Monday, December 29, 2008

The Greatest Blog of the Year!!

The New York Times is hard up these days. It is selling its Manhattan building and trying to offload its interest in the Red Sox and its cable TV network. Circulation is down, and advertising revenues are getting killed by the internet and by the recession. What’s a newspaper to do?

Well, to start with, the Times should drastically hike its advertising rates. Huh? I thought you just said the recession is murdering advertising revenue. How can you possibly suggest raising rates?

I can because of the apparently inexhaustible supply of movie ads in the Times. Full pages and junior pages, telling us that Benjamin Button “sweeps you away,” Yes Man is “the best comedy of the year,” Valkyrie is “spine-tingling,” Last Chance Harvey is “too good to resist,” Slumdog Millionaire is “movie heaven,” Doubt is “the best picture of the year,” Bedtime Stories is “hysterically funny,” The Reader is “a masterpiece!” Seven Pounds is “a gift for moviegoers,” Milk is “an American classic,” Bolt is “the perfect holiday movie,” and Gran Torino is “a movie event.”

Then there are the message ads, full-page essays telling us that Israel must be defended, that the Arab Peace Initiative must be endorsed, that unions threaten the secret ballot. The Times lets all sorts of organizations use its pages as a megaphone. Nothing wrong in that; open discourse should be encouraged. But it is obvious (to me, at least) that the Times is renting that megaphone on the cheap.

Competition? Get real. Where else are these people going to go? The Times is the national newspaper. Movies need the Times. So does any group that wants to vent about any real or perceived injustice. The Times is Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park, the paper of record that legitimizes everything. The Dolphins didn’t beat the Jets until the Times said so.

The list price for a full-page in the Times is about $142,000. There is an “advocacy” rate of about $64,000, and there was a flap over which rate the Times should have charged MoveOn for its tasteless ad in which Petraeus was headlined as “Betray Us.” But the point is, even $142,000 is laughably low for a page in the Times, which says it will hold rates steady in 2009. In my opinion, those who want that megaphone would want it just as badly at $250,000 or more.

As for the movies, even the most marginal of them seem to be eager to pony up for a full page. Maybe they’re not talking to us, but to those who give out the awards. Whatever, my hunch is that the Times could double its movie ad rates without losing a single customer. After all, how much is too much to advertise the greatest, most spine-tingling, most unforgettable, most astounding, most spellbinding masterpiece of the year?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


It’s snowing hard here today, with another storm predicted for the weekend, and still another a couple of days later. And winter hasn’t even begun yet. Last weekend we were without power, thanks to a vicious ice storm that hit Thursday night, and my son in New Hampshire still has no electricity. Most of the year, New England is a fine place to live, but from December through March the smart folks fly south with the geese. ……….The newspapers have been filled with stories about the discredited Governor of Illinois, who has become a bit of a joke. Alan Abelson of Barron’s notes that he “wore his hair in the fashion of Mamie Eisenhower or Laurence Olivier playing Henry V,” and the Economist says he “has the hair of a Kennedy and the tongue of a Soprano.”. ………On Broadway, theaters are going dark because of the recession. Gypsy, despite raves for Patti LuPone, played to 59 percent of the house last week and will close seven weeks early. Other shows (Grease, Hairspray) will close right after Christmas. Says a producer of Gypsy: “Psychologically, people feel it’s really frivolous to go to the theater at $200 a pop.” Well, of course. But it’s equally frivolous to go to a Patriots game or on a Caribbean cruise. The recession will teach people the difference between the necessities of life and the frivolities. Those unreal Goldman bonuses have disappeared from Wall Street, and it’s just a matter of time before people start asking whether a utility infielder is worth two million a year. ………Barack Obama’s first team looks pretty good so far, though I was rocked when his choice for Secretary of Education, the much-praised Arne Duncan, used his press conference to thank some benefactors “who gave my children and I” so much. Bad grammar is epidemic in Washington, but from the Secretary of Education?………… On the other hand, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sounds like my kind of guy. On the wall of his home in Washington, Admiral Mullen has, not military citations, but framed playbills from the Broadway shows he and his wife have seen. Mullen is an Annapolis man, but unlike, say, Senator McCain, he does not come from a military tradition. His Dad was a Hollywood press agent for, among others, Julie Andrews, Ann-Margret, and Dyan Canon…………The stock market continues to dive, and the talking heads on CNBC continue to advise – nay, plead – that now is the time to buy stocks. Never mind that the same people gave you the same advice six months ago. Some day they will be right, as a broken clock is eventually right, but by then all those who have taken their advice will be broke…………. A recent trip to the Maine Mall found almost all stores deserted. The Maine Mall is one of some 200 malls owned by General Growth Properties, which is trying desperately to stave off bankruptcy. Worth re-reading is my blog post “Overmalled,” dated October 29, 2007.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Twenty-Four Redux

I am not a devotee of the television series “24,” but I have seen enough episodes to know that the plot that animates the time line is based on the following premise: that there exist, in every corridor of power in the U.S. government, evil people who are spending every moment of every day trying to subvert the Constitution. Some of these people are rogue elements of the CIA or the FBI or the Secret Service. Some are holders of high offices, even the highest in the land. They will stop at nothing, not even assassination, to promote their agenda. If you buy into that theme, you will enjoy “24,” for of its type it is well done.

I never bought into it, and that is why my appreciation for its technical excellence was limited. A stray rogue organization might be credible, but to believe that our Government was so thoroughly riddled with corruption was just too much for me. The creators of The West Wing and the Bourne trilogy plowed similar ground, but “24” wanted you to believe that the bad guys in Washington outnumbered the good guys. I understood that the producers of the show needed a continuous stream of Judases within the Government to provide the drama, but I didn’t have to watch it.

Having declared my belief that the U.S. Government cannot be so radically infected as the “24” producers would have us believe, I also believe that the imminent transition from a hard-right to a leftish administration will not occur without residual rancor and, perhaps, the kinds of mischief that will give “24” another shot at credibility. The hawks and neocons will not disappear. They will retreat to save havens at the American Enterprise Institute, and they will snipe from the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. (John Bolton seems to have a long-term lease.) They will leave behind moles at Defense and State and the CIA who will feed them inside information.

Of course, sniping in the Wall Street Journal is not the same as sniping at Jack Bauer with a rifle. President Bush had his enemies, and Barack Obama will have his, and thank God for political criticism. But exiles on the left seem harmless. The louder they whine, the less effective they are (think Paul Krugman), but the zealots on the far right make much more credible villains.

Not that I’m worried about the integrity of the White House. Secretary of Defense Gates and National Security Advisor to-be Jones didn’t just drop off the turnip truck. But I do think that the scriptwriters for “24” must be licking their chops.