Ghosts of Predictions Past and Future

Here's a look at a few I made in 2003 that don't really look so bad now. And I'll kick off 2004 with a few more

By Thane Peterson

Writing a weekly column can swell a person's head. Take this column. When my editor asked me to make some predictions about 2004, my first response -- at least in my mind -- was, "Well, as I said in a recent column...." So I decided to go back over old columns of 2003 to see what I had already predicted. Here are how some bold opinions turned out, plus some additional predictions for the new year.

A Liberal Rush.

A liberal nationwide radio network will be launched in time to affect the 2004 Presidential campaign. Author/comedian Al Franken, who has been in talks with a group trying to organize the channel, said Dec. 15 that it may start up as early as March. Franken is considering hosting a three-hour daily talk show. The original idea for the project, with backing from a wealthy Chicago couple, never got off the ground. Now it has been given new life by a group headed by Mark Walsh, a former AOL honcho.

Will it work? Depends on execution. But the best-selling books by liberals like Franken show that an audience exists for this point of view (see BW Online, 9/23/03, "Al Franken's Left Hook to the Right"). Liberal shows also would have no shortage of good guests: When was the last time you heard an articulate actor, designer, artist, musician, or other cool creative person on the Rush Limbaugh Show? Those people tend to be progressive in their thinking. If liberal radio takes off, look for a left-leaning cable-TV channel to follow. Al Gore, among others, has been pursuing that idea.

Older Women Will be Hot (Literally and Figuratively).

This trend is rapidly gaining momentum. Rebecca Ramos, Playboy's January, 2003, Playmate, was its oldest ever. She was all of (gasp!) 35 when she appeared. Diane Lane, who turns 39 in January, did some unforgettably steamy sex scenes with a much younger French guy (played by Olivier Martinez) in the 2002 movie Unfaithful, winning a 2003 Oscar nomination for her performance. Demi Moore, 41, hooked up with fellow actor Ashton Kutcher, who is 16 years her junior.

Now, Diane Keaton, 57, does a full-frontal nude scene in the new movie Something's Gotta Give -- in which her character has the choice of two guys, an old one played by Jack Nicholson and a young hunk played by Keanu Reeves (see BW Online, 12/16/03, "Aging Women: Movies' Golden Oldies"). At this rate, by the end of 2004, 80-year-old women will be dating 20-somethings in the arts -- and looking good doing it.

Beware of Bears.

Terrible as this prediction is, somewhere within 150 miles of New York City, someone is going to be mauled, perhaps even killed, by a bear. Amid protests and lawsuits from animal-rights groups, New Jersey in 2003 allowed its first bear hunt since 1970 to stem a rash of bear break-ins in suburban homes, trash-can raids, and attacks on livestock in the northwest part of the Garden State. By Dec. 13, when the hunt ended, 328 bears -- or about 10% of the state's estimated total -- had been killed.

Alas, that won't be enough. The bear population has continued to soar in neighboring Pennsylvania and New York, despite routine annual hunts (see BW Online, 6/24/03, "A Storm Is Bruin"). In Pennsylvania, their numbers have more than tripled in two decades, to an estimated 15,000. And there's no guarantee New Jersey will have another hunt in 2004. Some speculate that Democratic Governor James McGreevey -- who as a candidate had called for a moratorium on bear hunting -- may suffer politically for allowing this year's hunt.

Unfortunately, something has to give as bear and humans encroach on each other's turf -- and it may take more hapless people losing chance encounters with the animals to tip the scales again toward thinning the bear population.

The Wire Catches Emmys.

Earlier this year, I called HBO's The Wire, which enters its third season in 2004, "The Best TV Show Ever?". At its peak, it's every bit as innovative and compelling as The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, both of which have been showered with Emmy awards. If The Wire's third season is anywhere near as good as the first two, it will finally get the recognition it deserves in 2004.

An Oscar Nomination for Coppola.

No, not Francis Ford Coppola. In 2004, his daughter, Sofia, will be the first American woman ever to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar for her wonderful new movie Lost in Translation (see BW Online, 10/21/03, "A Lot to Be Gained in Translation").

Will she win? She certainly has the right pedigree. And Hollywood will be sensitive to women's issues in wake of the embarrassing groping allegations leveled against Arnold Schwarzenegger, one if its own. But she remains a long shot, given the stiff competition from male directors such as Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Peter Weir (Master and Commander), Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy), and Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain).

The Blues Get a Sales Boost.

Defying a fall-off in CD sales overall, jazz CDs sold better after the airing on PBS in early 2001 of the Ken Burns series on the quintessential American music. With any luck, the blues will get a similar sales boost next year because of Martin Scorcese's recent PBS series on that genre, plus the companion book Martin Scorcese Presents the Blues (HarperCollins, $27.95). I, for one, have been rediscovering artists such as J.B. Lenoir and Howlin' Wolf  that I haven't listened to since college.

Buy American Will Become a Serious Movement Again.

Call me naïve, but I predict that the U.S. trade deficit, which is coming in at around $500 billion this year, will finally become a political issue with ordinary voters. People will start connecting this unsustainable drain with the flight of jobs overseas, outsourcing, and the steady downward pressure on the dollar.

More Americans will start wondering: Can you really have prosperity in an economy that imports nearly all its tangible goods and is almost entirely based on services? In my view, that can work only if international peace, cooperation, and free trade reign -- none of which the Bush Administration or Congress is pushing very hard right now.

New Cultural Icons Will Be Born.

Ever heard of Gabriel Fauré? If you haven't, chances are you will in 2004. New York-based classical violinist Gil Shaham has made a project of raising the profile of this French composer, who lived from 1845 to 1924. In October, 34-year-old Shaham came out with a marvelous CD of Fauré's music (Vanguard Classics, $15.99). It should bring a wider audience to both the composer and musician.

A composer to watch is Jake Heggie, whose first opera, Dead Man Walking, was a huge hit when it premiered at the San Francisco Opera in 2000. Heggie's new opera, The End of the Affair, an adaptation of a novel by British writer Graham Greene, opens at the Houston Grand Opera in March.

Other high-culture figures who'll get a boost in the new year include the painters Lee Bontecue, 72, and John Currin, 41, both of whom have well-reviewed museum shows up now, the former at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the latter at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Ditto for the late, great African-American collagist Romare Bearden as well as the late painter Philip Gustin -- the subjects of major retrospectives at the National Gallery in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, respectively. Look for auction prices and critical appreciation of their work to continue rising in 2004.

The Curses of the Bambino and the Billy Goat Will Be Broken.

The Chicago Cubs will make it to the World Series and play the Boston Red Sox. O.K., so I don't know anything about baseball. I'm not even a fan. But this fall -- for the first time ever -- I got mildly excited by the playoffs when the Cubs and Sox were actually in the running for awhile. I want that feeling again.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Peterson is a contributing editor at BusinessWeek Online. Follow his weekly Moveable Feast column, only on BusinessWeek Online

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

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