S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 15 June 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


Hit & Run CCXXXII

 
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The airlines have long looked askance at online travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Priceline. While the big-six flyers have been largely successful in throttling independent travel agents in meatspace, they've found that cutting commissions just seems to make the Websites more pissed off, not unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger in all his robotic glory. Aggravating matters even further, American Airlines, which owned most of Travelocity's parent, Sabre, spun off the stock to shareholders — like kicking the kid out of the house is going to make him any friendlier. That's why, when Delta, United, Northwest, Continental and American ganged up to launch a travel-booking website of their own, they codenamed it T-2, for "Travelocity Terminator."

We were stunned to read, then, that the airline consortium had picked a name for its site: Orbitz.com. Orbitz? For those of you who were asleep through the mid-'90s, Orbitz was a beverage introduced by syrupy-water purveyor Clearly Canadian, distinguished mostly by its floating balls of gelatin. Visionary in some respects — this Gummi Soda required a wide-mouthed bottle, an innovation popular with sugar-guzzling teens everywhere — Orbitz flopped on store shelves. Unopened, it did prove something of a collectors' item. While it's not clear how the airlines got ahold of the domain name — orbitz.com has passed through at least seven owners since it was first registered, according to Network Solutions — their branding choice is strangely appropriate: the airlines' Website is proving as unpalatable to antitrust enforcers as Orbitz was to teenagers. Yet again, Orbitz is in a sticky situation.

 

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Apparently, hot dogs and balloons for the kids just aren't cutting it anymore. Last week, Stivers Lincoln-Mercury in Des Moines offered free DNA printing for people who came out to the lot. Stivers representatives say the idea was for parents to have a record of their children's DNA for identification purposes. "Anything for the children!" is pretty much a daily battle cry around the Suck office; but as a safety measure, DNA identification — which is primarily valuable after a body is too badly decomposed to recognize — leaves something to be desired. Grisly as this may sound, it seemed to work in the heart of Johnny Gosch land. Over 1500 people were printed at the lot during the two-day event. No word on how many of those drove away in a shiny new Lincoln.

 

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The U.S. Army plans to begin formally training some of its combat soldiers to play a modified version of the teen-familiar computer game Delta Force 2. Eventually, Army leaders hope, the game will familiarize infantrymen with technologically sophisticated warfare, and particularly with the service's still-in-development Land Warrior system. The use of the game represents real advances in military technology; most infantrymen fighting in Operation Desert Storm, for example, entered the combat zone only after thoroughly acquainting themselves with a highly classified version of Super Mario Brothers, and became disoriented in actual combat when shattered enemy bunkers failed to produce life-extending mushrooms or magic coins. The Army's vigorous march into the future of large-scale killing isn't limited to cartoons that come with a reset button, either; at the service's Fort Benning training center, recently, some of the biggest names in media — former Columbo and Quincy writer Larry Tuch among them — gathered to discuss the possibility of building a training "holodeck" at the infantry post. "With the holodeck," reports the May 19 issue of the post newspaper, the Bayonet, "Soldiers (sic) would experience everything from culture (sic) to terrain (sic) of the place where they are expected to perform mission (sic)." Closing a circle of some kind or another, the holodeck project is sponsored by the University of Southern California. Bargain matinees are planned for soldiers who prefer a less crowded urban warfare environment.

 

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In true Corleone fashion, mild-mannered Syrian heir apparent Bashar al-Assad takes over the family business only because his loudmouth older brother died a few years earlier on a highway. (It was to describe accidental deaths like Basil Assad's that scare quotes were invented). As the obituaries for father Hafez al-Assad poured in this week — some unsparing, some measured, most from people who don't know dick about the subject — readers were treated to numerous descriptions of the presidential iconography that greets Syrians from every wall and public building. But no report could truly convey what a gallery of Assad statues, framed photos, official portraits and amateur drawings the country really is. In every theater lobby, Assad's incongruously kindly face beams above the doorway; in private homes, images of Assad's bulbous, wooden-puppet head occupy the place of honor that in apartments in Union City, NJ would hold Holy Family dioramas. In some government offices, the Assad wall of fame is the only thing that appears to have been updated since 1970, and the subtle history of late-20th-century style can be traced — from early-70s quasi-psychedelic posters with "We love our President" messages written in the Arabic equivalent of the Mosh/Bellbottom Laser font, through sober get-well messages marking the president's various bouts with cancer, and into the late-period Big Brother valentines to the Lion of Damascus. The real burning question isn't whether Bashar can survive on his father's throne (Kim Jong Il's role in the new Korean peace talks reminds us that you can be an effective heir even if you're a useless, drunken tub of guts), but whether he'll ever equal his dad's camera-happy public persona. In the meantime, before the tides of iconoclasm begin to sweep over the impoverished Levantine kleptocracy, collectors of personality cult kitsch should really make a stop in Syria. And throw some dollars around. They need the help.

 
courtesy of theSucksters