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Why Movies Are Dying

English: Scattered thunderstorms earlier in th...

The relentless march of technology is leaving a lot of wreckage in its path.

First CD sales evaporated (along with record stores).

Next, DVD sales and rental outlets boarded up their doors.

Bookstores look like the next victim of consumer demand for instant gratification.

Roger Ebert has posted a list of reasons why movie ticket sales are slumping, and internet streaming is one of the culprits. He notes that 2011 was the lowest year for ticket sales since 1995.

I’ll tell you why movie revenue is dropping…

His list, in summary:

1. The absence of a must-see mass-market movies (blockbusters like Dark Knight, and Avatar put butts in seats).

2. Ticket prices are too high. The 3D  surcharge and daunting prospect of paying $50 (before refreshments) for a family of four keeps parents away.

3. The theater experience. Cell-phone users and  noisy patrons aren’t being policed by most theaters. Why pay $13.50 for a movie that is constantly interrupted by texting and conversations?.

4. Refreshment prices.  Where theaters make the bulk of their money. Cheap syrup and popcorn at premium prices.

5. Competition from other forms of delivery. Huge HD television screens are getting cheaper, and aforementioned internet streaming services are relatively inexpensive.

6. Lack of choice. The same movies playing on several screens, and none of the smaller movies many adults want to see.

Box-office tracking shows that the bright spot in 2011 was the performance of indie, foreign or documentary films. On many weekends, one or more of those titles captures first-place in per-screen average receipts. Yet most moviegoers outside large urban centers can’t find those titles in their local gigantiplex. Instead, all the shopping center compounds seem to be showing the same few overhyped disappointments. Those films open with big ad campaigns, play a couple of weeks, and disappear.

The myth that small-town moviegoers don’t like “art movies” is undercut by Netflix’s viewing results; the third most popular movie on Dec. 28 on Netflix was “Certified Copy,” by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. You’ve heard of him? In fourth place–French director Alain Corneau’s “Love Crime.” In fifth, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”–but the subtitled Swedish version.

The critic concludes that Americans love movies more than ever — it’s just the theaters that put them off.

There is at least one small chain of movie theaters that is doing it right; creating a movie-going experience that is enjoyable and relatively inexpensive:

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

Alamo, based in Austin, Texas has set the standard for excellence in programming, projection, sound and they are fantastic at enforcing rules to keep patrons from using cellphones or talking.

Here’s one of the PSAs they run before their screenings, in which Patton Oswalt reads verbatim an actual voicemail call from a patron who was kicked out of Alamo for using her cellphone:

They also serve decent food and beer that make movie-going an event.

Unfortunately, Alamo only has theaters in a small handful of cities, including Austin, TX, San Antonio, TX, Houston, TX, Denver, CO and Winchester, VA.

If I had enough money, I’d invest in a franchise in the Washington, DC area.

Movie theaters will have to be more responsible to the movie-going marketplace in order to survive the convenience of internet streaming.

As a movie lover, and someone who has cut back seeing movies in recent years, I would love to see a local theater that shows first-run foreign films and curtails the excesses of other patrons.

-Chris

December 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thomas Frank’s New Book!

English: Thomas Frank Photo

Image via Wikipedia

The always witty and insightful Thomas Frank has a new book coming out on January 3, 2012 called Pity the Billionaire.

The promotional notes on the Barnes & Noble website gives a preview of the narrative thrust of the book:

Economic catastrophe usually brings social protest and demands for change—or at least it’s supposed to. But when Thomas Frank set out in 2009 to look for expressions of American discontent, all he could find were loud demands that the economic system be made even harsher on the recession’s victims and that society’s traditional winners receive even grander prizes. The American Right, which had seemed moribund after the election of 2008, was strangely reinvigorated by the arrival of hard times. The Tea Party movement demanded not that we question the failed system but that we reaffirm our commitment to it. Republicans in Congress embarked on a bold strategy of total opposition to the liberal state. And TV phenom Glenn Beck demonstrated the commercial potential of heroic paranoia and the purest libertarian economics.

In Pity the Billionaire, Frank, the great chronicler of American paradox, examines the peculiar mechanism by which dire economic circumstances have delivered wildly unexpected political results. Using firsthand reporting, a deep knowledge of the American Right, and a wicked sense of humor, he gives us the first full diagnosis of the cultural malady that has transformed collapse into profit, reconceived the Founding Fathers as heroes from an Ayn Rand novel, and enlisted the powerless in a fan club for the prosperous. The understanding Frank reaches is at once startling, original, and profound.

Salon has posted a fascinating interview with Frank, who argues that by 2008, the elite liberals in Washington had lost touch with their populist base across America. Following on the train-wreck that should have thoroughly discredited “free market economics” liberal leaders made little attempt to harness the outrage of the citizens bearing the brunt of the failure of utopian right-wing economic policies. This vacuum allowed the right to create a “Utopian Market Populism” to rally the disaffected Tea Party crowd:

I’m speaking here of the liberal culture in Washington, D.C. There was no Occupy Wall Street movement [at that time] and there was only people like me on the fringes talking about it. The liberals had their leader in Barack Obama … they had their various people in Congress. But these people are completely unfamiliar with populist anger. It’s an alien thing to them. They don’t trust it, and they have trouble speaking to it. I like Barack Obama, but at the end of the day he’s a very professorial kind of guy. The liberals totally missed the opportunity, and the right was able to grab it.

Later in the interview, Frank notes that the lessons of the extremely successful New Deal (and properly managed Keynesian stimulus) were completely forgotten, as was the understanding that this unprecedented mobilization came out of FDR’s successful run against Hoovers’ top-down government bailouts to banks – capturing populist anger and channeling it into building lasting change.

Now we are left with our discourse being hijacked by the Randian idea that the unfettered free market will cure every ill – when our historic experience provides ample evidence that it does no such thing.

In the interview, Frank notes one of the themes that has concerned me for some time — epistemic closure. He terms it “a cognitive withdrawal from the shared world” and shows that this is the model used by Rupert Murdoch:

This is the genius of Fox News. It is fun to watch, and if you agree with them, it’s very gratifying to watch — and on a level deeper than most TV entertainment. The message is “You’ve worked really hard. You played by the rules and now they’re disrespecting you. They won’t let you say the word ‘Christmas.’”

In the end of the interview, Frank holds out the hope that the Occupy movement will channel populist rage and restore order to the destructive chaos that our national affairs have become.

If you haven’t read any of Frank’s work, I suggest you get your hands on What’s the Matter With Kansas and The Wrecking Crew immediately. They are essential to understanding what happened to this country.

-Chris

December 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Order

"FREEDOM from ECONOMIC SLAVERY"

Image by Toban Black via Flickr

Yeah, it sounds like conspiracy ranting.

However, the substitution of the new class system for the badly-bruised American dream is undeniable.

In Esquire:

We Are Not All Created Equal

Stephen Marche lays it out without flinching:

There are some truths so hard to face, so ugly and so at odds with how we imagine the world should be, that nobody can accept them. Here’s one: It is obvious that a class system has arrived in America — a recent study of the thirty-four countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only Italy and Great Britain have less social mobility. But nobody wants to admit: If your daddy was rich, you’re gonna stay rich, and if your daddy was poor, you’re gonna stay poor. Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can’t bear to tell themselves isn’t real. It’s the most dangerous lie the country tells itself.

Income inequality is alarmingly real, and the eradication of any opportunity in this country is something to scream about:

The Occupiers blame the financial industry. Both are really mourning the arrival of a new social order, one not defined by opportunity but by preexisting structures of wealth. At least the ranters are mourning. Those who are not screaming or in drum circles mostly pretend that the change isn’t happening.

For my part, I blame the collusion between corporations and government.

However, the effect of a stagnant class system is clear. There can be no effective democracy.

Read Marche’s piece, it’s a furious call to recognize reality.

Marche ends with a bleak assessment:

…it is hard to imagine even any temporary regression back to the days of the swelling American middle class. The forces of inequality are simply too powerful and the forces against inequality too weak. But at least we can end the hypocrisy. In ten years, the next generation will no longer have the faintest illusion that the United States is a country with equality of opportunity. The least they’re entitled to is some honesty about why.

I hope he’s wrong, but I fear he isn’t.

-Chris

December 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Case Study: Anti-Science Prevents Necessary Action

English: Hampton Roads, Virginia from space

Here’s a fascinating but sad story being reported by Mother Jones, The Washington Post and Alternet:

“We Don’t Need None of That Smart-Growth Communism”

and

Virginia residents oppose preparations for climate-related sea-level rise

and

How Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories May Pose a Genuine Threat to Humanity

In summary:

The Middle Peninsula of Virginia, particularly Hampton Roads, will likely sink in coming decades. The area is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The Washington Post explains:

Outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the biggest risk from sea-level rise of any area its size in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The water has risen so much that Naval Station Norfolk is replacing 14 piers at $60 million each to keep ship-repair facilities high and dry.

Enter the Tea Party:

When planners redesignated property as a future flood zone, activists said officials were acting on a hoax. They argued in meetings and on Web sites that local planners are unwitting agents of Agenda 21, a United Nations environmental action plan adopted in 1992 that the activists see as a shadowy global conspiracy to grab land and redistribute wealth in the United States.

The Tea Partiers first unleashed their fury at a February meeting to launch an oyster farming concern in Virginia’s Mathews County.

Throughout the spring and summer, they shouted down planners (most of whom had likely never heard of the Agenda 21 document) and got so riled up that planners started calling for police to be present at the meetings and hired consultants to help keep meetings moving and productive.

According to Tea Party lore, the notion of sustainability is part of the evil UN plot (Agenda 21 being the governing document) to install Socialism in America.

Really.

As reported by Mother Jones, the Virginia uprising is part of a national movement against Agenda 21, the 18 year-old document that advocates sustainable growth:

In the tea partiers’ dystopian vision, the increased density favored by planners to allow for better mass transit become compulsory “human habitation zones.” They warn of Americans being forcibly moved from their suburban dream homes into urban “hobbit homes” and required to give up their cars and instead—gasp!—take the bus to work. The enemies in this fight are hidden behind bland trade-association names like the American Planning Association or ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability).

The Tea Party intimidation has made local planners afraid of retribution by state legislators looking to curry Tea Party favor.

Consider the case of long-time municipal planner Lewis L. Lawrence:

“My professional credentials have been challenged,” said Lawrence, who holds degrees in municipal planning and provides professional and technical planning advice to municipalities throughout the peninsula. He said he has heard whispers behind his back after meetings: “I’ve been brainwashed. I’ve been called a dupe for the U.N.”

And the kooks seem to be winning:

Shereen Hughes, a former planning commissioner in James City County, worried that some officials are giving ground to fearmongers. The uprising against smart growth “is ridiculous” and “a conspiracy theory,” she said.

But it’s effective. Planners aren’t saying this is wrong, Hughes said, because “most are afraid they won’t have a job if they’re too vocal about this issue.” Tea party members have political allies who “might stand up” against planners who complain, Hughes said.

Lawrence is more gracious than I would be:

Lawrence, a native of Gloucester County, bristled at being accused of undermining the constitutional rights of Virginians.

“It’s driving public policy sideways,” Lawrence said. “It’s not advancing it. It’s not going backward. The voice of a minority is trying to assert itself as the voice of the majority.”

Nonetheless, he said he has to give a little to get a little. “I welcome them every time,” Lawrence said.

Sometimes I wish we could make the Tea Party live in the world they fondly dream of.

-Chris

December 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republicans Continue War on EPA

English: Picture I took of a small puddle of t...

I have to believe that the rank and file right-winger really has no idea of the benefits of having an effective Environmental Protection Agency.

These guys hunt, fish, breathe air, drink water and enjoy good health, right?

That’s why it is so frustrating to see them piling on the EPA at every opportunity:

Springtime for Toxics

Paul Krugman takes them to task for their war on the environment:

With everything else that has been going on in U.S. politics recently, the G.O.P.’s radical anti-environmental turn hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. But something remarkable has happened on this front. Only a few years ago, it seemed possible to be both a Republican in good standing and a serious environmentalist; during the 2008 campaign John McCain warned of the dangers of global warming and proposed a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Today, however, the party line is that we must not only avoid any new environmental regulations but roll back the protection we already have.

Krugman is speaking specifically about recently passed but long-overdue EPA regulations on mercury.

Republicans, who allegedly carry the fiscally conservative banner are showing their true colors on this one:

In fact, the benefits of reduced fine particle pollution account for most of the quantifiable gains from the new rules. The key word here is “quantifiable”: E.P.A.’s cost-benefit analysis only considers one benefit of mercury regulation, the reduced loss in future wages for children whose I.Q.’s are damaged by eating fish caught by freshwater anglers. There are without doubt many other benefits to cutting mercury emissions, but at this point the agency doesn’t know how to put a dollar figure on those benefits.

Even so, the payoff to the new rules is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices. This is, as David Roberts of Grist says, a very big deal.

And it’s a deal Republicans very much want to kill.

Unfortunately, the GOP pathological phobia of short-term costs explains a lot about the current state of the nation, from their shortsighted view of taxation and infrastructure investment, to their view of Wall Street regulation.

Along with Krugman, I celebrate the new rules and hope they are a harbinger for a move to hold industry accountable for the real harm they do — to health and the economy.

-Chris

December 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Crusades To Prevent Voting

English: ballot box

Image via Wikipedia

The New York Times Editorial yesterday, Keeping Students From the Polls sums up a piece of the national campaign by the Republican Party to prevent likely Democratic citizens from exercising their right to vote.

It is a documented fact that actual voter fraud, in which someone casts a vote illegally, is extremely rare.

Starting with the assassination of ACORN, Republicans have tried to build a case that illegal immigrants are voting en masse with the help of evil librul organizations.

If you aren’t familiar with the ACORN case, the organization hired people across the country to registered people of ALL stripes to vote.

Some of those people, instead of doing their job, made up names and submitted them to ACORN — who promptly flagged them and reported the applications to the state election commissions in question.

That’s it. That’s the whole story.

In terms of voter fraud, ACORN was absolutely innocent, and independent investigations have exonerated the group. Their crime was to try to register minorities, immigrants, and young people — a demographic that tends to vote Democrat.

Using the pretext of the trumped-up ACORN case (fueled by Fox News, the right-wing blogosphere and talk radio), Republican governors have forced through completely unnecessary laws that:

  1. Prevent college students from voting Setup draconian
  2. ID laws to excluded the elderly and poor
  3. Distribute false information to likely Democratic constituents to suppress their vote during elections
  4. Stop convenient same-day registration for voters

The times piece notes, in the case of students:

Seven states have already passed strict laws requiring a government-issued ID (like a driver’s license or a passport) to vote, which many students don’t have, and 27 others are considering such measures. Many of those laws have been interpreted as prohibiting out-of-state driver’s licenses from being used for voting.

These barriers also prevent some minorities and the elderly from accessing the voting booth.

Case in point:

96-year-old Chattanooga resident denied voting ID

Did you guess? She’s black.

But others have been caught in the net as well:

Wisconsin Voter ID Law Ensnares Teacher In Rural Part Of State

All of this puts the lie to the alleged anti-big government bullshit stance taken by the right-wing.

They’re just fine with overreaching government interference into people’s rights — unless their the ones wo get interfered with.

The Times sums it up:

It’s all part of a widespread Republican effort to restrict the voting rights of demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic. Blacks, Hispanics, the poor and the young, who are more likely to support President Obama, are disproportionately represented in the 21 million people without government IDs. On Friday, the Justice Department, finally taking action against these abuses, blocked the new voter ID law in South Carolina.

With the challenge to the SC law and other fights around the nation, Americans are winning small victories to restore voter access for all:

Many students have taken advantage of Election Day registration laws, which is one reason Maine Republicans passed a law eliminating the practice. Voters restored it last month, but Republican lawmakers there are already trying new ways to restrict voting. The secretary of state said he was investigating students who are registered to vote in the state but pay out-of-state tuition.

The major problem with these tactics is that they work.

In the long run, they create a bitter distaste for voting among young people and depresses their representation.

We need to fight to turn this around.

-Chris

December 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Posting Schedule

All,

I usually try to post something each weekday, but in the midst of the holiday season, I am extremely busy.

I will try to return to regular posting after the New Year begins.

-Chris

December 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“Alien” Prequel Trailer!!

I don’t think geeks like myself have had as good a year as 2012 promises to be since 1982.

We’ve already seen trailers for “The Avengers“, “The Hobbit“, “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises” and today, the premiere of the trailer to “Prometheus” — Ridley Scott‘s return to the “Alien” universe.

Tight wraps are being kept on the plot for this one, but as the trailer evidences, it is definitely a prequel of sorts to “Alien”.

Judging from the trailer, atmospherically the art design and cinematography seem just right to bring this horror back to the screen — with or without the xenomorphs that made the original franchise so iconic.

Check it out:

“Men In Black III”, “The Amazing Spider-Man“, “The Hunger Games“, and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” round out more of the releases I am anticipating for next year.

I should buy stock in popcorn.

-Chris

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“PolitiFact” Panders, Loses All Credibility

The Tower of Lies

Here’s a  fact.

Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced a plan to eliminate Medicare as we know it, and replace it with a voucher system to purchase private insurance.

This is indisputable. It is the essence, the core of the Ryan Plan.

Yes, he still wants to call the new plan “Medicare”,  but in fact it is not the same system at all.

Enter PolitiFact.

PolitiFact is a website run by the St. Petersburg Times that purports to distill the truth from political rhetoric.

The site acknowledges that the Ryan plan replaces the current Medicare system with a voucher scheme, but then puts a semantic twist on their delivery. Referring to Democrats:

• They used harsh terms such as “end” and “kill” when the program would still exist, although in a privatized system.

Democrats, slowly standing from their normal posture of fetal cowering, challenged Ryan on the plan and ran several ads stating that Republicans are seeking to end Medicare as we know it.

Admittedly, some were hyperbolic — exuberance born of the realization that the GOP had handed them a gift, but exaggerations aside, the core of their argument was sound.

 Unfortunately, PolitiFact has gotten trapped in the wrong-headed media notion that balance means criticizing both political parties in equal proportion — regardless of whether one side is telling the truth less often, and in more material ways.

In many instances, they have consistently bent over backwards to nitpick  semantics when the essential truth of Democrat’s claims is undeniably true.

The nail in PolitiFact’s coffin is their “Lie Of the Year 2011″:

A complicated and wonky subject with life-or-death consequences, health care is fertile ground for falsehoods. The Democratic attack about “ending Medicare” was a pervasive line in 2011 that preyed on seniors’ worries about whether they could afford health care.

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly dismantles this piece of hackery:

It’s unnerving that we have to explain this again, but since PolitiFact appears to be struggling with the relevant details, let’s set the record straight.

Medicare is a single-payer health care system offering guaranteed benefits to seniors. The House Republican budget plan intended to privatize the existing system and replace it with something very different — a voucher scheme. It would still be called “Medicare,” but it wouldn’t be Medicare.

It seems foolish to have to parse the meaning of the word “end,” but if there’s a program, and it’s replaced with a different program, proponents brought an end to the original program. That’s what the verb means.

I’ve been trying to think of the best analogy for this. How about this one: imagine someone owns a Ferrari. It’s expensive and drives beautifully, and the owner desperately wants to keep his car intact. Now imagine I took the car away, removed the metallic badge off the trunk that says “Ferrari,” I stuck it on a golf cart, and I handed the owner the keys.

“Where’s my Ferrari?” the owner would ask.

“It’s right here,” I’d respond. “This has four wheels, a steering wheel, and pedals, and it says ‘Ferrari’ right there on the back.”

By PolitiFact’s reasoning, I haven’t actually replaced the car — and if you disagree, you’re a pants-on-fire liar.

As Benen notes, this is a straight up semantics quibble. If this is the lie of the year, where has Politifact been?

Paul Krugman joins in, and shares my conclusion:

The answer is, of course, obvious: the people at PolitiFact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they’ve bent over backwards to appear “balanced” — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.

Way to go, guys.

Exactly. Not a shred of credibility left.

Chris Mooney piles on:

PolitiFact’s move is especially remarkable when you survey some of the clear falsehoods that were almost lie of the year:

  • The economic stimulus created “zero jobs.” — The National Republican Senatorial Committee and other Republicans
  • Scientists are “questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. … (It is) more and more being put into question.” — Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry
  • President Obama “went around the world and apologized for America.” — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney
  • The vaccine to prevent HPV can cause mental retardation. — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann

Notably, all of these big lies were uttered by Republicans. In fact, with the exception of the Bachmann example, they were uttered repeatedly by Republicans (albeit in varying forms).

All of this is a shame, because in the current heated political environment, a real straight shooter is needed to sift fact from fiction.

There appears to be an opening for that service.

-Chris

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re Winning The War Against Christmas!

The evidence from the Washington Times:

The Washington Times Holiday Card
 

I love the first comment:

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL. TOO BAD THE TIMES EDITOR DOES NOT LIKE TO SAY “MERRY CHRISTMAS”

-Chris

December 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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