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DEAR JON LETTERS
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Smoking Kids and the War on Analog Broadcasting

by Dear Jon
June 23, 2009

In February my family used free government money to give ourselves the consumer discount on a digital converter box. We tested it. We knew what we were in for: The little box wandering over the screen saying NO PROGRAM! or, even better, WEAK SIGNAL!

News Flash: The beauty of analog is that even a WEAK SIGNAL actually sends a PICTURE to the television. It might come in grainy, but it is there.  With the digital converter box, we were getting no programming at ALL from CBS or NBC, rarely ABC. PBS would come in like a frozen jigsaw puzzle, before cutting out again. We could not even pick up WGN, and we live in Chicago's northwest suburbs.

When the digital conversion was delayed to June, we were relieved. It meant a few more months of actually getting to watch golf on CBS, and Jim Lehrer on PBS, and Dancing With the Stars on ABC. (That last one is my mother-in-law's favorite.)

Dear Jon lives in Chicago's Northwest Suburbs. For those of you federal agents in Homeland Security who gumshoe for the Division on the War Against Analog Broadcasting, I want to go on record that I live in the middle of civilization, okay? In fact, my house is EVEN on top of a hill. But you have decided that what I needed was "progress." Please, track me down and come to my house, so that I may salute you in person.

Getting the news from the CNN website on the internet, which as of last week is the only way I can, I know that while a few Iranian progressives challenged the piracy of their national election, our President was signing into law even tighter measures to keep us from smoking. What is next? A war on saturated fats? I live in a state where smoking in public has virtually disappeared. No one smokes in pubs, clubs or bowling alleys. Now the President had to sign something else? What in the sam hill for?

As a tax payer I now own 60% of General Motors. I don't want 60% of General Motors. I want my money back. I have an idea. (It sounds crazy these days, maybe even lunatic fringe.) How about we limit our government's reach in consumer matters? How about we let corporate greed torpedo their own futures, so that while they continue to build gas-guzzling vehicles patterned on M-1 tanks, innovators in energy and efficiency can rise to the top? By the way, why hasn't Ford filed for government largesse and all the rest? I'd rather own part of Ford, and I'd rather that be my decision.

Speaking of owning part of Ford, how about we all remind ourselves that stocks and mutual funds and retirement accounts were NOT FDIC insured, and every person I ever talked to who sold me a "financial plan" always made it abundantly clear that I was taking a risk.

Remember risk? Risk called Europeans to board ships as ballast so that they could land in America, and then settle the frontier. Risk means that it is no tax payer's problem if executives in the American car industry decided to keep building Hummer Limousines when the future was tilting toward renewable energies and $4/gallon gas. Risk means that if banks are stupid enough to issue mortgages to poor credit risks, they deserve to go bankrupt no less than the borrowers deserve to have their homes foreclosed.

Duh? Did some nut-cases believe that it was an act of compassion to give a poor risk a mortgage? Is that what these fools were thinking? That all that these folks with sub-600 ratings needed was a hand up at 7.25% and payments of $1400 a month? And by the way, why bother checking that these borrowers are even documented and in the country legally? Dear Readers, I have an undergraduate degree in English Literature. I skated through a liberal arts college with a single math class. I took no accounting or finance courses. I am supposed to be the hippie freak bleeding-heart that doesn't get it about money and responsibility and all the rest. Even I can tell you that this system was broken as soon as it got started. "Anything to keep the housing boom going." Is that what you were thinking? Is THIS what was meant when the neo-cons talked about "de-regulation?" What on earth?

Is this making me UnAmerican? Will I become a person of interest to Homeland Security? Wasn't it Lenin, founder of the USSR, who thought that car companies belonged to "the people?"

Let us end the old-buddy monopolies and subsidies that curb progress. Let the electric engine come to the fore because real American innovators have the gumption to make it function and consumers have the freedom and desire to buy it. And by the way, how about we allow a free market in analog broadcasting again?

In the old days a movie came out called Network. In it a crazy old news commentator fuddy duddy --imagine Andy Rooney on Vicadin and steroids--becomes a popular hero by yelling into the camera: "I'm Mad as Hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

At first the television network capitalizes on the "let's be angry" fad. Then this crank becomes an embarrassment after a few months, so Faye Dunaway and the other network executives stage his assassination on a live news broadcast in front of a studio audience. It is a great movie and much more poignant than the next decade's Broadcast News, which was a good movie.

Turns out, our government is way ahead of our networks. They took that kind of protest right out of the picture, literally. Go digital! Get cable! Look at all these channels. Who has time to pay attention when we have so many entertaining things to watch? But not "Dancing with the Stars," not in a house on a hill a few miles from Chicago, a house which had gotten the digital converter box because we are good obedient citizens that did as we we were told. But we did not do what we were meant to do, which is, get cable.

Right?

Now someone has to Facebook being Mad As Hell. And then that can become a group. "Join the Mad As Hell Group, now numbering 4539 people! What are you Mad as Hell about? Tell someone you're Mad as Hell. Or Choose 'Ignore this Group.'"

Please wake me up on the Fourth of July--unless someone in Homeland Security is upset enough with me to stage my assassination. Here is a tip for you. Watch the movie Network. I'm sure it is digitally available somewhere. In the movie they used Middle Eastern terrorists to do the job of offing the fuddy duddy. Whomever they were, those screen-writers for Network were ahead of their time. Based on my column last week, an arranged death at the hands of Jihadists would even look plausible.

Because, for the record, just in case you are slow on the uptake: I'm mad as hell.




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