Fifty x Incompetence = Competence

It’s time to pick up the national switch to digital television once again since Congress is determined to somehow fix the problem by expanding the flaws of the transition plan.

Key senators have reached a compromise on a bill that would delay the nation’s switch to all-digital television from next month until June 12. A vote on the legislation is expected early next week.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, has been working with ranking member Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), to draft legislation that also would give consumers more access to coupons for the converter boxes needed to continue receiving broadcasts.

Congress set the deadline years ago, yet that wasn’t enough. Four more months will fix it, even though a trip into any electronics store will reveal more than enough converters. Obviously that isn’t the problem. The supply is there. But the price isn’t right, hence more “free” coupons. Why should anyone doubt this will be solved by June 12th?

That’s not my point, though. This is:

“The shameful truth is that we are not poised to do this transition right,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “We are only weeks away from doing it dreadfully wrong — and leaving consumers with the consequences.”

The “shameful truth” is that Congress can’t manage a transition to digital television that will cost the government (i.e. us) less than $2 billion. The outcome will be “dreadfully wrong”. This is standard operating procedure. But don’t anyone worry about the ongoing bailouts of banks and consumers. There will be no shameful truth in how Congress spends $1 trillion. Borrowing always solves a spending problem. Consumers will get only benefits there, we’re told.

It takes an active commitment to ignorance to trust Congress and the President. I can think of no other explanation.

Creating a Market in Coupons for Dead Technology

For those who can’t wait to have government take over health care and make it super fantastical and free, maybe another example will demonstrate the fallacy of this idea. The ongoing stupid party surrounding the subsidization of television as a right inherent in Congressional action protecting consumers from the forced national conversion to digital television continues with a new twist: Consumers have already demanded more $40 coupons than Congress authorized.

As of this past Sunday, consumers who request a $40 coupon to help offset the cost of a converter box are being placed on a waiting list. They may not receive the coupons before Feb. 17, when full-power television stations will shut off traditional analog broadcasts and transmit only digital signals.

Members of Congress are now scrambling to find ways to allocate more money to the program.

“We saw a massive spike in coupons in the past six weeks,” said Meredith Atwell Baker, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency within the Commerce Department that runs the coupon program. She said a record 7.2 million coupons were ordered in December, while the agency was expecting roughly 4 million requests. She urged consumers to make sure at least one television set is ready for the transition, with or without a coupon.

The government guessed incorrectly in its attempt to centrally plan the American television viewing method and failed to fund nearly half the unsurprising demand. When something is “free” (i.e. offered below market value), consumers will demand the service or good more than they would at the market price. Who knew? Yet, Congress is competent to predict exactly how many doctors we need? It can accurately predict how many maternity beds we need?

“[NTA has] left us precious little time to respond,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet. “They’ve created a mess by not admitting that there was not sufficient funding until the very last minute. So now we’re looking for creative ways of solving the problem.”

Perhaps if the market could respond to a signal as clear as rising demand, the price could rise to compensate for a finite supply. Nope. Just get in line and pray enough coupons expire. Or find more money for every critical demand, since every demand is critical. Somewhere.

It’s clear that Congress doesn’t understand the inevitable, arbitrary rationing that results when artificial demand intersects with finite supply. But health care will be different. Somehow.


Want to know why I’m not a big fan of consumer advocacy groups?

“NTIA is going to stop processing coupons precisely at the time when people need them the most,” said Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for Consumers Union. “Whatever Congress decides to do, it needs to be done as soon as possible to help people through this complicated transition,” he said.

When people need them most. Congress is throwing money around recklessly, with a potential $1,000,000,000,000 deficit for the fiscal year, and we’re discussing television as a need worthy of public subsidy. There is no way to advocate for that, unless the system is broken.

Biographical suggests reliance on history.

Warning: Although it’s semantically incorrect that revealing facts presented in a television show based on a biography of a historical figure as large as John Adams counts as a spoiler, this entry discusses how those facts are presented. If you wish to watch HBO’s John Adams and judge its merits for yourself before reading my impressions of the show, stop reading now. End warning.

I eagerly anticipated John Adams when I first saw an ad for the miniseries. It’s good, except it’s not. It’s compelling entertainment, as much of what HBO produces seems to be. But as history, it’s becoming quite clear that it’s at best a CliffsNotes version of John Adams’ life, and then only if sections of the CliffsNotes version were lost or cropped. Why?

The series leads the viewer to believe all sorts of strange interpretations of events that happen to be at best inaccurate. Events have been smushed together, with little things like periodic visits home being omitted. This may give dramatic tension to the filmed version of John Adams’ reunion with, separately, his wife and his children, but it has the inconvenience of being false. While I understand that turning a book into a film requires edits, alteration is not editing. The miniseries is poorer for it. As a result, my enthusiasm for the remaining three episodes is waning.

Worse, the end of episode four, “Reunion”, angered me. I can’t find my copy of David McCullough’s John Adams because we’ve temporarily piled our books into a closet as we remodel, so I can’t verify whether or not this appears in the source text for the miniseries. However, Mr. McCullough consulted on the script, so I doubt he wasn’t given a chance to comment on episode four’s conclusion, which involved the inauguration of George Washington. To be more precise, it involves John Adams’ reaction to George Washington’s inauguration, but it presents Washington’s oath of office to demonstrate the point.

The episode depicts George Washington reciting the oath in a quiet reserved tone to suggest the humble nature of a great man. After “…defend the Constitution of the United States,” Washington bellows “so help me God.” Are we really to believe that George Washington said this? What does Article II, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution say about this?

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Is it realistic to believe that any of the founders, having spent more than a decade to realize the fruition of a new republic based on limiting the power of government over the people, would deviate from a rule so basic as the oath of office as proscribed in the Constitution? I know our politicians violate the Constitution every day, but is anyone so morally defective that they’d blatantly do so in 1789, in this specific manner? (Yes, I’m aware that the First Amendment was not yet ratified in 1789.) If he was as smart as he must’ve been, would he overlook the absurdity of ignoring the Constitution while swearing to uphold it? And if Washington did add “so help me God,” would he essentially mumble the oath, only to loudly proclaim faith in God at the new nation’s birth? That’s inconsistent on multiple interpretations.

Personally, I lean to Kip’s view that the original appearance of this “fact” precludes any conclusion other than willful deceit. For a more cautious view, read Jonathan Rowe’s analysis.

Unfortunately, America’s founding fathers are misrepresented to push the Christian nation myth. They all believed in a single god, so clearly they wanted us to include God in everything the United States government does. We’re to ignore the controversy from not including a Bill of Rights in the original Constitution presented to the States, as well as the rather quick ratification of the First Amendment after the birth of the new Constitution. It’s ridiculous, but people want to believe it. And nonsense like this episode of John Adams encourages it. For example:

I hope this show can let some people remember that this country was founded by a bunch of men who were extremely religious [sic]

Even if that were true in the way that the writer believes, so what? Some of our founding fathers owned slaves. Are we to conclude that we should own slaves as a result? Or are we to conclude that imperfect men created a system of government capable of filtering human deficiencies from the exercise of power better than any other structure yet created? The text of the Constitution is sufficiently clear on this topic to know that the specific religious views of the founders are interesting but rather irrelevant to how we should operate today.

I’m offended. So are you.

The FCC creates an interesting concept [emphasis mine]:

The Federal Communications Commission erased nearly all of a proposed $1.2 million indecency fine against a number of Fox television stations yesterday, saying the Rupert Murdoch-owned network should be fined for airing an offensive television show only in markets where viewers complained about it.

Instead of ordering all 169 stations that aired it to pay the larger fine, the FCC ordered 13 Fox-owned and -affiliated stations to pay a total of $91,000 in indecency fines for broadcasting an episode of the long-canceled reality show “Married by America” nearly five years ago.

This action attempts to apply the (illegitimate) majoritarian “community standards” as the FCC’s guide. In reality, it now permits only the minoritarian requirement of one offended viewer in a community, with viewer defined quite loosely. This is not progress. The First Amendment still says what it says.

No right to digital television exists in the Constitution.

While watching television last night, Fox subjected me to a commercial about digital television from the National Association of Broadcasters’ digital television (DTV) transition campaign. Normally I could phase out and not care. But in the middle of the commercial, this:

That’s an interesting claim. Am I to take from this the idea that Congress is smart enough to know what’s good and what isn’t good? It’s marketing, yes, but people showed up to vote in multiple states yesterday where a primary won’t be held for at least a week. Anything that further cements in anyone’s mind that Congress’ central planning is wise and informed can only be considered detrimental. It shouldn’t be too hard to make the correct connection based on the commercial’s mention of the converter box coupon, a giveaway that most people don’t need and no one deserves.

Every broadcast is indecent.

Free speech be damned darned:

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $1.4 million fine against 52 ABC Television Network stations over a 2003 broadcast of cop drama NYPD Blue.

The fine is for a scene where a boy surprises a woman as she prepares to take a shower. The scene depicted “multiple, close-up views” of the woman’s “nude buttocks” according to an agency order issued late Friday.

The FCC is only attempting to fine ABC stations in the Central and Mountain time zones because they aired the show before 10 p.m. Even that logic violates the First Amendment’s “Congress shall make no law”, but okay, fine, at least the FCC is following one rule limiting its reach. But allow me to play semantics for a moment.

The agency said the show was indecent because “it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs _ specifically an adult woman’s buttocks.”


Function of the skin

The skin has several important functions, including:

  • Waste disposal. The skin is a minor source of waste disposal. Sweat glands located in the skin excrete waste products such as urea (a byproduct of protein metabolism) therefore eliminating them from the body.

Every actor on television violates the letter of the law by revealing an excretory organ. And every athlete during the Super Bowl next Sunday will presumably cause Fox liability by sweating, thereby engaging in an excretory activity. I will be complaining.

I’m engaging in hyperbole, but I’m not joking.

In an obscene requirement, ABC defended the artistic merit of showing a woman’s buttock, generating this response:

“The law is simple,” FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate wrote in a statement yesterday. “If a broadcaster makes the decision to show indecent programming, it must air between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This is neither difficult to understand nor burdensome to implement.”

But it is an unconstitutional burden. Apparently “Congress shall make no law…” is difficult to understand. I’m not sure how, since it’s only five words, and only the first has more than one syllable. Perhaps that’s the trouble. Our leaders representatives do not understand the word Congress because it is too complicated. Idiots, every one of them.

Take joy until Congress and the FCC catch on. Any time you flip on your television, you’re being exposed to indecent material. Naughty, naughty.

Exercising judgment is family-friendly.

Continuing on my last entry, in his essay, David Cross also writes about children’s movies:

I have not seen the movie so I can’t really comment to whether it’s an “evil” or “dangerous” “piece of shit “or not. The reason I haven’t seen the movie is because I am not eight years old. I am an adult and don’t see children’s movies.

Exactly my sentiments. If you’re an adult and like movies aimed at children, fine. If you’re an adult who has children and like movies aimed at children that contain more universal themes and appeal, fine. See what you want to see, skip what you don’t want to see. But don’t pander to me that family-friendly is more than a euphemism for children’s movie.

As the presidential election gets going today, it’s clear that we’re going to hear a mind-numbing count of references to family-friendly culture. Blech. I don’t have kids now, but I expect to at some point in the near-ish future. I’m sure I would take my hypothetical kids to family-friendly movies. But I’m not going to stop seeing movies that are family-unfriendly. Or television shows or books or music or video games or whatever else interests me. Rather than dumbing down my life and denying myself what I’m interested in, I’ll exercise a little responsibility to know what is and isn’t appropriate for children to view.

If that means playing Call of Duty 4 after the kids are in bed, so be it. But politicians need to stop pretending that I should deny myself Call of Duty 4 because it isn’t suitable for an eight-year-old. I, like most adults, am not irresponsible. I do not need the guiding hand of government to intervene for me to understand the issue or to make intelligent decisions.

It’s not someone else’s fault if you’re a bad businessman.

Right, Apple is the problem:

NBC Universal topper Jeff Zucker warned Monday that new digital business models are turning media revenues “from dollars into pennies” and revealed that NBC U booked just $15 million in revenue during the last year of its deal with Apple’s iTunes.

“Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content, and made a lot of money,” Zucker said. “They did not want to share in what they were making off the hardware or allow us to adjust pricing.”

So many points. Without Apple’s hardware, NBC likely would’ve made significantly less than the small revenue stream it saw.

Spare the story of oppresion, too. I doubt seriously anyone from Apple held a gun to Zucker’s head and demanded its content. NBC had to mutually agree with Apple for Apple to offer the video.

NBC seems to have expected an ability to adjust prices upward after customers became comfortable with downloading legal video. But in its woe-is-me tale of how Apple isn’t being fair, NBC also tries to discredit Apple by saying that the product that customers will pay 50% more than they’re now willing to pay didn’t sell well. Which is it?

Link via Wired.

I can (almost) die now.

I’ve mentioned a time or twenty-five that I love Alias. I’ve carried this love so far as to see The Paris Letter in New York, even though the Broadway cast did not include Neil Patrick Harris, because it starred Ron Rifkin, aka Arvin Sloane. The play was actually interesting, but that wouldn’t have mattered. With a primary cast member from Alias, my ticket purchase is guaranteed.

So it was with Cyrano de Bergerac. It does not star a primary cast member of Alias. During its 10-week run, it stars THE primary cast member of Alias, Sydney Bristow Jennifer Garner.

I purchased tickets the morning they went on sale for the first weekend, which happens to be this weekend. The show is in previews for the first two weeks, which meant there would potentially be “issues” with the show. That didn’t matter. Jennifer Garner. I’d pay to watch dress rehearsal, which turned out to be kinda what we saw. As Danielle recapped today:

… Kevin Kline basically carries the whole show, and is marvelous, but one man can’t carry an entire Anthony Burgess adaptation of the classic tale, y’know? At several points, when Kline wasn’t on stage or speaking, I felt like I was watching a high school theater club. After one scene change, the translucent curtain got caught and the entire production had to stop for ten minutes so some crew guys could come out and fix it. Quite hilarious and a first for me. We think we even caught Jennifer Garner starting to laugh. Even with all of its missteps and faults, the audience rose to their feet for curtain call, cheering Kline’s worthy performance.

Basically, the show is a disaster in its current form, despite the presence of Kevin Kline. The opening scenes desperately need a trim. The cast needs to act with each other rather than at each other. Someone needs to figure out how to operate the curtain. And so on.

But Jennifer Garner! And being a Broadway play, two more words come into play: stage door. I did not get an autograph like I recently managed from Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal while they performed in their return to Rent, but being up close was worth driving to New York to spend barely six hours in the city.

Witnessing Violence Against the Constitution

Here’s a reminder that politicians are the same, regardless of party affiliation. Politics is about power, to the exclusion of ethical statecraft.

The long-awaited Rockefeller TV-violence bill will be introduced before the August recess, says Steven Broderick, press secretary to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). The bill would give the FCC the power to regulate violence on cable and satellite, as well as on broadcast.

It will also likely require the FCC to define indecent violent content, a call the FCC punted to Congress in a report it issued several months ago.

He also is buoyed by the change in congressional leadership. A similar bill that Rockefeller introduced in 2005 did not go anywhere.

“Last time, Congress was under different management,” says Broderick. “Times have changed, and programming on TV has changed.”

Broadcast restrictions on cable and satellite will never hold up to court scrutiny, so it’s not worth discussing. It is useful as a reminder that politicians consider the Constitution a mere suggestion for legislating.

I’ll also be quite amused if the FCC can come up with rules for indecent violent content. It’s perpetually ignored such demands for verbal and sexual indecency, preferring the power option that allows it to threaten with unwritten rules. Also, it shouldn’t be the FCC’s job to set the rules. If Congress feels it should make such laws in the face of “Congress shall make no laws”, it should at least determine the specifics of its disregard. Eventually, that must fall to court review, as well.

With that out of the way, let’s look at broadcast schedules (remember, cable and satellite are irrelevant here) to examine Mr. Broderick’s statement that “programming on TV has changed.” The Fall 2005 broadcast television schedule:

  • 24
  • Prison Break
  • CSI
  • Law & Order
  • Bones
  • Ghost Whisperer
  • Criminal Minds
  • Lost
  • Alias

The Fall 2007 broadcast television schedule:

  • 24
  • Prison Break
  • CSI
  • Law & Order
  • Bones
  • Ghost Whisperer
  • Criminal Minds
  • Lost
  • Heroes
  • Jericho

If I’m reading that correctly, the only difference in the two schedules is the subtraction of Alias (boo!) and the addition of Heroes and Jericho. Comparing Alias and Heroes strikes me as an even trade on the violence scale, so Mr. Broderick is essentially saying that the addition of Jericho now justifies government regulation of television content. Does Sen. Rockefeller really want to hang this bill on that argument?

Link via Hit & Run