Monday, August 13

Wicked and Bristling With Dots

LAST week we alluded to our upcoming AT&T U-Verse installation, which went by pretty painlessly Friday excepting an apparently standard glitch with sending email. In exchange we now have DSL (3 down, 1 up) and 190 channels of IP-video television, plus DVR recording of four shows at once, live pause, and a free year of all the premium channels that aren't part of the HBO universe, and I have just finished watching 71 hours of television.

The whole thing is an accident. I had recently explained the continuing dial-up misery of our existence to my Poor Wife (akin to explaining the difference between convection and conduction roasting to a vegetarian) viz, that our long-time service provider did not have DSL yet in Indianapolis for some reason, and that I had begun pondering severing a link that dates back to the mists of BBS dial-up. A few days later I was cooking dinner on a stove jutting at odd angle into the remains of our kitchen when she got a sales call, heard "DSL", and made an appointment to meet with a salesman the next morning. Next thing I know I'm dragging the card table up from the basement (the dining room table being buried under mounds of items that used to be in what used to be the kitchen), so the guy can whip out his laptop and start trying to sell me a replacement for cable teevee. Any other topic, save, probably, robot monkey household servants or a combination home cappuccino maker and mescaline factory, and I'd've thrown him out on his ear. As it was, I signed up greedily, and so far so good, especially since the math works out that we get this service for the cost of the old basic cable plus one of the two dial-up accounts, and we get to boot a dedicated phone line, plus we're rid of Comcast.

All this is almost enough to quiet the little voices in my head (I mean, the ones specific to this project, not the permanent consort) which have, as you might expect, been saying that getting more teevee is traveling in the wrong direction, and adding on occasion that I should consider that it takes twenty minutes now just to check what is on teevee in the first place, let alone the time spent in brain-softening "enjoyment". For a brief time they had been drowned out by a splinter group with a quite inventive a cappella rendition of "It may be the last advance in entertainment technology you live to see, and it's at least even money you won't be able to understand the next one, and you damn sure won't be reading the fine print on any diagrams six months from now. Drink up, sailor." This ended after a bit, but left me strangely elated, like good church singing; I've regained some of the old fondness for the seventeen cubic meters of still-halfway-organized videotape I've stashed in various locations around town. I'm not quite sure why that is.

It's too much teevee, and it's too much time spent working on the minutiae of personal emotional assuagement at a time when the world is going to hell faster than ever. On the other hand, when wasn't it? Plus I got to see several minutes of An Inconvenient Truth, which is probably about all I'd have wanted to see anyway, and without wasting any gas, although, to be fair, there's a Gogolplex three blocks away. Then again, at one point this evening I think I had my pick of four movies starring former Saturday Night Live funnymen, and none of them was Chevy Chase. In rebuttal (shut up, voices!) Comcast's most recent Allow Us To Yank A Portion of the Ugly Stained Rug You Rented From Us Out From Under You maneuver was to remove The Game Show Network off to Digital Cable Land and replace it with a sign saying There's No Longer Anything on Channel 34 You Drooling Apes. Go Ahead, Choose Another Cable Company. P.S. You Can't. Ha Ha Ha. And without the newly returned GSN I wouldn't have realized that Dennis Miller's New Last Career Move is to co-host an in-house Game Show Network Production. Co-host. Maybe Kennedy should have warned him.

(Is the standard right-wing best-seller sinecure not enough money for Dennis? Is this Objectivism in action? Z-List=Z-List? Tell me, does Howard Roark wind up supervising Stuckey's remodels for the Southwest Region? Really, tell me. I never finished it. Which is not surprising, since I never started it, either.)

The channel line-up is, briefly, every cable channel there is, plus the west coast feeds. This means I now have Sundance, BBC-America, Sleuth, IFC, Military History, and a half-dozen things I haven't discovered yet. I get two gay channels, which is only one fewer than the number of country music channels I was receiving as recently as last Thursday. I can order, a la carte, TV Japan, which means if I can find somebody who reads Kanji I'll be able to tape every Sumo honbasho. Please do not tell my wife this, as I've already begun hinting I needed to learn Japanese for professional development.

This embarrassment of riches reminded me that I was among the suscribers of one of the earliest CATV systems (Bloomington, Indiana, caught as it was in a sort of no-man's market in the rolling hills between Indianapolis and Louisville) and one of the most tardy (Indianapolis, outside the old city limits, when the city, which had sold the rights in the late 60s, figured that this did not include the area it annexed in '68 and managed to sell a second monopoly to a different company). And I remembered how, once we finally did get big-city cable television, it provided about the same fucking number of stations as basic cable today, for something like one-third the price adjusted for inflation (kudos, Minneapolis Fed for the online consumer price index calculator). I think it's curious that, when we do decide that government-sanctioned monopoly is the only way to provide a service, we allow the "provide increasingly crappier service while costs rise faster than inflation model" to overcome any potential public admiration for the process. Think Post Office. Is there any earthly reason why Fed-Ex should kick the Post Office's ass? Do not tell me it's The Genius of Free Enterprise or Innovation Born of Personal Investment or any such nonsense (and not, for that matter, that the Postal Service is required to deliver all sorts of mail, either). No. When the wind is right there's a UPS plane over my head every two minutes all night long. Tell me the government couldn't have thought that up. No. The first guy who ever suggested that found himself inspecting the levers on those stamp machines they used to have in grocery stores, in Alabama, for the rest of his career. The government, or the people who manage its private monopolies, do not want the service to be too good, lest people start to ask why they don't go ahead and run gas stations and doctor's offices while they're at it.

I have no idea how cable is run in your neck of the woods, but I suspect "Poorly" would be the way to bet. For a while, when it was just basic cable plus whatever "premium" channels you forked out for, Comcast added channels at a rate just far enough above Glacial to keep subscribers satisfied. Once digital showed them a path to removing services in order to charge more for them in another guise they showed they could move a little faster. When the premium channels left the dial the channels were never reassigned; I think the old Cinemax number eventually became another shopping channel, maybe. They didn't even move anyone off the channels with really crappy reception. The last channel added to the basic line-up was FAUX News, whenever that was. As far as I can tell the only money they did spend went into annoying advertising about how the evils of satellite dishes is especially visited on stay-at-home Moms, and how your family would remarkably stop hating each other's guts the minute you bought their digital phone service. I think they might have had a little left over for lobbying against the phone companies getting into the cable business. As they would.

Central Indiana's other Chinatown, Geist reservoir, the area northeast of town where in the 50s the Water Company flooded an existing town so it could sell waterfront lots in a new one, was in a tizzy this week after a warning that the blue-green algae now covering what's left of the "lake" this blistering August is toxic. This resulted in some charming soundbite television, as many of the residents of this little slice o' Caucasian boating heaven blame the government for not dredging the thing so they'd have unlimited recreational opportunities paid for by the descendants of the ratepayers who built the reservoir under the impression it was, well, a reservoir. The complaints were often accompanied by some anti-property tax rhetoric of the sort that erupts when you gently squeeze a white person of a certain age anywhere in the Central Indiana region. The refrain is familiar to anyone who's listened to the idea that we could continue to send troops to police whatever we felt like policing forever, yet no one would have to serve. These same people want the nearby interstate expanded to relieve the traffic congestion caused by thousands of white people fleeing to the suburbs buying "lakefront" property along a glorified drainage ditch, in an area whose infrastructure was designed for the passage of the occasional tractor. I do have to admit, all that blue-green algae looked mighty impressive on my new IP-teevee. Gonna have to spring for Hi-Def someday.


Anonymous said...

Can't comment on the main thrust of your piece, as I don't have or want cable TV. But re: the Howard Roark thing: unlike anyone in Anthem or Atlas Shrugged (books exactly as putrid as you're assuming), Roark's an oddly compelling character who, no, would never have agreed to supervise the creation of hideous sprawl rather than, say, blowing it up or working as a ditch-digger -- both things he actually does, in the Fountainhead, rather than contribute to making the world ugly.

Roark is a fierce, creative monomaniac who - although Ayn Rand clearly doesn't realize this - doesn't give two figs about politics beyond the level of that Rage Against the Machine song that choruses "F--- you, I won't do what you told me". The plot sets him against the awful awful Federal Government, sure, but the only other compelling character in the book (or Rand's entire ouevre) is a charismatic, luxuriantly selfish, villainous magnate straight out of Socialist Realism. It's possible we're supposed to like him, but then, for all their philosophical lectures, Rand's books never were much for self-awareness.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Yes, Cable is just as crappy up here.

One word of defense of the USPS though: Fedex will not deign to transmit an item, regardless of size for less than around 18 bucks. The Post Office does it every day for less than half a buck. And gets incessant complaints about the price at that.

There's a difference in orientation there that explains a lot; when the USPS was imagined, it was the task of just delivering ANYTHING that was being overcome; Fedex is designed to do it overnight, but at a premium.

The Post office just delivered a letter to my office that was mis addressed. Wrong street name; everything else was correct. It had been mailed on August 10th. So it didn't spend any time languishing, which I appreciate because it was a sizable check.

D. Sidhe said...

I love the post office.

And tell the voices in your head to shut up and enjoy Sunrise Earth, now on Animal Planet in the non-HD format. Look, you have to control the voices in your head or you end up with two hundred plus of the little bastards and you think you have problems now...

Anonymous said...

The problem with TV is that it's not undifferentiated; some channels are worth watching, but, as intimated above, they all are in the process of migrating higher and higher up the cable ladder.

Network TV has basically become utter shit, with basic cable often reaching to heights I would call passable, and the premium stuff has channels I'd really want, like TCM.

Not helping is the trend of making cable channels as homogeneous as possible. I like cartoons, and ten years ago the Cartoon Network had a fine mix of new programing, as well as mid-60s stuff and your classic Warner Brothers Popeye Betty Boop type stuff.

Nowadays, they don't even rerun shows THEY MADE that were on 2 years ago. No, Those shows have all been moved to Boomerang, the spin-off network that used to be devoted to showing older cartoons, but now also seems to air all the old shows Cartoon Network can't rerun because they're too busy airing live-action movies like School of Rock.

And I don't have to tell you about MTV, right?

Basically, the freer a TV station is the shittier it is. So I'm not convinced that having super-ultra premium cable is necessarily a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Where I live, eight miles from a city of 150,000 (eleven miles now that our one-lane bridge has been condemned), they tell me I'm lucky to have electricity. Dial-up is 26K on a good day. Cable television? We get six channels. If it weren't for "The Simpsons" re-runs, there'd be no point in having a television.

USPS delivers every day.