Saturday, December 25, 2010

Reel To Reel: Tron: Legacy

Time for an upgrade.

Going Rate: Worth full price and 3D.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Electronic violence, a few curse words

The original Tron ranks as one of my favorite childhood movies. It hit screens as I was programming a Timex/Sinclair 1000 in my bedroom and a Sanyo MBC-3000 in Dad's study. It's among the great geek movies, embodying the hacker catechism of free information and cooperative operating systems. But if you saw it as a kid, it was just a cool flick where people killed each other with glow-in-the-dark frisbees.

Tron: Legacy is to the original what Windows 7 is to 3.1. It's faster, sleeker, geekier, and optimized for 3D, although some scenes are shot in 2D by design. Tron began as an experiment in backlit animation which required multiple passes through an optical printer to render its cybercitizens. Scenes generated with help from a revved-up PDP-10 cemented its place as a pioneer in computer animation, but much of the film was analog: live action footage and sets. This is the recipe for the new Tron, but CGI has sent the optical printer to the spare parts bin.

When we left Kevin Flynn (Bridges), he had just liberated his company's mainframe from the evil MCP and gained the corporate position he deserved for writing some killer arcade games. But you know, some people just gotta have more. Turns out the cyberworld he freed was just too promising to leave alone, so he created a software utopia led by a code clone of himself named CLU. Flynn, though, continues to dart in and out of the system using a laser beam. I always wondered how that system was smart enough to digitize someone and put them back together without killing them.

So one day, Flynn gets trapped in his own system (again) and doesn't come home to his young son Sam (Hedlund). While Flynn lingers in cyberpurgatory, Sam grows up to be the kind of hacker his father would admire, gleefully ripping off code from Dad's enterprise, which has evolved or devolved -- take your pick -- into a Microsoft clone. Is Dad dead, missing, or just having a really long day at work? Nobody's really sure until his co-worker Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) gets a page on a beeper Flynn told him to keep by his side. To paraphrase a line from Ghostbusters, no human would send a page like that.

Sam decides to follow in his father's laser beam, leading him back to the game grid where, surprise, CLU is doing the same things the old MCP used to do: pitting programs against each other, gladiator style. We learn, however, there's a new twist: somehow inside the grid, an cyberorganic life form came about, something that's supposedly the greatest thing to happen to computers since the mouse. I have a feeling my system does that sometimes, but that's called a memory leak.

Tron fans, your old favorites are here with upgrades: the light cycles, the killer discs, the "Space Paranoid" ships or whatever they're called (a Wikipedia article calls them "Recognizers"), and the Solar Sailor. The new film adds light flyers, more neon, and a soundtrack from Daft Punk. Derezzing is messier; programs shatter like glass instead of dissolving into bits. Even with CGI, the movie embraces analog like a DOS prompt. It also embraces more than a few plot holes, just like the original.

This and Avatar are two movies where 3D is actually worth the extra three bucks. Tron: Legacy's world pops out and surrounds you, even if those glasses make the dark electronic world a shade darker. See it in IMAX if you get the chance. Better, see it with a geek who can explain it to you if you're not up to speed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pork Wars

The next big government fight is setting up over earmarks. One gigantic spending bill has already died. This one is pitting the Tea Party against the people they elected. As I have said before, one person's pork is another person's investment in the community. Even Ron Paul has waffled on earmark reform.

Three things need to happen, but they won't:

1) Make Congress vote on each individual earmark. No more "omnibus" spending bills that force lawmakers to take all or nothing. If spending $300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii is truly good for the entire nation, it needs to get a majority vote. Lumping the pork together allows your elected officials to hide behind a camouflage of disbursements they can honestly say they supported even as they held their nose at the rest because they had no way to cut it out. Furthermore, who wants to vote on an endless stream of earmarks? Breaking them up will cut the number down out of time constraints.

2) Give the president the line-item veto. If Congress won't reform its spending habits, it should be up to the President to step up and do it for them. Remember, the override still applies; if two-thirds of your lawmakers in the House and Senate approve an vetoed earmark, it goes through. All but six states have the line-item veto. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all asked for it. It's high time we got it at the national level.

3) Pass a balanced budget amendment. Maybe we could push this off in the past, when our national debt was below $1 trillion. Not anymore. But I don't expect our leadership to spend with one hand and cut off the other one. Many have tried, few have succeeded. Let's make it a law and hold everybody to their waste-reduction promises.

As I said, I don't expect any of these three remedies to catch on. Remember, we're dealing with Congress.

Hanging Up The Gloves

As I write this, President Obama is about to sign the tax cut compromise into law, the one that drew gripes for its deficit-inflating costs and its breaks for the rich. But ultimately most people weren't in the mood to fight with Christmas coming and the economy still stinking.

Libs are still fuming about the deal, saying they've been hung out to dry, betrayed, thrown under the bus, whatever metaphor you want to use, so the president can buddy up to the GOP. I have a different theory: after the prolonged fights over the stimulus and health care, your president wasn't in the mood for World War III. Having former president Bill Clinton stump for the deal should tell you something: if he's leaning on old Democrats to sell, Obama doesn't have much left in the tank, and he's trying to conserve what he has to get him through the next two years.

You can argue the prez is crazy like a fox, that he's simply using this as a second stimulus plan knowing he can pin it on Republicans if it fails. Maybe. Perhaps he's taking a course on triangulation from Bill Clinton. We'll see what happens when the GOP majority is sworn into the House and the new Republican senators get to work.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Card-Carrying Bachelor

White canopies winding around the parking lot of a shopping strip in Carefree mean the annual Christmas spectacular is underway. It's not unlike what I see at Tucson's Fourth Avenue Street Fair (and the same weekend, coincidentally): handmade jewelry, scented candles, sweets, government agencies doing some goodwill, a satellite TV dealer... and the “Big Skinny” wallet salesman.

A lone man with silver hair peddles a device that promises to slim your pocket device down by at least 50 percent, easier on the pockets even though I have none at the moment. I'm wearing my golden "Earl Of Suffolk" mid-18th Century outfit -- long weskit, skirted coat, knee breeches, white stockings, lace jabot, gold-trimmed tricorn, and no working pockets anywhere. My friend Madame Noire is clutching my right hand, dressed in her candy-striped 18th Century dress.

We've just come from the English Rose Tea Room, where I celebrated an early birthday lunch with soup and scones and a Christmas tea blend. When I ordered lemon cake for dessert, Madame arranged it so our servers carried it out to me with a lit candle and a song. I knew what she was up to, yet I didn't expect the involuntary blush response.

“Your face turned bright red,” she said with a warm smile. I marveled at how she could see it by the light of a single candle.

Now we were walking off all those hearty calories among the Christmas peddlers, occasionally walking into a few shops along the way. The owner of the local Tommy Bahama store insisted on snapping photos of our anachronistic presence. A lady at a salon invited us in for sparkling cider while she styled a gray-haired lady rolled up in curlers. I was content to just bask in the atmosphere until I met the wallet man.

I show him my aging tri-folded money receptacle. “Velcro,” he scoffs, unleashing his orneriness. “That easily adds to the bulk of your wallet.” He spots all the tears in the black canvas fabric. “And this,” he says, pointing to the plastic slip over my ATM card, “is no good.”

“I think you need a new wallet,” Madame remarks.

Wallet Guy recommends a four-panel model with enough pockets to hold all my charge plates along with the business cards I've absorbed over the past few months. He lets me try it out, and immediately I run into trouble as I start moving things over. The business cards don't want to fit into the pockets.

“Try putting them in corner first,” he advises. I do and they still don't slide in without a fight. I turn it over to the salesman and let him have a go.

“First, you oughta put those back here if you're going to collect them,” he says about the business cards, scolding me like a father scolding his offspring about the pitfalls of life. He stuffs them in the same pocket as the cash, and with a little work, all the credit cards are tightly shoved into the four panels of the wallet. It looks tighter but not necessarily thinner. I start folding it up into fours and the nearly gives birth to a heifer.

“No, no, no, this way!” he corrects, showing me how it folds into half. I'm not sure if it will fit into my pocket when I get one back.

“I think I'm gonna need a bigger boat,” I observe and motion to another, slightly larger model. I move my money and cards over for a second time when I notice I don't have any room left for coins. I pour a handful of change into the bill slot.

Wallet Guy gives me another hairy eyeball. “You're putting your coins in there?”

“They have to go somewhere,” I point out stiffly, reaching my limit. I'm purchasing a wallet, not curmudgeonly advice on what to put in it.

Before I walk away and spare him my wrath, Madame makes the save. “Here, try this one.” She shows me another style with an outside pouch for coins and numerous wider pockets. I slide the cards and money from one wallet to another yet again while Madame talks up our fashion statements.

“We love history, and he's a historical re-enactor,” she says. “He does Revolutionary War and Civil War, and he takes me out to dance.” She can't help but tell him how much she likes gentlemen who love elegant historical things like she does.

Wallet Guy shares some insight on his relationships, muttering that his women have “always wanted more” as I finish up arranging the bank plates in their generously spacious slots.

“Are you two married?” the man asks.

“No,” she answers.

“Why not?”

The question catches us both in an awkward moment. We could've fooled a lot of people, walking about arm in arm like a married couple, her gushing over me like I'm her dear husband, me discreetly kissing her hand every so often. We stand there speechless until an explanation dribbles out of our mouths.

“I don't think he wants to be married,” she says.

“I'm not ready yet,” I add sheepishly.

Of all the people to ask that question, it comes from a person who chides me for poor wallet habits. I pay for my early birthday present to myself, and Madame and I continue on our merry way, greeting and occasionally bowing to the people who pause to notice our festive fashions.

We stay as long as we can, enjoying each other's company and a cup of coffee away from the crowd until the sun sets behind the mountains surrounding Carefree. We don't discuss the future or our future together.

“I enjoy spending time with you,” she says. I kiss her hand again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Came, I Saw, I Said Nothing

Homeland Security is teaming up with Walmart to fight terrorism. "If You See Something, Say Something," is the theme of the campaign, referring to anything that could be indicative of some impending violent event. Yet the slogan is so broad, I could report dozens of irregularities without even leaving the store:
  • In the pet section, I find goldfish and guppies, but why aren't there any kissing gourami?

  • Why is Sam's Cola always understocked when I do my shopping? Granted, it's usually 11pm on a Thursday night, but the regular brands don't require me to crawl under a shelf to retrieve a 12-pack.

  • Why did someone let this car (at left) park outside?

  • Why, in a store that doesn't sell porn mags, is Cosmopolitan freely accessible right under the National Enquirer with article teases too racy to name in a blog that wants to avoid being caught in people's Net Nanny filters?

  • Why does the Walmart I shop at leave dozens of expensive cameras sitting out unguarded after 11pm, just begging to be lifted by some amateur thief?

  • Why is the staff constantly waxing the floor?

  • Why can't I use self-checkout in the late night hours?
And I haven't even mentioned all those suspicious characters documented by Warning: this site may not be suitable for your eyes, your workplace, or your stamina, but it makes my point. Click at your own risk.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reel To Reel: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1

He-who-shall-not-be-named strikes back.

Going Rate: Worth matinee price.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Fantasy violence, some teen sensuality

Walking out of the latest edition of the Harry Potter saga, I had a flashback to the second feature of the original Star Wars trilogy, the dark chapter setting up the big finish. The first part of Deathly Hallows is that kind of picture, although at times it also reminded me of The Blair Witch Project with scene after scene of young people fending for themselves in the wilderness against some unspeakable evil.

By breaking the finale in half, screenwriter Steve Kloves gets to do something his other Potter scripts haven't allowed: take a breath. So we spend more time absorbing the angst of Harry (Radcliffe) and his pals Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) as they deal with the weight of saving the world amidst teenage hormones and rebellion. I remember how cute and lovable these characters were as tweens in the first film. The last of that innocence is gone now.

The young wizards face a world where they can trust few people, if anyone. The Dark Lord's allies have taken over the Ministry of Magic, renovating it into a neo-fascist organization to repress muggles (non-wizards). It's printing up all sorts of propaganda and instruction manuals and summarizing everything in a disturbing monument labeled "Magic is Might."

Death Eaters are constantly searching for Harry and company, who have to disguise themselves at times using a potion that morphs them into other people. Hermione, always the spell prodigy, has also figured out how to make herself and others invisible without the cloak from the first picture. It kind of begs the question why she didn't figure that out sooner, but you have to remember, these kids are still in school.

While trying to outrun Death Eaters, the three protagonists also have to find and destroy evil lockets called "holcruxes" that give you-know-who his power. As you would expect, just finding and offing one is a job big enough for a single movie. Having one around you is also not good for your mental health, sort of the wizarding equivalent of Superman's kryptonite.

At times the picture seems aimless, but maybe that's because the Potter pictures up to now have been so heavily distilled that only the good parts are left. Or maybe the tone is so much darker and heavier. We don't even journey to Hogwarts this time around, nor do we witness a single game of Quidditch. News from the outside world is relayed to our characters through a special shortwave radio. It made me think of life in Great Britain during World War II. This... is London, with dueling wizards swarming around it and an axis of evil about to engulf it if all is lost. I've long theorized the Harry Potter series is so popular because it draws primarily from reality while weaving its tale of fantasy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Prancing Puritan Calls The Ball

A tale of making merry from the American Heritage Festival.

It is a less-than-formal affair, under the moonlight, between the rows of tents, with only a few candles to help us. But we have musicians: dulcimer, two fiddles and a bass, and a guitar. They don't know a lot of 18th Century dance songs, and I don't know a lot of Civil War dance songs. But I tell our dulcimer player that if she can give me something 4/4 and 3/4 when I need it, I can make it work.

"I am Christopher," I introduce, "better known as the Prancing Puritan!" I'm dressed to match in my brown tunic, baggy breeches, brown socks and a steeple hat. John Playford, that old English dancing master, was indeed a Puritan, if anyone needs reminding.

I lead the group through an opening promenade. People are still dressed in their Civil War or Colonial attire, although a young friend of mine has switched to Victorian formalwear and a stovepipe hat. We designate him and a gorgeous Georgian-era lady to lead the winding march through the narrow road.

I start off with the Gallopede. I picked the dance, and our players pick the tune. It only takes a couple of moments to teach because the steps are so simple: long lines forward and back, a turn, another forward and back, another turn, a do-si-do, a sashay.

I try "Come Haste To The Wedding" next, but that necessitates a crash course in 18th Century longways set dancing. It's the easiest Colonial dance I know, but it still has a progression many people aren't used to. I have to explain the details of "1's" and "2's" in the line.

"If you're a 1, you're moving down this way through the set. If you're a 2, you're moving the other way," I clarify, walking in the proper directions. And so, everybody must remember their number, if they even know that number in the first place.

"Why don't we count off?" a soldier suggests.

A great idea, I observe. Let us do it the military way.

"One!" "Two!" "One!" "Two!" "One!" "Two!" "One!" "Two!"

Our players didn't have the tune I was used to for this dance, but it didn't matter. Neither did the way people mixed up the steps among the right- and left-hand stars and turns and circles. Everybody looked like they were having fun, and I kept calling it to keep everybody on pace, walking around the long set like Mills Lane refereeing a heavyweight fight.

"It's a rowdy crowd," a friend tells me quietly. "We have a lot of kids who aren't listening."

Of course they're rowdy. They want foot-stomping action, not elegant affectations. I threw in a Colonial Dance to honour our Colonial friends, but now that tribute is done... for good.

"How about something easier," I announced, "like 'Chase The Squirrel!'"

We dance it next, and everybody is back into it.

"Can we have a waltz? a young lady asks.

"Of course," I say.

I throw in a waltz to the tune of "Ashkotan Farewell."

The rest of the dance card reads like a list of We Make History ball favorites: "The Apple Dance," "Virginia Reel," another waltz, and then "The Road To Richmond" before General Washington and the officers showed up from their social to greet us in camp.

"For our prancing Puritan!" says General Washington as he tosses me a bag of kettle corn.

What follows is a moment of supreme peace, where we sing Christmas Carols and give thanks for all we have and all who are participating in the historic weekend.

The Kids Are All Right

A tale of triumph over shortcomings on School Day at the American Heritage Festival.

Two Continental Soldiers will have to do the work of four or eight today.

We are on the battlefield, George Washington to my side along with our Sergeant and two buckskinners. We have no standard bearer. We have no French commander. We barely have any militia to help us. Across the field are our friends the Catalonian volunteers, transforming into the role as Brunswickers -- German regulars fighting for Great Britain. The Redcoats have vanished.

"We've got a breakthrough," Gen. Washington notes. An overflow of children is spilling out onto the battlefield in back of the Brunswicker artillery. They're filling in along the fence, out of the way, but not out of danger unless we take extra care.

Hundreds and hundreds of young spectators are in the bleachers and behind the rope pennant line. They are already rooting us on, cheering from the second we stepped onto the battlefield.

"Wash-ing-ton! Wash-ing-ton! Wash-ing-ton!"

His Excellency is quick to encourage them, and never disapproving of their enthusiasm. We'll take the support. We'll take a few artillery pieces, too.

The Sergeant and I have just spent more than an hour answering questions from the waves of children roaming through the camps with their teachers and parents.

"Does that gun fire?"

"What's in that box?"

"How much does that gun weigh?"

"Who are you?"

"When did the war end?"

"What side are you on?"

"Are you gonna get killed?"

A few of the youngsters carry papers with them, doing class assignments in the field.

"Describe the Continental Army Soldier," one reads to me.

"What do you see?" a teacher prompts. It's a good prompt for me to talk about my uniform, the red white and blue with the white weskit, breeches and stockings topped with a tricorn. "This was worn in the early part of the war," I explain. "Eventually soldiers would wear overalls." Not me. I prefer my breeches, even if they've shrunk considerably since the first time I put them on five years ago. A gusset sewn in by a kindly schoolteacher has relieved the tension and protected my circulation, even if they are a tad baggy.

As always, though, the children want to know about the musket: what it shoots, how it shoots, what I pour down the barrel to make it fire. If the colorful uniform doesn't attract them, the silver shine of the musket will catch somebody's eye in a flash.

"And it came from the French, along with this uniform."

It's a tip of my cocked hat to our friends the French, Le Comte and La Comtesse, manning their tent and explaining what their aristocratic airs have to do with the American Revolutionary War. Le Comte takes delight in showing the children his special cane, the one with the built-in spyglass.

If we had it with us now, maybe would could spot the Brunswickers' weaknesses from far, far, away. Instead, we will have to be content to send our buckskinner militia forward to taunt and annoy them with a few shots before we advance and achieve the equivalent of a shorthanded goal.

BOOM! Their artillery fires first. We will wait to start our march until our cannons respond. One more boom and we're off.


I know the drill and I've done it many times. Tear open the cartridge, dump some in the pan, dump the rest down the barrel and come to the ready.

"Take aim! Fire!"


Nothing. Not even a pan flash. I've just put a new flint in my beloved 1777 French musket, and this is how it shows appreciation. "Misfire," I whisper.


I fake going through the motions again for the children. I need to ham it up. They're rooting us on and they deserve everything I can give them, but I don't need to double load.


Click. No spark. "I have a flint issue," I whisper. The kids don't notice, but I can only hope. I'm timing my actions to make it look like I fired, even if I didn't.


More pretend motions.



"We need to take a hit on this next volley," His Excellency indicates.

"I got it," I said.

"After this next volley," says the sergeant. One adversary fires, but then he falls back. I'm still loaded and going down doesn't seem right now. Or perhaps I want just one more crack.



HUZZAH! An orange blast from the muzzle. One final shot before we move in on the Brunswickers and their guns. Somehow we've managed to take out their superior numbers. They're lying all over the ground, in front of the cannon, muskets by their sides. The children are cheering. Our mission is complete as we call for the dead to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. GOD Bless the Catalonians. They're willing to be our fall guys in the cause of liberty and education.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to stay and answer more questions from the children, having to change uniforms and leap forward 100 years to join my 1st Virginia compatriots for the next battle. Still a few crowd around me for high-fives and pictures as I leave the battlefield, eliciting a few healthy huzzahs.

More Continentals would join me on Saturday and Sunday, improving our odds and evening the lines, but that fickle flintlock would continue to torment me with its clicking. I would fiddle with flints and muse about the lack of spark. Even Baron von Steuben couldn't solve my soldiering dilemmas, all the more reason I count my blessings among an understanding brotherhood of the Continental Line.

Remember This Moment

Photos by M. Cynecki

Anybody who warned of Confederates bearing gifts never met me at the Victorian Christmas Ball. Slung around my shoulders is a haversack full of cards written out to every family I can remember who touched my life in some way during the past year. The process is like a rosary, counting blessings and prayers in ink before the signature.

I flirted with the idea of coming in my kilt -- my Stewart tartan has a better Christmas look and feel. Yet I know I'll be summoned to take part in the annual 1st Virginia Christmas skit, which requires the proper attire. One must sacrifice. And yet the gray wool doesn't reflect the joy of the season or the light which I long to be.

Coffee has lifted my energy, but man doesn't live by Folger's alone. It takes something more to dance every number on the card: "House Of Burgesses," "Chase The Squirrel," "The Road To Edinburgh," "The Cookie Dance," "The Candy Cane Dance," a Virginia Reel and then another Virginia Reel... thirty... minutes... long.

"It's the hardest dance I've ever done," my friend and partner Madame Noire observes. She cannot believe my stamina. I can hardly stand at times, but I will endure.

"There's harder dances," I point out, noting she took to contra dancing with barely a catch.

"All the hoopskirts," she notes. She is fascinated by how the Victorian ladies carry themselves so well through so much liveliness and still stay so beautiful.

This time of year kicks off a holiday madness we beset upon ourselves, a whirlwind of shopping and parties and decorating and giving and serving. You would think such a gargantuan level of celebration would connect more of us to JESUS, like it's supposed to. Yet New Year's Day rolls around, and by mid-January we're unplugged once more in the fields of frost and snow, fully exposed to the emptiness of winter when so much is dead around us, including our spirits. The job is done, and we're exhausted, depleted people. Our work is finished until next November.

"Do you decorate for Christmas?" a friend asks.

"Not really," I explain, then correct myself. "Not at all. First, I just don't have the storage space in that apartment for all the decorations, and even if put up a tree, it doesn't have all the decorations my brother and I made as kids all those years ago. Some of those are paper, and I don't know how they continue to hold up. My parents' home is where the tree is." And also the manger scene, and the winter town on the fireplace mantle with the stockings hung in the other room, and the holly and the lights wherever they may fit.

Great joy, true joy, comes from above... and from a few lively dances, dear words to dear friends, and the warmth of all of us caroling together.

"Silent night... Holy night... "

"Take a look at all the people around you," our host says, "and remember this moment."

Friday, December 3, 2010

We Are In Control - Do Not Adjust Your Sets

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps laments the state of television news, telling the BBC it's in "grave peril." Peril for him, perhaps, but let's dig a little deeper.

As quoted in the L.A. Times:
American media is not "producing the body of news and information that democracy needs to conduct its civic dialogue," Copps said in an interview with the BBC's Katty Kay. That trend, he added, has to be reversed or "we are going to be pretty close to denying our citizens the essential news and information that they need to have in order to make intelligent decisions about the future direction of their country."
I have to chuckle a bit. Obviously Copps hasn't been watching the cable news opinion shows. Of course they're partisan. Of course the hosts have their agendas, but they're talking up hot issues with plenty of viewers, who are watching and hungry for more. And what about the Internet?
Though Copps acknowledges there is much to celebrate, he notes, "Increasingly, the private interests who design and control our 21st century information infrastructure resemble those who seized the master switch of the last century’s communications networks." Furthermore, he argues that though there may be many more platforms both on TV and online, the news itself is coming from fewer sources.
Er, Mr. Copps, you ever hear about bloggers? Last I heard, most of them weren't controlled by big media. This blogger isn't, either.
In his remarks [to Columbia University], Copps paints a grim picture of today's media. He notes that more than half of the 50 states have no full-time reporter covering Capitol Hill. He cites a study by the USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism's Norman Lear Center showing that the average 30-minute local news broadcast has less than 30 seconds devoted to local government news. (The research was focused on Los Angeles news broadcasts.)
Here we have an assertion formed by somebody who doesn't work in the business and doesn't understand it.

First, many local stations don't have a Capitol Hill reporter because they don't need one. The Associated Press and the network news services provide adequate Capitol Hill coverage with little extra expense. You may argue that having your own man in Washington will provide you with the ability to localize a national issue, but you don't have to have a Washington bureau to do that.

Secondly, shouldn't any study of government coverage in local newscasts focus on places in addition to Los Angeles? In Tucson, KOLD News 13 gives an average of two minutes in the 6:00 newscast alone to government-related stories. We love our political specialist Bud Foster, and we're not giving him up. I work government stories into the 10, and the other producers do so with their 'casts according to news of the day. Imposing a quota system on government news content smacks of regulation... which is what Copps is aiming for:
Copps wants stations to commit to covering more debates and issues-oriented programming during election years. He also wants stations to be more in touch with the communities they serve.

Writes Copps: "Nowadays, when stations are so often owned by mega companies and absentee owners hundreds or even thousands of miles away — frequently by private equity firms totally unschooled in public interest media — we no longer ask licensees to take the public pulse. Diversity of programming suffers, minorities are ignored, and local self-expression becomes the exception."
Yawn. Here are the same old complaints from regulator types: TV stations need to be doing more "public service" programming. The companies that own them are too big. They aren't in line with the communities they serve.

When is the last time you watched one of those local Sunday morning public affairs shows? I'm not talking about "This Week," "Face The Nation," or "Meet The Press," but a talking-head interview show featuring a host, a guest, and a table between them. If you don't have one of these shows in your area, I'll let you guess why they're not on, and it's not because the evil conglomerated TV station wanted to suppress community voices.

Community service by a TV station is a highly malleable concept. Some people would define it as those public-affairs shows. Some people would define it as having "CSI" on three nights a week. Some would define it as providing emergency information. When we at KOLD break into programming for severe weather bulletins, we will often hear a few grumbles from viewers about interrupting "Oprah" or their favorite show. We work hard to minimize those interruptions, but we're still going to serve our community in ways people expect of us -- and our license requires of us -- while balancing out the desires of other viewers.

Ask a general manager who was around in the 70's about FCC regulations, and you're bound to hear about the grind of public-service and news quotas spiced with the perils of the Fairness Doctrine, all of which fly in the face of the First Amendment. The FCC essentially programmed part of stations' schedules under the justification that the public airwaves should reflect the public interest when there's a limited number of viewing choices.

All of us know those days are gone, decimated by cable and the Internet. We have the diversity and local viewpoints he's pining for, just not on TV like he wants, or in the form that he wants it. More regulation is a solution in search of a problem.