffering from mental illness, sleep on the street on any given night.

The Pentagon can easily afford to solve these problems. But vets aren’t a spending priority. New wars are. For example, we’re fighting a $40 billion-a-year air campaign against ISIS, although the Islamic State can’t attack the U.S. $40 billion is enough to buy every homeless veteran a $700,000 house.

What you might not know is that this isn’t new.

The U.S. has consistently and ruthlessly screwed vets since the beginning. At this point, army recruiters should thank the heavens that American schools don’t teach history; if they did, no one would enlist.

During the Revolutionary War, officers had been promised a pension and half pay for life. After the British were defeated in 1783, however, Congress reneged on its pledge and issued checks for five years pay, period. “If officers felt cheated, enlisted men felt absolutely betrayed…the common soldier got a pat on the back and a shove out the door,” wrote the historian Andrew C. Lannen. “Some soldiers were given land warrants, but it took many years before they became redeemable. “Impoverished veterans in dire need of cash sold them for pennies on the dollar to investors who could afford to wait several years to collect at full value.”

For more than half a century after beating the British, veterans of the War of 1812 got nothing. Finally, as part of a payout to vets of the Mexican War of 1846-1848 — who themselves were made to wait 23 years — the 1812 vets received service pensions in 1871. By then, many had died of their injuries or old age.

Union troops won the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the government from cheating them out of their benefits too. By the end of 1862, the military was only making good on 7% of claims filed by widows and orphans of the fallen. At least 360,000 Union soldiers were killed, leaving close to a million survivors. But 20 years after the war, the pension office only acknowledged receiving 46,000 applications — less than 5% of those eligible.

Though fading from historical memory, the “Bonus Army” was perhaps the most famous example of the American government’s poor treatment of its war heroes.

Repeating the Revolutionary War policy of “I will gladly pay you a thousand Tuesdays from now for your cannon-fodder corpse today,” Congress awarded veterans of World War I service certificates redeemable for pay plus interest — in 1945, more than two decades later. The Great Depression prompted impoverished vets to form a proto-Occupy movement, the Bonus Expeditionary Force.

In 1932, 43,000 Bonus Army members, their families and supporters camped out in Washington to demand that Congress issue immediate payment in cash. Two generals who’d later become notorious hardasses during World War II, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, led troops to clear out the camps, shooting, burning and injuring hundreds of vets, whom MacArthur smeared as “communists.” Eighteen years after the end of World War I, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR’s veto and paid out the Bonus.

Even those who served in the so-called “good war” got cheated. “According to a VA estimate, only one in seven of the survivors of the nation’s deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who likely could qualify for the pension actually get the monthly checks,” reported The Charlotte Observer in 2005. These nearly two million survivors include those whose spouses and parents served in World War II, as well as Korea and Vietnam.

Remember this the next time you hear some politician or their media allies claim to “support our troops.”

Support? They don’t even pay them enough to let them sleep inside.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)


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If you want me to speak in your town this fall, now is the time to plan ahead.

My new graphic novel biography of Edward Snowden comes out in early September, and I’ll be doing a book tour to promote it. If you would like me to visit your city in September or October, now’s the time to get in touch. Mainly, I’ll need a venue: a book store, college or university, activist organization or civic group that can organize an audience and a place to speak, a theater, etc. It’s a major plus if travel costs, a hotel or an honorarium are available, but those aren’t necessarily deal breakers.

Click “Contact” here at to get in touch.

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Amtrak Train Crash: Train Was Going 107 MPH, Why That Matters

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According to the National Transportation Safety Board, an Amtrak commuter train that derailed at a sharp curve in Philadelphia was traveling 107 mph when it derailed. That’s twice the local speed limit. It must have seemed great before the disaster, especially to Northeasterners accustomed to frequent long delays on the Washington to New York corridor. The crash injured 200 and left seven dead Tuesday. There were 240 people on the train at the time of the crash.

Amtrak train crash

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