Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Atlas Shrugged - Round 2

It was over two years ago when I first read Atlas and it seems that my life has since been in an ever accelerating dive into Objectivism. It has been an interesting revolution in my life that, I'm sure as some of you know, has met with some interesting bumps along the way. Overall though, I am a much happier person who is standing on much more solid moral ground than I was before.

Due to this, I decided that I should read some new Rand and re-read the two that I had read before. Already this year I have put away "We The Living", "The Fountainhead", and just finished last weekend "Atlas Shrugged". It is amazing how much more I got out of these books now than I did before.

Atlas is fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone despite it's lengthy size. I remembered most of the plot as I was cruising through it but specific scenes and the speeches struck new chords. I am not usually an "emotional" person (by that I mean that I DO HAVE emotions, lots of them, but I usually don't reach the stage of crying very often), however, some scenes in Atlas really brought me to tears. (i.e. when Dagny asks for a volunteer crew to run the first train on the "suicidal" John Galt Line and every engineer and fireman puts their names in...damn that was good! Or, when Dagny overhears Rearden's wife insulting the bracelet he made her out of Rearden Steel at the cocktail party, then Dagny walks up and trades her diamond braclet for the steel one...I was cheering out loud at that point!)

I only have one complaint about my second experience with Atlas...I re-read it too soon. I am a believer that you have to separate times of reading and re-reading by at least three years so that you have time to grow, mature, and slowly digest what you know about the book. It also helps if you forget a little bit of the plot details. I should have waited another year, but I just couldn't resist.

I have a few favorite passages that are of current relevance that I will post on shortly... stay tuned.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mandatory TV Conversion

As I was working out this morning I heard on the radio that today is the day where all the television networks are forced to switch to digital broadcasting. I don't watch TV and don't even own one so most of this issue wasn't picked up on my radar but from my view this seems like another instance of the government stepping in to interfere in business and individual rights.

From what I gather, Congress passed a bill that mandates TV broadcast companies to only air programs in digital media. This is forcing many consumers to convert their old televisions to digital with a converter box and a convenient grant from the government to cover the cost of their conversion. So, everyone is paying for a few people to upgrade and receive digital TV. This made me ask a few questions:

Why don't the broadcast companies air in digital now, without this mandatory conversion? I have an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, and just like how digital cameras took over for film cameras it is simply more efficient and cost effective to broadcast in digital. (Most people don't realize this, but phone companies converted to digital years ago because you could get many times the amount of signals on one line as opposed to analog.) Well, I am assuming that the broadcast companies didn't want to convert to digital on their own because they would loose the business of people that only had analog TV's (the radio this morning said "millions of viewers"). So the decision to convert was a simple cost vs. benefit analysis for them: they could save some money by broadcasting in digital but loose customers. It appears that they chose to stick to analog.

But the story goes on from here. If Congress were to pass a bill that mandated digital TV and gave the consumer the means for automatic conversion (paid for by the taxpayers), then the broadcast companies could have their cake and eat it too. They could save money, offer more programs, and not loose any customers under the direction of Congress. Time to call senators!!

These are all thoughts that I had when I first heard about the issue, so I did a quick search as to why Congress passed this bill. Why was the public so ready to pay for these conversions so that the broadcast companies could reap all of the benefits and pay none of the cost? Here is what I found from the FCC's website:
"Congress mandated the conversion to all-digital television broadcasting, also known as the digital television (DTV) transition, because all-digital broadcasting will free up frequencies for public safety communications (such as police, fire, and emergency rescue). Also, digital is a more efficient transmission technology that allows broadcast stations to offer improved picture and sound quality, as well as offer more programming options for consumers through multiple broadcast streams (multicasting). In addition, some of the freed up frequencies will be used for advanced commercial wireless services for consumers."

The first sentence is what is known as the "Bait", the second and third sentences are known as the "Switch". Techniques commonly used by marketing and used car salesmen. First sentence hides the nasty medicine of taxpayer dollars, the next two sugar coat the pill.

I am upset with our congressmen apparently swallowing this first sentence without notice of the rest. This will "free up frequencies for public safety communications"? As with most of you, I grew up in the analog age where my afterschool cartoons were periodically interrupted by the FCC testing their emergency broadcast system. This seemed to work just fine. Are more frequencies really neccessary? Moreso, I think back to any of the emergencies that I have witnessed in my lifetime and it wasn't the emergency broadcast system that brought me the information, it was regular TV networks that would interrupt the programming for up-to-date news. They were the people that were on the ground after 9/11 interviewing people and airing presidential speeches. There might have been an FCC requirement to air some of the material, but any network would have lost viewers if they didn't because every American was glued to thier televisions. It was in their best interest to bring stories of emergencies to the proper audience because that is what people wanted and needed to hear.

This issue seemed to fly beneath most people's radars because there wasn't a lot of the population effected (I think most people have bought a TV in the last 5 was probably digital already) and the overall cost of converting a million analog TV's is peanuts compared to the normal spending of the government. More disturbingly, people seem to be getting used to the idea that government is encroaching more and more into our lives and it appears to be alright if they use the words "public safety". We need to look at what Congress is doing more closely and start realizing that every foothold that the government takes is one that we will not get back easily. I have now conditioned myself to raise skepticism any time the words "public safety" are mentioned. It appears to be a good carrot to use when leading folks blindly off a cliff.

I'm Back...

Hello all,
I apologize for my incredible lack of posting the last month. I became very busy studying for an exam so that I can stay in graduate school. It surprisingly ate up my entire month of May and I am just now getting back into the swing of regular life. I expect to be posting more often (my goal is once or twice a week) so check back often. Cheers.