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THE TINY SCREEN: “I’ve Seen the Future, Brother, it is Murder”: -Leonard Cohen

Now that most of us have mastered the art of technology transition for our music – from vinyl to eight track to cassette to CD to MP3, now it’s television’s turn. Our government has set the date – we all have until February 17, 2009 to make the switch from analog to digital TV. The date was apparently pushed back from 2006 after the general public failed to catch on to the trend to go digital.

Even if you did prefer records to CDs, you eventually were forced to make the leap as the technology turned its back on you. So even if you don’t mind your analog TV, you’ll be forced, one way or another, to go digital.

President Bush hasn’t yet signed off on the measure (some time this week the Senate will hand it over), which was included in a $40 billion deficit reduction bill that the House passed, but it seems likely that he will, as the government will gain around $10 billion in a “spectrum auction” as part of the deal.

The legislation leaves room for the Johnny-come-latelys who would prefer to never even glance at change, much less subscribe to digital cable or buy a digital TV. Our government plans to offer subsidies to help people buy equipment to convert their digital signal to analog, though there will be no analog signals left for them to watch.

According to Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, this will put a hefty $3.5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses on the consumers but the House bill allocates less than $1.4 billion to compensate those consumers. The Consumers Union estimates that the cost of each converter box is $60 and that the vouchers the government is promising people only cover $40. The Union forecasts the public being forced to absorb $ 2 billion.

“We’ll continue to work hard to educate consumers about the transition and to help prepare all Americans for the 2009 transition date,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow said in a statement.

So, if you’re paying attention, the idea here is that going digital will give our government a chance to help crawl its way out of debt. And at the same time, once we’re all on the same page technologically we will be easier for advertisers to reach, easier to study as a group, easier to herd. Or perhaps it’s not so dramatic as that.

“This is very valuable spectrum,” Max Weise, principal with Adventis, a Boston-based consulting firm told RedHerring.com. “It comprises frequencies that lend themselves to next-generation broadband services such as WiMAX. A lot of people are going to be affected by this, including the average consumer who does not have a clue that this is going on.”

If you’re already getting digital cable you won’t have to worry as nothing much changes. But everyone else will soon need a converter box to watch all TV, including free TV. And isn’t that going to be fun? Just imagine how hard it is to get your social security card and your passport – to say nothing of birth certificates and welfare checks. Oh, we love dealing with our government, don’t we? Bring on the voucher, bring ‘em on!

And, speaking of scary developments, according to a statement emailed yesterday by Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic party, “George Bush is using the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance on American citizens without a court order.”

According to legal scholars, this is specifically against the law. Bush says political appointees in the Justice Department outlined the legal authority to get around the restrictions in our laws and the Constitution, but those legal memos are classified.

I just added my name to a formal Freedom of Information Act request to see these documents as we need to know if the president broke the law, and where this administration thinks the line of its authority is.

If you agree, you can add your name to the Freedom of Information Act request here:

www.democrats.org/page/petition/domesticspying/fdtzvv

Notable TV This Week

Thursday, December 22

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (**), 8 p.m., FAM.

America’s Tsunami: Are We Next? 9 p.m., DISCOVERY.

Shakespeare in Love (****), 8:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

The Thing (***), 8 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Friday, December 23

Like Mike (**), 8 p.m., KTLA.

Ice Age (***), 8 p.m., FOX.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (***), 8:30 p.m., FAM.

Forrest Gump (***), 9 p.m., TBS.

Saturday, December 24

It’s a Wonderful Life (****), 8 p.m., NBC.

Hollywood Christmas Parade, 8 p.m., KTLA.

Arthur’s Perfect Christmas, 9 p.m., KCET.

I’ll be Home for Christmas (**), 9 p.m., ABC.

Sunday, December 25

Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas, 8 p.m., TOON.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, 8 p.m., DISNEY.

Finding John Christmas, 9 p.m., CBS.

Two-Lane Blacktop (**), 10 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Monday, December 26

High Society (***), 7:30 p.m., TCM.

Shakespeare in Love (****), 7:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

Vanilla Sky (**), 8 p.m., BRAVO.

That’s Entertainment (***), 9 p.m., TCM.

Tuesday, December 27

One True Thing (**), 8:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

Frontline: Diet Wars, 9 p.m., KCET.

The Kennedy Center Honors, 9 p.m., CBS.

Honeymoon in Vegas (***), 10 p.m., AMC.

Wednesday, December 28

Thunderball (***), 7:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

Windows to the Sea, 8 p.m., KCET.

Criminal Minds, for those of us shameless about our Mandy Patinkin love, 9 p.m., CBS.

Pacific Heights (**), 9 p.m., OXYGEN.

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