bunt sign

March 1, 2000

The world has gone mad. Just look at the news. Everyone has lost his mind. So many crazy things have happened that I hardly know where to begin. Violence, injustice, fraud and oppression are all over the paper. When you get past the people who are hurting each other, you find floods, volcanoes and disease doing their worst in all four corners of the globe. (Picture that.) Just beyond that fringe, there's still John Rocker to deal with.

But now the pervasive evil is affecting me. Our local cable provider has summarily dismissed the Bravo channel from its lineup and replaced it with SoapNet. Let me say that another way. Without warning its customers, Cable One has removed a channel dedicated to independent film and the performing arts, and replaced it with a channel that rebroadcasts the day's soap operas in prime time. Over and over and over.

As of today, no more films like Trainspotting and Agnes of God. No more Twin Peaks and Moonlighting. Inside the Actors Studio? Gone. Now, instead, we have the opportunity to watch One Life to Live and All My Children three times a day, at least. It's just the first day, and I suppose it's possible that they run the same four shows back-to-back twenty-four hours a day. That's certainly a worthwhile return on my bloated cable television bill.

If someone wanted to watch General Hospital and Port Charles in prime time, couldn't they invest in a VCR, with a one-time cost of about three months of cable access? I mean, if it's that important.

My God, SoapNet! Doesn't the name itself just sing?

And how did the subscribers learn of this travesty? Did the cable company send out a notice with its monthly billing? If so, I missed it, and so did everyone else I've talked to. The cable guide for March, provided by Cable One, still lists Bravo. The listings in today's newspaper still show the old lineup. We first heard of the switch by way of a letter to the editor in Monday's paper. That was followed with a column by our local observer, Gaye LeBaron, in Tuesday's paper. Wednesday's edition has an editorial complaining about the switch.

Cable One has a good reason, of course. They blame Disney. They tell us that ABC would pull its local affiliate off the cable system if they didn't carry SoapNet. Santa Rosa is a good-sized town, far enough from San Francisco that over-the-air reception is poor at best, so cable is the only option most of us can afford. We are, in other words, a captive audience at the mercy of a virtual monopoly. Customer feedback tends to carry little weight in that kind of situation.

Would ABC really leave our town in the dark? Doubtful, but we'll never know, because the cable company caved without a fight. Viewers did not, of course, get any input on what channel was to be replaced, since the company didn't even see fit to inform us that it was happening at all. The only explanation I've read as to why Bravo was chosen is that Cable One didn't want the religious crowd upset with them if they replaced The Inspirational Network. I guess they didn't want the folks buying sports memorabilia and Pokémon cards to storm their gates either, because they didn't choose one of the half dozen home shopping channels. (Of course, that wasn't going to happen anyway, since those channels provide revenue for the cable company.)

Is this worth ranting about at such length? Yeah, why not? Something that upsets people's lives in such an arbitrary manner deserves to get shouted down. Or at least shouted at. I have a friend who's 75 and semi-retired from show business, and part of her fixed income goes to pay for cable service so that she can watch Bravo. If it's unfair to her and no one else, it's still unfair. Someone in a corporate office somewhere flipped a switch and diminished the quality of her life.

I can go to the polls next Tuesday and cast a ballot against some of the injustices in the world, but there isn't much I can do about this except air my complaint. And cancel my service, of course, another option worth considering.

Since I've been wrestling publicly on these pages with my choices in the March 7 California primary, I'll make my final answer public as well.

A presidential primary whose results are a foregone conclusion serves no purpose unless it's used to send a message. That's why I've decided to vote for Al Gore. I do believe he would be a good president, or else I wouldn't vote for him. And I'd like the Republicans to see that they're facing a Democratic party united behind a strong candidate. I think it's time for Bill Bradley to admit defeat and pull out, but if he doesn't do it until after next Tuesday it might be an even better symbol of Gore's strength with the California electorate.

It's still a long time before November. Unfortunately, that means that the possibility of a G.W. Bush presidency exists, however distasteful that prospect is. In politics, the improbable happens often enough that you can't rule anything out. Although I think the nation would survive a Bush presidency (we've had—believe it or not—worse), it would set back most of the causes I believe in. And I made a pledge to myself not to give my vote to any of the politicians who dragged our country through the impeachment fiasco a year ago, which leaves out nearly the entire Republican party.

So my vote goes to the vice president. I can't see any way that another candidate with the right stance on the issues could become a viable force in the election between now and November.

No candidate is perfect. And the more you know about an individual, the more flaws you'll find. But I know enough about Gore to trust him with the keys to the White House for the next four years. And I know enough about Bush not to.

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