Tag Archives: ANewDomain

United Rhapsody: Gag Me with A Pop Culture One Percenter

Culture has always been class-based. Rich people went to the opera; the poor listened to heavy metal. But what we read and watch and listen to is becoming segmented into more striations with wider gaps between them, reflecting income distribution.

I was thinking about this while reading that ultimate periodical for, by and about the richest one percent: The Sunday New York Times.

The Times is historically elitist: You get lots of reviews of classical music and fine arts, hardly anything about rock, hip-hop or comics. In Timesworld, a $150 dinner qualifies as a moderately expensive meal. A $650 hotel room is something you might actually consider.

But recently I’ve noticed that the gaps between what the Times prints to try to attract the audience targeted by its advertisers and the interests and tastes of most of its upper-middle-class striver readers are getting more pronounced. Just this weekend, I was tearing through the Sunday edition. (Despite lower page counts, it is still a whale of a paper.) I did it in under an hour.

united rhapsodyThe Times doesn’t have many pieces I want to read anymore.

The paper was always a pretentious publication. Now it’s pretentious and blah. The Times delivers too many puff pieces on corporate executives, too many political horserace articles minus actual politics and way too many dreary profiles of boring authors, musicians, etc.

But the really big change in The Times? It’s the tone of the stuff they print.

Good writing draws you in no matter what the topic. A decade or two ago, you could count on The Times, more so than The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, to print words strung together in a way that would make you care about anything from asparagus cultivation to arbitrage. Now, not so much. Everything in there reads like it was written by a pod person on a triple dose of Prozac.

The Times is all flat-line affect.

Which, in a way, is interesting — interesting in a dull way but still interesting: You see, to make it as a successful journalist in 2015, you have to be able to make videotaped mass beheadings dull.

This is, in a way, a skill. But who has time to read it?

united rhapsody review ted rallSo, today I read The Times in a slow-down-to-check-out-the-car-wreck way. And I came across an item that brought home the widening cultural class divide. Here it is:

Breaking News!  United Airlines has a new in-flight magazine, but it’s only for those who pay top dollar for flights. And it only features the type of literary fiction Timesians like long-time book critic Michiko Kakutani classify as “high-end.”

Good God.

Reports Alexandra Alter:

“As airlines try to distinguish their high-end service with luxuries like private sleeping chambers, showers, butler service and meals from five-star chefs, United Airlines is offering a loftier , more cerebral amenity to its first-class and business-class passengers: elegant prose “

united rhapsody review ted rallAlter continues, “There are no airport maps or disheartening lists of in-flight meals and entertainment options in Rhapsody.”

But wait. Rich people don’t need airport maps? How do they navigate airports — teleportation?

“Instead,” she writes, “the magazine has published ruminative first-person travel accounts, cultural dispatches and probing essays about flight by more than 30 literary fiction writers.”

She reports a list of authors that includes “literary stars like Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Moody, Amy Bloom, Emma Straub and Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction two years ago.”

I’m glad I’m in Coach. Every one of those writers bores the shit out of me.

To paraphrase the fictional Nazi in Hanns Johst’s play via Mission of Burma, whenever I hear the phrase “literary fiction” I reach for my revolver. Then I run away screaming.

Fiction is good or bad. There is no such thing as non-literary fiction.

united rhapsody review ted rallPurveyors of literary fiction sometimes wonder aloud why their non-genre genre doesn’t get more attention (from the marketplace). Though I infrequently observe a relationship between quality and sales, I can answer this question: literary fiction is written for an upper crust, very white, well-educated but not-as-smart-as-they-think sliver of the word-consuming public — whose number is too small to create a Stephanie Meyer-scale bestseller.

Ninety years ago, these would be the same people who hate Hemingway.

They hate anyone just for writing non-MFA approved sentences that anyone could read, understand, enjoy — and not notice.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, who argued that any library would be improved simply by the absence of any books by Jane Austen, I will endure United’s cramped coach class more stoically thanks to my awareness that there isn’t a copy of Rhapsody in the seat pocket in front of me.

The Times, again:

A United marketing flack ‘said the quality of the writing in Rhapsody brings a patina of sophistication to its first-class service, along with other opulent touches like mood lighting, soft music and a branded scent.’ “

Gag me with a plastic TSA-approved spoon.

But wait, there’s more …

‘We’re not going to have someone write about joining the mile-high club,’ said Jordan Heller, the editor in chief of Rhapsody. ‘Despite those restrictions, we’ve managed to come up with a lot of high-minded literary content.’”

Listen. There was a time, not long ago, during my own young adulthood, back when upper middle class and upper class people read the same books and magazines. The former aspired to the latter; the latter imagined themselves in touch with the former.

Now there’s literary fiction, a category designed as an exclusion.

In music, this is jazz. In movies, it’s documentaries and art films. It’s NPR and The Times and the Democratic Party.

Today, the rich live in gated communities of the mind. Every house and every person inside them look and talk exactly the same. No weeds on the perfectly manicured lawns.

Just boring, bland, flat bullshit.

As much as they work to keep us out, I know what keeps the cultural one percenters awake at night: Their very real fear that we don’t want to get it.

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The Joe Biden 2016 Scenario: Sorta Run, Joe, Sorta Run

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

There is a scenario in which Joe Biden gets elected president, one that doesn’t involve anything untoward happening to President Obama.

Here’s the short version: Hillary the Inevitable implodes.

(Why not? It happened in 2008.)

Democrats, by which I mean the Democratic party bosses, take a look at her primary challengers — backbenchers and fringies — and opt to pass them all up in favor of the most ready, willing and able establishment candidate. Which, at this point — and likely will continue to be at every point between now and spring 2016 — is Vice President Biden.

Take my hand, won’t you? Accompany me down the not-so-twisty path of the Joe Biden 2016 Scenario …

Now, Biden has often said he was interested. And he is already sort of running. Biden “may be running the most under-the-radar White House campaign of any sitting vice president in modern times,” The Atlantic‘s Russell Berman writes. “Biden made stops in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina last month. The appearances were all ostensibly aimed at promoting President Obama’s agenda, but as the old axiom goes, no politician visits any of these states by accident, and certainly not in the calendar year before primary voters head to the polls.”

He’s popular enough, as Obama memorably remarked about Hillary.

Biden’s poll numbers track at a steady 41 percent-ish. Not stellar, to be sure. But in polls of Democratic primary voters he’s trounces Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, even though Sanders is the third-most popular senator, which is like being the third-most popular STD. But still.

See how I had to explain who Sanders and O’Malley were just now? That’s because nobody has heard of them. Name recognition is really, really important.

Hillary has problems. Emailgate probably won’t mark the end of Secretary Clinton’s run for the White House by itself, but it fed into a preexisting, and not unjustified, narrative that she and her husband are sleazy, arrogant, entitled and untrustworthy. Fifty-four percent of Americans tell the Quinnipiac poll that Hillary is untrustworthy; only thirty-eight percent of people have confidence in her to tell the truth.

Hillary has been ordered to testify about Emailgate and Benghazi to a hostile Congressional committee — getting interrogated like a criminal on national TV is not an awesome gig for a presidential candidate.

At this point, you have to wonder: what else might break? The primary process won’t end for over a year, an eternity during a campaign. You don’t need a fevered imagination to see Hillary flaming out in some new, or preexisting scandal. Not to mention, she has a tendency to say really stupid, really clueless things (e.g., Bill and she were “dead broke” despite being worth millions, she ducked sniper fire in Bosnia, she only wanted to use one phone for email but was photographed with two, etc.). As Mitt “47%” Romney can attest, one gaffe can kill you.

She could die. She’s 67. Not a young 67, either.

Hillary doesn’t look good, not even for her late 60s — which has prompted some nasty speculation about her health, mostly sparked by her 2012 fainting episode, supposedly brought on by dehydration. Hey, I’ve been there, but I don’t have handlers ready to grab an Evian wherever I go …

They’ll never allow Bernie Sanders to be the nominee.

The senator, scheduled to announce his symbolic candidacy April 30th, isn’t even officially a Democrat — he’s a socialist who caucuses with the Democrats and usually votes with them. And he’s old. He’d be 75 if elected in 2016 — even older than Reagan in 1980, and Reagan had Alzheimer’s while in office. Not. Gonna. Happen.

The Baltimore Riots just drove a stake through Martin O’Malley. Before this week’s race riots following the police murder by suffocation and back-breaking of Freddy Gray, the ex-Maryland governor was a long shot — to say the least. Now he’s being roundly criticized for the shitty job he did, especially related to race relations and policing, during his two terms as mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007. His post-riot tour of Baltimore was greeted with boos and heckling.

Which leaves, by process of elimination, Joe Biden. Here’s the DNC thinking: Biden has no scandal. He has name recognition. He’s likeable. He’s not a socialist or hated by black people.

Sorta run, Joe, sorta run!

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If ISIS Kills Me, It’s Totally Barack Obama’s Fault

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are plotting to assassinate Australian and American cartoonists, Foreign Policy magazine is reporting.

As an American cartoonist who prefers not to get assassinated, I believe this is an extremely worrisome story.

As you can probably imagine, I have been giving a lot of thought to the possibility that Australian and American cartoonists might get blown away à la Charlie Hebdo, and even more consideration to the possibility that I might be one of them.

As a result of said thinking, I have this to say: If some ISIS asshole kills me, it’s totally Obama’s fault.

Since at least a year ago, the Obama Administration has pulled out all the stops to stop wannabe jihadi American citizens and residents from traveling to Syria, typically via Turkey, to join the Islamic State.

In October, the FBI arrested Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He faces 15 years in prison for trying to go to Syria to join ISIS. They grabbed Adam Dandach, 20, at Orange County California’s John Wayne airport, of all places, for the same thing. This past February, it was three guys from Brooklyn of Central Asian ethnic descent, this time at JFK. In April, four Somali-Americans in Minneapolis. Scores of Americans have been arrested by federal authorities while trying to join ISIS.

To which I, possible future dead cartoonist, ask: WTF?

Why not let them leave?

As I wrote recently, the legal basis for these arrests is skimpy. But never mind the morals or the law. What about common sense?

I thought the idea was to fight them over there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here, right? So, about these self-radicalized guys — why not let them go to Syria?

The word is already getting out among ISIS fans that it’s getting hard to travel from the U.S. to Syria, and that you might get slammed with a “material support to a terrorist organization” charge if the feds learn about your plans. Those who are stuck here in the States will naturally turn to Plan B: carrying out attacks here in the — yuck on this word — “homeland.”

Before he was accidentally blown up by an American drone this past January, Al Qaeda spokesperson Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a.k.a. Azzam the American, advised English-speaking would-be terrorists to think globally, kill locally:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

I’ve followed politics and U.S. foreign policy my whole life, yet I can’t imagine the rationale for this policy of apprehending Americans for wanting to join ISIS. If they want to go, let them — hell, give them a first-class plane ticket.

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Guy Who Shot Walter Scott Video Is Selling It for 10K. And Good for Him

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

The guy who took the video that caught a South Carolina cop shooting Walter Scott in the back is telling news outlets that they’ll have to cough up $10,000 to post or broadcast it.

Good. Good for him.

For the record: Passerby Feidin Santana, who took the cell phone video that shocked the nation and landed the police officer in jail awaiting a murder trial, gave it away for free to the family so they could pursue legal remedies, and to media organizations in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

“Now they will have to pay,” Max Markson, the publicist, said.

Let’s get one thing straight: News is big business. The CEO of NBCUniversal makes $31 million a year. Last year – which relatively sucked – brought in $91 million in operating profits to The New York Times. So it’s not like major news outlets can’t afford to shell out a few bucks.

As long as I can remember – in other words, too long – American news organizations have raked in handsome profits and paid exorbitant salaries to their executives, while monetizing video footage and other news assets created by ordinary citizens who gave them away for free. They claim that their refusal to “pay for news” is motivated by the purely noble desire not to allow money to corrupt the process.

The truth is, they’re just cheap. Newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets all around the world routinely pay for interviews, photos and videos; there’s no evidence that the ABC in which the A stands for Australia is any less trustworthy than ours. I have some experience with this: When I agree to an interview with a non-American news organization, it is not rare for me to receive an honorarium to compensate me for my time. Believe me, those foreigners aren’t getting anything different from me than the outfits based here in the good old U.S. of A.

In 2002, two French brothers sold the rights to their exclusive footage of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11 to CBS for $1 million. They caught a lot of flak for profiting from tragedy, but CBS got 35 million viewers to tune in to their riveting documentary of the attack on New York City. You can be damned sure that CBS made a handsome profit on that.

To reiterate, I would come down on the other side of the argument if we didn’t live in a world of corporatized mass media that keeps thousands of fat white guys, and a few fat white women, in penthouse apartments and Hamptons vacation homes. As long as they’re making money from news, why can’t the rest of us?

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EU Antitrust Charges Against Google? NP. Just Buy Europe

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

The European Union is about to file antitrust charges against Google, The New York Times reports. If found guilty of abusing its market dominance — Google controls 90 percent of search in Europe — it may have to pay a six billion Euro fine. That’s equivalent to 10 percent of Google’s annual profits.

But the worst thing for Google isn’t the prospective fine, says aNewDomain legal analyst Tom Ewing. It’s that the firm will likely have to substantially change its business practices. The claim against Google is around complaints that Google favors it own products and services, non search-related, when someone in Europe uses Google to search. The complaints came from Microsoft, TripAdvisor, Yelp and others. The EU announcement this week culminates a five-year investigation, during which Google didn’t do enough to satisfy EU complaints.

That’s the whole point of anticompetition law and, likely, the EU antitrust charges against Europe. But here is a possible out for Google: Buy Europe!

Google antitrust Googe Europe antitrust

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One Delta Flight That Highlights Why Air Travel Sucks So Bad

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

why air travel sucksOn Friday I traveled from Seattle to New York on Delta. By the standards of American air travel in the year 2015, flight 419 was fine.

My seatmates were nice, the woman in front of me didn’t recline her seat until halfway into the flight, the flight attendants were attentive, and we arrived at JFK 45 minutes early – during a snowstorm, no less.

Yet it totally sucked.

The unacceptable state of commercial aviation has become accepted. The insane has been normalized.

It was the best possible terrible experience — one that perfectly exemplified why air travel sucks these days — and everything that’s wrong with the airlines.

Knee Torture

As the guy next to me exclaimed upon sitting down, “They design these seats for midgets!” (It was early, so I didn’t inform him of the more politically correct terms “little people” or “persons of short stature.”) But he’s right: Delta is tied with United Airlines for the dubious distinction of offering the least legroom in coach.

why airtravel sucks

I’m 6’2″. At under 200 pounds, however, I’m a skinny dude. Especially by American standards. I can’t imagine what bigger people do. Or taller ones. Or pregnant ones.

Only the airlines could make me feel sorry for Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle, both of whom have suffered from deep-vein thrombosis associated with flying while stuck in cramped seats. (Don’t those guys get at least business class?)

Check out the photograph above: those are my knees, pressed totally against the seat ahead of me – before the person in front of me opted to recline. (Side rant: reclining should only be enabled on red-eyes.)

You can’t see it here, but my butt is pressed into the corner of my seat; I am sitting straight up. In other words, there is no way to scare an extra millimeter of knee room out of this torture contraption.

I know it could be worse. Someday, probably soon, it will be. A few years ago, you may recall, Ireland-based discount carrier Ryanair flirted with the idea of forcing passengers to stand rather than sit. I also know that the airlines have thin profit margins in a competitive business. However, you’ve got a problem when your customers are driven so crazy that they get into midair brawls over when or if it’s OK to push your seat back.

It’s an even bigger problem when your service is to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Which I might not even have thought about, much less written this piece about, if not for this charming ad on the seat in front of me:

why airtravel sucks

Grim chuckles emanated all around every time this thing cycled through, you know, 14 inches ahead of our faces because – we were definitely not comfortable.

It is hard to overstate how maddening an ad like this is when your knees look and feel like they do in the photo up above. Who’s handling PR for Delta? Howard Schultz of Starbucks? It’s not like we don’t all want to be in first class. It’s not a choice. We’re not riding in coach because we’re cheap.

We’re poor.

Being poor sucks. But you know what’s worse than being poor? Being reminded that other people are rich. Not to mention being told that your poverty is your own damn fault.

Never Saying Sorry

why-air-travel-sucksOne thing I love about flying is that it can be a great place to get work done, particularly if I get a window seat so no one is trying to get past me to go to the restroom.

Unless I can’t.

Friday’s flight would have been a bust the second the woman in front of me reclined her seat into my face; even Houdini couldn’t jam a MacBook Pro between my relatively flat stomach and a reclined seat on Delta. Anyway, it didn’t matter because the Wi-Fi didn’t work.

A five-hour flight is a long time to go without the Internet when you’re a writer, so I’m willing to cough up the outrageously extortionate rate of $33 for GoGo Inflight Internet. Unless, as happened Friday, that wasn’t an option.

As we taxied away from the gate, the pilot helpfully explained that an on-time departure was more important than “the part we would have needed to wait for” in order to get the Wi-Fi working.

Look, I get that stuff happens. Given the fact that it was starting to snow at our destination, I agreed with the pilot’s decision.

What’s annoying is that when the airline inconveniences you – in this case, denying five hours of potential online work time to over 200 passengers – they shrug it off with a glib “oh well.”

When we screw up, we’re expected to pay through the nose. If, for example, you get stuck in traffic and miss your flight, Delta will charge you at least $50 to change your ticket to a later flight the same day. Why can’t I charge them $50 because the Wi-Fi was busted on Friday’s flight? What’s with this unequal relationship?

Foul Food

I never thought I would say this, but I miss the old days of airline food mainly because it was warm.

The war historian John Keegan has remarked that, all things being equal, armies with access to hot food tend to defeat those without it. That’s because the calories and other nutrition inside food is absorbed more effectively when it’s cooked.

I hate the brave new world of airline food, and not only because you have to pay for it à la carte. Morning noon and night, your options are limited to cold lunch: nasty cold cheeses, nasty cold fruits, nasty cold sandwiches. (And Delta’s options are the best of a bad lot.) Give me those old-fashioned mystery – possibly powdered – eggs! Or that plastic tasting ravioli! Just make it warm!
Seasoned travelers like yours truly have learned to work around the dismal state of airline food, or lack thereof, by grabbing a big hot meal on the way to the airport. But there are times, like Friday, when that just isn’t possible.

Think about it, Delta: the flight is at 7 AM. You have to be at the airport at least an hour ahead of time, add a half-hour if you are returning a rental car. At the Seattle Airport, restaurants aren’t open until 6 AM. And the choices are grim.

All I wanted was a light breakfast, maybe a toasted bagel or something ,but that was too much to ask at SeaTac. The guy next to me settled for something called “French Toast Stix.”

Gross.

I would have happily paid $10 or even $15, for some warm powdered eggs.

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Killed Them All? Did Robert Durst Kill More Than Three Victims?

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Dead-eyed mass murder suspect Robert Durst’s riveting open-mic soliloquy in the last episode of HBO’s “The Jinx” true-crime miniseries places him at the center of a media frenzy that obsessed over a dramatic couplet that may or may not constitute a confession: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Who is or who was this “all?”

How many?

Lost in the haze of discussion and debate about this “Gone Girl”-esque mash-up of infotainment and policing — the cops arrested him the day of the documentary’s finale — is another line uttered by Durst in that restroom, one that has been ignored by the media:

“But, you can’t imagine.”

Can’t imagine what?

Here’s a complete transcript of Durst talking to himself:

There it is. You’re caught. You’re right, of course. But, you can’t imagine. Arrest him. I don’t know what’s in the house. Oh, I want this. What a disaster. He was right. I was wrong. And the burping. I’m having difficulty with the question ‘What the hell did I do?’ Killed them all, of course.”

Usually, like when news anchors were blaming Al Qaeda within hours after the 9/11 attacks, the media speculates too much. This time, a failure to speculate may be missing a bigger story: that Durst may have killed more than three people.

“You can’t imagine.” What did Durst mean?

There are several ways to interpret that. The first one that came to my mind was: You can’t imagine how much bigger this is…how many more victims there really are.

Durst has been charged with the 2000 execution-style murder of his friend Susan Berman, possibly to prevent her from testifying against him about the disappearance and presumed murder of his first wife, Kathleen, in 1982. He killed and chopped up a neighbor’s body in Texas in 2003. A Texas jury declared it self-defense and acquitted him.

robert durstAssuming that Durst killed all three, the 18-year gap between the Kathleen Durst and Susan Berman murders would be unusual. It wouldn’t be unprecedented — California’s Lonnie Franklin Jr. earned the nickname the “Grim Sleeper” due to a 13-year space between killings of sex workers. Still, 18 years is a long time for a serial killer to refrain from taking a life.

In several respects, Durst fits the typical profile of a psychopathic serial killer more than of a man who killed his wife in a fit of range during a domestic dispute. This includes a history of cruelty to animals that predates his first known killing.

His brother Douglas, who lived in fear of his brother, claims that as a young man Robert owned seven malamutes, all named Igor, who “died, mysteriously, of different things, within six months of his owning them. We don’t know how they died, and what happened to their bodies. In retrospect, I now believe he was practicing killing and disposing his wife with those dogs.”

Durst reportedly used the term “doing an Igor” to refer to murdering someone.

The judge who presided over Robert’s trial in the Texas case found “a perfectly clean and preserved cat head cut up by someone who knew what they were doing” at her front door after his acquittal. She believes it was Durst.

Serial killers sometimes mark their territory. Douglas’ break with his brother moved toward finality in the 1990s, when he discovered that Robert had been urinating in the wastepaper basket at the New York real estate company where both worked.

Robert was considered a “prime suspect” in the 1997 disappearance of Karen Mitchell, 16, in Eureka, California. He was never charged.

“You can’t imagine.”

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