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Posts Tagged ‘FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION’

THE MEDIA–NOT ITS AUDIENCE–CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 9, 2017 at 1:18 am

In the 1992 courtroom drama, “A Few God Men,” Jack Nicholson, as Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup, utters a line that has since become famous.

When his prosecutor, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) demands the truth about the murder of a fellow Marine, Jessup shouts: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Related image

Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audience.

[WARNING: This column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]  

On February 9, 2016, businessman Donald Trump scored a new blow at his Rafael “Ted” Cruz, his closest rival for the Republican Presidential nomination.

Speaking at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump attacked Cruz, the United States Senator from Texas, for being unwilling to support the widespread use of torture against America’s Islamic enemies.

“He’s a pussy!” yelled a woman in the crowd.

Apparently a certain portion of the attendees didn’t hear–or misheard–the insult. So Trump–pretending to be shocked–repeated it for them:

“She said–I never expect to hear that from you again!  She said: ‘He’s a pussy.’ That’s terrible.”

“What kind of people do I have here?” joked Trump, clearly playing to the boisterous crowd.

Donald Trump

The incident went viral on social media. But all the major TV news outlets–for ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC–bleeped the word and/or coyly referred to it as “the P-word.”

It was as if they assumed their viewers would of course know what had been said despite the networks’ censorship of it. And if viewers didn’t already know what the woman–and Trump–had said, the networks weren’t going to enlighten them.

Of course, “the P-word” could just as easily have been “prick” or “pervert.” So it’s understandable that many viewers might have thought a very different word had been used.

No doubt the networks hoped to avoid offending large numbers of viewers.

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said. It should then be up to the audience to decide if the language was offensive–and, if so, if its user deserves condemnation.

The evening news is–supposedly–aimed at voting-age adults. And adults need–and deserve–the hard truth about the world they live in. Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Those who wanted to learn–rather than guess–what Trump had repeated had to turn to the Internet or to a handful of news source such as Vox: Policy and Politics.

In their defense, the networks could argue that the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates radio and television, does not usually permit the word “pussy” to be aired between 6 am and 10 pm.

On the other hand, immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks, all the major TV networks endlessly replayed the destruction of the World Trade Center, with the resulting deaths of hundreds of men and women.

Censorship, then, tends to center on two types of subject material:

  1. Sex, or “obscenity,” which is sex-related; and
  2. Race, meaning racial slurs that would offend some minority group.

An example of race-related censorship occurred during the short-lived administration of President Gerald R. Ford.

During a lull in the 1976 Republican convention, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates?

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Image result for Images of Earl Butz

Earl Butz

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby. When his comments became public, Butz was quickly forced to resign.

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism. Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print. Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information.

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain.

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination.

Forty years later, TV news viewers were again prevented from reaching their own conclusions about Trump’s repetition of the slur aimed at his rival.

Nor is there any guarantee that such censorship will not occur again.

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships. It has no place in a democracy–despite the motives of those doing the censoring.

The ancient historian, Plutarch, sounded a warning that remains timely:

“And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.”

In a democracy, citizens must be alert for those tell-tale expressions or jests. And this demands that the media, in turn, have the courage to bring those truths to their attention.

 

WHY AMERICANS HATE CABLE COMPANIES

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on July 29, 2016 at 12:17 am

In 1970, Robert Townsend, the CEO who had turned around a failing rent-a-car company called Avis, published what is arguably the best book written on business management.

It’s Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation From Stiffling People and Strangling Profits.

Though published 46 years ago, it should be required reading–for CEOs and consumers.

Don’t fear getting bogged down in a sea of boring, theory-ridden material.  As Townsend writes:

“This book is in alphabetical order. Using the table of contents, which doubles as the Index, you can locate any subject on the list in 13 seconds. And you can read all I have to say about it in five minutes or less.

“This is not a book about how organizations work.  What should happen in organizations and what does happen are two different things and about as far apart as they can get.  THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HOW TO GET THEM TO RUN THREE TIMES AS WELL AS THEY DO.”

Comcast is the majority owner of NBC and the largest cable operator in the United States. It provides cable TV, Internet and phone service to more than 50 million customers.

So you would think that, with so many customers to serve, Comcast would create an efficient way for them to attain help when they face a problem with billing or service.

Think again.

Consider the merits of Townsend’s short chapter on “Call Yourself Up.”

Townsend advises CEOs:“Pretend you’re a customer. Telephone some part of your organization and ask for help. You’ll run into some real horror shows.”

Now, imagine what would happen if Brian L. Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, did just that.

Brian L. Roberts

First, he would find that, at Comcast, nobody actually answers the phone when a customer calls. After all, it’s so much easier to fob off customers with pre-recorded messages than to have operators directly serve their needs.

And customers simply aren’t that important–except when they’re paying their ever-inflated bills for phone, cable TV and/or Internet service.

Comcast’s revenues stood at $19.25 billion for the fourth quarter of 2015.

In 2015, Roberts earned $36.2 million in salary, options and other compensation, a 10% increase from 2014.

So it isn’t as though the company can’t afford hiring a few operators and instructing them to answer phones directly when people phone in.

But instead of being directly connected to someone able to answer his question or resolve his problem, Roberts would hear:

“Welcome to Comcast–home of Xfinity.”

Then he would hear an annoying clucking sound–followed by the same message in Spanish.

“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.

“To make a payment now, Press 1.  To continue this call, Press 2.”

Then he would hear: “For technical help, press 1, for billing, press 2.  For more options, press 3.”

Assuming he pressed 2 for “billing,” he would hear:

“For payment, press 1  For balance information, press 2.  For payment locations, press 3.  For all other billing questions, press 4.”

Then he would be told: “Please enter the last four digits of the primary account holder’s Social Security Number.”

Then, as if he hadn’t waited long enough to talk to someone, he would get this message: “Press 1 if you would like to take a short survey after your call.”

By the time he heard that, he would almost certainly not be in a mood to take a survey.  He would simply want someone to come onto the phone and answer his question or resolve his problem.

Then he would hear: “At the present time, all agents are busy”–and be electronically given an estimate by when someone might deign to answer the phone.

“Please hold for the next customer account executive.”

If he wanted to immediately reach a Comcast rep, Roberts would press the number for “sales.”  A sales rep would gladly sign him up for more costly products–even if he couldn’t solve whatever problem Roberts needed addressed.

Assuming that someone actually came on, Roberts couldn’t fail to notice the unmistakable Indian accent of the rep he was now speaking with.

Not Indian as in American Indian-because that would mean his company had actually hired Americans who must be paid at least a minimum American wage for their services.

No, Comcast, like many other supposedly patriotic corporations, “outsources” its “customer service support team” to the nation, India.

After all, if the “outsourced” employees are getting paid a pittance, the CEO and his top associates can rake in all the more.

Of course, the above scenario is totally outlandish–and is meant to be.

Who would expect the wealthy CEO of a major American corporation to actually wait in a telephone queue like an ordinary American Joe or Jane?

That would be like expecting the chief of any major police department to put up with hookers or panhandlers on his own doorstep.

For the wealthy and the powerful, there are always underlings ready and willing to ensure that their masters do not suffer the same indignities as ordinary mortals.

Such as the ones who sign up for Comcast TV, cable or Internet services.

TREATING ADULTS LIKE CHILDREN

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 18, 2016 at 12:15 am

In the 1992 courtroom drama, “A Few God Men,” Jack Nicholson, as Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup, utters a line that has since become famous. 

When his prosecutor, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) demands the truth about the murder of a fellow Marine, Jessup shouts: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Related image

Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audience.

[WARNING: This column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]  

On February 9, businessman Donald Trump scored a new blow at his Rafael “Ted” Cruz, his closest rival for the Republican Presidential nomination.  

Speaking at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump attacked Cruz, the United States Senator from Texas, for being unwilling to support the widespread use of torture against America’s Islamic enemies.  

“He’s a pussy!” yelled a woman in the crowd.

Apparently a certain portion of the attendees didn’t hear–or misheard–the insult. So Trump–pretending to be shocked–repeated it for them: 

“She said–I never expect to hear that from you again!  She said: ‘He’s a pussy.’ That’s terrible.”  

“What kind of people do I have here?” joked Trump, clearly playing to the boisterous crowd.

Donald Trump

The incident went viral on social media. But all the major TV news outlets–for ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC–bleeped the word and/or coyly referred to it as “the P-word.”

It was as if they assumed their viewers would of course know what had been said despite the networks’ censorship of it. And if viewers didn’t already know what the woman–and Trump–had said, the networks weren’t going to enlighten them.

Of course, “the P-word” could just as easily have been “prick” or “pervert.” So it’s understandable that many viewers might have thought a very different word had been used.  

No doubt the networks hoped to avoid offending large numbers of viewers.  

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said. It should then be up to the audience to decide if the language was offensive–and, if so, if its user deserves condemnation.  

The evening news is–supposedly–aimed at voting-age adults. And adults need–and deserve–the hard truth about the world they live in. Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Those who wanted to learn–rather than guess–what Trump had repeated had to turn to the Internet or to a handful of news source such as Vox: Policy and Politics.

In their defense, the networks could argue that the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates radio and television, does not usually permit the word “pussy” to be aired between 6 am and 10 pm.  

On the other hand, immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks, all the major TV networks endlessly replayed the destruction of the World Trade Center, with the resulting deaths of hundreds of men and women.

Censorship, then, tends to center on two types of subject material:

  1. Sex, or “obscenity,” which is sex-related; and
  2. Race, meaning racial slurs that would offend some minority group. 

An example of race-related censorship occurred during the short-lived administration of President Gerald R. Ford.  

During a lull in the 1976 Republican convention, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates? 

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.” 

Image result for Images of Earl Butz

Earl Butz

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby. When his comments became public, Butz was quickly forced to resign. 

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism. Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print. Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information. 

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain. 

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination. 

Forty years later, TV news viewers were again prevented from reaching their own conclusions about Trump’s repetition of the slur aimed at his rival.  

Nor is there any guarantee that such censorship will not occur again. 

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships. It has no place in a democracy–despite the motives of those doing the censoring. 

The ancient historian, Plutarch, sounded a warning that remains timely: 

“And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.”

In a democracy, citizens must be alert for those tell-tale expressions or jests. And this demands that the media, in turn, have the courage to bring those truths to their attention.

TV CENSORS: SLEAZE IS IN, PATRIOTISM IS OUT

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 24, 2015 at 12:04 am

On November 7, 2013, American television culture took yet another step deeper into Toiletville.

It was the Two and Half Men episode, “Justice in Star-Spangled Hot Pants.”  And it starred Lynda Carter as the target of a crush that was both infantile and obscene.

Carter, of course, is the singer/actress best-known for her role as Wonder Woman (1975-1979).

And watching this episode of Men, it was hard to tell where the real-life Carter left off and the fictional character she was playing took over.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

Here, in brief, was the plotline:

Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) learns that his roommate, Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher) knows Lynda Carter.

Having an enormous crush on Carter from his years of watching her as Wonder Woman, Alan asks Walden to set him up on a date with her.

Against his better judgment, Walden agrees to invite her to the house for dinner.

Now, if Carter had been playing a fictional character, there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with this premise. Nobody, after all, would have mistaken Laurence Olivier for Richard III.

But she wasn’t.  She was playing herself.

And, in her real-life self, she was then 62.  An admittedly good-looking 62, but, even so, a woman about 40 years older than the character (Alan) who wants to meet her.

And not simply meet her.  Bone her.

Bone her?  Yes–that’s exactly what he says when Walden initially turns down his request to introduce him to her: “Now I’ll never get to bone Lynda Carter.”

And since Carter was playing herself, it’s useful to recall that she is, in real-life, a married woman (since 1984 to attorney Robert Altman).

And the show achieved an even lower level of crassness when Walden says Alan is so desperate to meet Carter that he’d skulk around in the bushes in front of her house.

“Wow, Lynda Carter’s bush,” says Alan, practically salivating over the contemplation of a 62-year-old woman’s vagina.

But males weren’t the only gender who got to descend to new depths of bad taste in this episode. There was the character of Jenny (Amber Tamblyn), the lesbian sister of the departed character Charlie (Charlie Sheen).

Again, the show’s writers simply couldn’t resist the temptation to mix real-life with fantasy.

Jenny is, at first, not even aware who Lynda Carter is until Alan, shocked, clues her in on the juvenile series she’s best-known for.

And, after meeting Carter, Jenny remains unimpressed.  There’s an edginess in her voice as she comes face-to-face with the actress who’s well-known for supporting gay and lesbian rights.

“I understand you’re into cuffs,” she tells Carter–a reference to the “magic bracelets” worn by her character, Wonder Woman.

But it’s also a double entendre, conjuring up the image of Carter (perhaps in her Wonder Woman outfit) staked out on a bed in a bondage fantasy.

For all of Alan’s over-the-top infatuation with Carter, it’s not him that she’s interested in.  It’s his buddy, Walden (Ashton Kutcher).

Lynda Carter and Ashton Kutcher

And to prove it, she gives him a real smackeroo of a kiss.

Which may well have conjured up, for him, real-life memories of his May-December marriage to the actress Demi Moore.

Kutcher was 27 when he tied the knot with Moore in 2005.  Moore, by contrast, was 42.

The marriage ended in 2013, amid tabloid reports that Kutcher had cheated on her with Sara Leal, a 22-year-old San Diego-based administrative assistant.  Moore by then was 51.

Kutcher, born in 1978, was still rolling around in his cradle while Carter–born in 1951–was wrapping up her third and final season as Wonder Woman.

So, for Kutcher, maybe it was a case of deja vu all over again.

So much for network TV censors’ attitude toward sleaze.  Now for their attitude toward patriotism.

On Veterans Day from 2001 to 2004, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) aired the 1998 Steven Spielberg World War II classic, Saving Private Ryan, uncut and with limited commercial interruptions.

Both the grity, realistic battle scenes and profanity were left intact.

Storming the beach at Normandy in Saving Private Ryan

But in 2004, its airing was marked by pre-emptions by 65 ABC affiliates.

The reason: The backlash over Super Bowl XXXVIII’s halftime show controversy (starring the infamous bared breast of Janet Jackson).

The affiliates—28% of the network—did not clear the available timeslot for the film.

And this was even after the Walt Disney Company–which owns ABC–offered to pay all fines for language to the FCC.

No complaints, however, were lodged with the FCC.

It speaks volumes to the priorities–and values–of American television when a film honoring the wartime sacrifices of American soldiers is banned from network TV.

And it speaks volumes as well to the priorities–and values–of American television when a casually juvenile and crudity-laced series like Two and a Half Men becomes CBS’ biggest cash cow.

WHY PEOPLE HATE CABLE COMPANIES

In Business, Self-Help, Social commentary on December 12, 2014 at 12:01 am

In 1970, Robert Townsend, the CEO who had turned around a failing rent-a-car company called Avis, published what is arguably the best book written on business management.

It’s Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits.

Product Details

Though published 42 years ago, it should be required reading–for CEOs and consumers.

Don’t fear getting bogged down in a sea of boring, theory-ridden material.  As Townsend writes:

“This book is in alphabetical order.  Using the table of contents, which doubles as the Index, you can locate any subject on the list in 13 seconds.  And you can read all I have to say about it in five minutes or less.

“This is not a book about how organizations work.  What should happen in organizations and what does happen are two different things and about as far apart as they can get.  THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HOW TO GET THEM TO RUN THREE TIMES AS WELL AS THEY DO.”

Comcast is the majority owner of NBC and the largest cable operator in the United States. It provides cable TV, Internet and phone service to more than 50 million customers.

So you would think that, with so many customers to serve, Comcast would create an efficient way for them to attain help when they face a problem with billing or service.

Think again.

Consider the merits of Townsend’s short chapter on “Call Yourself Up.”

Townsend advises CEOs: “Pretend you’re a customer.  Telephone some part of your organization and ask for help.  You’ll run into some real horror shows.”

Now, imagine what would happen if Brian L. Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, did just that.

Brian L. Roberts

First, he would find that, at Comcast, nobody actually answers the phone when a customer calls.  After all, it’s so much easier to fob off customers with pre-recorded messages than to have operators directly serve their needs.

And customers simply aren’t that important–except when they’re paying their ever-inflated bills for phone, cable TV and/or Internet service.

Comcast’s revenues stood at $16.8 billion for the third quarter of 2014.

In 2013, Roberts earned $31.4 million in salary, options and other compensation, a 7.7% increase from his $29.1 million compensation package in 2012.

So it isn’t as though the company can’t afford hiring a few operators and instructing them to answer phones directly when people phone in.

But instead of being directly connected to someone able to answer his question or resolve his problem, Roberts would hear:

“Welcome to Comcast–home of Xfinity.”

Then he would hear an annoying clucking sound–followed by the same message in Spanish.

“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.

“To make a payment now, Press 1.  To continue this call, Press 2.”

Then he would hear: “For technical help, press 1, for billing, press 2.  For more options, press 3.”

Assuming he pressed 2 for “billing,” he would hear:

“For payment, press 1  For balance information, press 2.  For payment locations, press 3.  For all other billing questions, press 4.”

Then he would be told: “Please enter the last four digits of the primary account holder’s Social Security Number.”

Then, as if he hadn’t waited long enough to talk to someone, he would get this message: “Press 1 if you would like to take a short survey after your call.”

By the time he heard that, he would almost certainly not be in a mood to take a survey.  He would simply want someone to come onto the phone and answer his question or resolve his problem.

Then he would hear: “At the present time, all agents are busy”–and be electronically given an estimate by when someone might deign to answer the phone.

“Please hold for the next customer account executive.”

If he wanted to immediately reach a Comcast rep, Roberts would press the number for “sales.”  A sales rep would gladly sign him up for more costly products–even if he couldn’t solve whatever problem Roberts needed addressed.

Assuming that someone actually came on, Roberts couldn’t fail to notice the unmistakable Indian accent of the rep he was now speaking with.

Not Indian as in American Indian–because that would mean his company had actually hired Americans who must be paid at least a minimum American wage for their services.

No, Comcast, like many other supposedly patriotic corporations, “outsources” its “customer service support team” to the nation, India.

After all, if the “outsourced” employees are getting paid a pittance, the CEO and his top associates can rake in all the more.

Of course, the above scenario is totally outlandish–and is meant to be.

Who would expect the wealthy CEO of a major American corporation to actually wait in a telephone queue like an ordinary American Joe or Jane?

That would be like expecting the chief of any major police department to put up with hookers or panhandlers on his own doorstep.

For the wealthy and the powerful, there are always underlings ready and willing to ensure that their masters do not suffer the same indignities as ordinary mortals.

Such as the ones who sign up for Comcast TV, cable or Internet services.

WONDER WOMAN: COARSENING THE CULTURE

In Business, Entertainment, Military, Social commentary on February 7, 2014 at 1:32 am

On November 7, 2013, American television culture took yet another step deeper into Toiletville.

It was the Two and Half Men episode, “Justice in Star-Spangled Hot Pants.”  And it starred Lynda Carter as the target of a crush that was both infantile and obscene.

Carter, of course, is the singer/actress best-known for her role as Wonder Woman (1975-1979).

And watching this episode of Men, it was hard to tell where the real-life Carter left off and the fictional character she was playing took over.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

Here, in brief, was the plotline:

Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) learns that his roommate, Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher) knows Lynda Carter.

Having an enormous crush on Carter from his years of watching her as Wonder Woman, Alan asks Walden to set him up on a date with her.

Against his better judgment, Walden agrees to invite her to the house for dinner.

Now, if Carter had been playing a fictional character, there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with this premise.

Nobody, for example, would have mistaken Laurence Olivier for Richard III.

But she wasn’t.  She was playing herself.

And, in her real-life self, she’s 62.  An admittedly good-looking 62, but, even so, a woman about 40 years older than the character (Alan) who wants to meet her.

And not simply meet her.  Bone her.

Bone her?  Yes–that’s exactly what he says when Walden initially turns down his request to introduce him to her: “Now I’ll never get to bone Lynda Carter.”

And since Carter was playing herself, it’s useful to recall that she is, in real-life, a married woman (since 1984 to attorney Robert Altman).

And the show achieves an even lower level of crassness when Walden says Alan is so desperate to meet Carter that he’d skulk around in the bushes in front of her house.

“Wow, Lynda Carter’s bush,” says Alan, practically salivating over the contemplation of a 62-year-old woman’s vagina.

But males aren’t the only gender who get to descend to new depths of bad taste in this episode.  There’s the character of Jenny (Amber Tamblyn), the lesbian sister of the departed character Charlie (Charlie Sheen).

Again, the show’s writers simply couldn’t resist the temptation to mix real-life with fantasy.

Jenny is, at first, not even aware who Lynda Carter is until Alan, shocked, clues her in on the infantile series she’s best-known for.

And, after meeting Carter, Jenny remain unimpressed.  There’s an edginess in her voice as she comes face-to-face with the actress who’s well-known for supporting gay and lesbian rights.

“I understand you’re into cuffs,” she tells Carter–a reference to the “magic bracelets” worn by her character, Wonder Woman.

But it’s also a double entendre, conjuring up the image of Carter (perhaps in her Wonder Woman outfit) staked out on a bed in a bondage fantasy.

For all of Alan’s over-the-top infatuation with Carter, it’s not him that she’s interested in.  It’s his buddy, Walden (Ashton Kutcher).

Lynda Carter and Ashton Kutcher

And to prove it, she gives him a real smackeroo of a kiss.

Which may well have conjured up, for him, real-life memories of his May-December marriage to the actress Demi Moore.

Kutcher was 27 when he tied the knot with Moore in 2005.  Moore, by contrast, was 42.

The marriage ended in 2013, amid tabloid reports that Kutcher had cheated on her with Sara Leal, a 22-year-old San Diego-based administrative assistant.

Kutcher, born in 1978, was still rolling around in his cradle while Carter–born in 1951–was wrapping up her third and final season as Wonder Woman.

So, for Kutcher, maybe it was a case of deja vu all over again.

On Veterans Day from 2001 to 2004, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) aired the 1998 Steven Spielberg World War II classic, Saving Private Ryan, uncut and with limited commercial interruptions.

Both the grity, realistic battle scenes and profanity were left intact.

Storming the beach at Normandy in Saving Private Ryan

But in 2004, its airing was marked by pre-emptions by 65 ABC affiliates.

The reason: The backlash over Super Bowl XXXVIII’s halftime show controversy (starring the infamous bared breast of Janet Jackson).

The affiliates—28% of the network—did not clear the available timeslot for the film.

And this was even after the Walt Disney Company–which owns ABC–offered to pay all fines for language to the FCC.

No complaints, however, were lodged with the FCC.

It speaks volumes to the priorities–and values–of American television when a film honoring the wartime sacrifices of American soldiers is banned from network TV.

And it speaks volumes as well to the priorities–and values–of American television when a casually juvenile and crudity-laced series like Two and a Half Men becomes CBS’ biggest cash cow.

HANGING UP ON THE PHONE COMPANY: PART TWO (END)

In Business, Self-Help on April 26, 2013 at 12:02 am

From November, 2011 to February, 2012, AT&T demanded that Dave pay them for a service they had failed to provide.

They had promised to supply him with Uverse high-speed Internet–at 25 MBPs a second. Instead, he had gotten only 6 MBPs a second. And a big dot in the middle of his computer screen when watching YouTube videos.

Finally, an AT&T rep told him the blunt truth:

His geographical area was not yet supplied with fiber-optic cables that could provide high-speed Internet service.

Dave canceled Uverse–and began getting a series of bills from AT&T.

First one for more than $400.

Then a reduced bill for $260.

Then another for $140.

And still another for $126.95.

After getting a phone call from a collections agency, Dave asked me to intervene with AT&T on his behalf.

So I decided to go directly to the Office of the President.

Long ago I had learned a crucial truth:

The man at the top of an organization cannot fob you off with the excuse: “I can’t do it.” He can do anything he wants to do. And once he decides to do it, everyone below will fall into line.

I already had the phone number: (800) 848-4158.

I had gotten this via a google search under “AT&T Corporate Offices.” This gave me a link to “Corporate Governance”–which provides biographies of the executives who run the company.

And at the head stands Randall L. Stephenson–Chairman of the Board, CEO and President of AT&T Inc.

I didn’t expect to speak with him. One of his chief lieutenants would be enough–such as a woman I’ll call Margie.

First, I introduced myself and said I was authorized to act on Dave’s behalf. Then I handed the phone to Dave (who was sitting next to me) so he could confirm this.

I then briefly outlined the problems Dave had been having.

Margie–using Dave’s phone number–quickly accessed the computerized records documenting all I was telling her.

She said she would need three or four days to fully investigate the matter before getting back to me.

I said that, for me, the crux of the matter was this:

An AT&T rep had told Dave the company could not supply high-speed Internet to his geographical area because it had not yet laid fiber-optic cables there.

This meant:
1.There was a disconnect between what AT&T’s technicians knew they could offer–and what its customer service reps had been told;
2.Or, worse, the company had lied when it promised to provide Dave with a service it couldn’t deliver.

I said that Dave wanted to resolve this quietly and amicably. But, if necessary, he was prepared to do so through the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The PUC regulates phone companies at the State level. The FCC regulates them at the Federal level.

Just as I was about to hang up, I said I couldn’t understand why Dave should have kept getting billed, since he had been assured he wouldn’t be.

Margie said that the company felt he owed $150.00 for “breaking” the two-year contract he had signed.

I immediately noted that AT&T had not lived up to its end of the contract–that is, to provide the promised high-speed Internet service. As a result, they could not demand that Dave pay for something that had not been delivered.

Clearly, this set off alarm-bells for Margie.

When I asked her, “How soon can I expect to hear from you on your company’s investigation into this matter?” she said there was no need to conduct one.

In fact, she added, she was writing out a credit to Dave of $150.00 that very minute.

Previously, she had told me it would take three or four days.

Thus, Dave did not owe the company anything for his disappointing experiment with its Uverse service.

I felt certain that Dave’s experience with a rapacious AT&T was not an isolated case. Just as banks use every excuse to charge their customers for anything they can get away with, so do phone companies.

I knew that AT&T didn’t want the PUC and FCC to start asking: “Is ATt&T generally dunning customers for money they don’t owe?”

I believe the answer would have proven to be: “Yes.”

And I believe that Margie felt the same way.

So, when dealing with a predatory company like AT&T:
1.Keep all company correspondence.
2.Be prepared to clearly outline your problem.
3.Know which State/Federal agencies hold jurisdiction over the company.
4.Phone/write the company’s president. This shows that you’ve done your homework–and deserve to be taken seriously.
5.Remain calm and businesslike in your correspondence and/or conversations with company officials.
6.Don’t fear to say you’ll contact approrpriate government agencies if necessary.
7.If the company doesn’t resolve your problem, complain to those agencies, and/or
8.Consider hiring an attorney and filing a lawsuit.

COMCAST AND COMMUNICATIONS DON’T MIX

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on January 28, 2013 at 12:14 am

In 1970, Robert Townsend, the CEO who had turned around a failing rent-a-car company called Avis, published what is arguably the best book written on business management.

It’s Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits.

Product Details

Though published 42 years ago, it should be required reading–for CEOs and consumers.

Don’t fear getting bogged down in a sea of boring, theory-ridden material.  As Townsend writes:

“This book is in alphebetical order.  Using the table of contents, which doubles as the Index, you can locate any subject on the list in 13 seconds.  And you can read all I have to say about it in five minutes or less.

“This is not a book about how organizations work.  What should happen in organizations and what does happen are two different things and about as far apart as they can get.  THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HOW TO GET THEM TO RUN THREE TIMES AS WELL AS THEY DO.”

Comcast is the majority owner of NBC and the largest cable operator in the United States. It provides cable TV, Internet and phone service to more than 50 million customers.

So you would think that, with so many customers to serve, Comcast would them with an efficient way to attain help when they face a problem with billing or service.

Think again.

Consider the merits of Townsend’s short chapter on “Call Yourself Up.”

Townsend advises CEOs: “Pretend you’re a customer.  Telephone some part of your organization and ask for help.  You’ll run into some real horror shows.”

Now, imagine what would happen if Brian L. Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, did just that.

Brian L. Roberts

First, he would find that, at Comcast, nobody actually answers the phone when a customer calls.  After all, it’s so much easier to fob off customers with pre-recorded messages than to have operators directly serve their needs.

And customers simply aren’t that important–except when they’re paying their ever-rising bills for phone, cable TV and/or Internet service.

Comcast’s net income stood at $2.11 billion in October, 2012.  And Roberts himself raked in a cool $26.9 million in 2011 compensation.

So it isn’t as though the company can’t afford hiring a few operators and instructing them to answer phones directly when people phone in.

But instead of being directly connected to someone able to answer his question or resolve his problem, Roberts would hear:

“Welcome to Comcast–home of Xfinity.”

Then he would hear an annoying clucking sound–followed by the same message in Spanish.

“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.

“To make a payment now, Press 1.  To continue this call, Press 2.”

Then he would hear: “For technical help, press 1, for billing, press 2.  For more options, press 3.”

Assuming he pressed 2 for “billing,” he would hear:

“For payment, press 1  For balance information, press 2.  For payment locations, press 3.  For all other billing questions, press 4.”

Then he would be told: “Please enter the last four digits of the primary account holder’s Social Security Number.”

Then, as if he hadn’t waited long enough to talk to someone, he would get this message: “Press 1 if you would like to take a short survey after your call.”

By the time he heard that, he would almost certainly not be in a mood to take a survey.  He would simply want someone to come onto the phone and answer his question or resolve his problem.

Then he would hear: “At the present time, all agents are busy”–and be electronically given an estimate by when someone might deign to answer the phone.

“Please hold for the next customer account executive.”

If he wanted to immediately reach a Comcast rep, Roberts would press the number for “sales.”  A sales rep would gladly sign him up for more costly products–even if he couldn’t solve whatever problem Roberts needed addressed.

Assuming that someone actually came on, Roberts couldn’t fail to notice the unmistakable Indian accent of the rep he was now speaking with.

Not Indian as in American Indian–because that would mean his company had actually hired Americans who must be paid at least a minimum American wage for their services.

No, Comcast, like many other supposedly patriotic corporations, “outsources” its “customer service support team” to the nation, India.

After all, if the “outsourced” employees are getting paid a pittance, the CEO and his top associates can rake in all the more.

Of course, the above scenario is totally outlandish–and is meant to be.

Who would expect the wealthy CEO of a major American corporation to actually wait in a telephone queue like an ordinary American Joe or Jane?

That would be like expecting the chief of any major police department to put up with hookers or panhandlers on his own doorstep.

For the wealthy and the powerful, there are always underlings ready and willing to ensure that their masters do not suffer the same indignities as ordinary mortals.

Such as the ones who sign up for Comcast TV, cable or Internet services.

TELL ERNESTINE TO PHONE OFF – PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Self-Help on April 3, 2012 at 12:00 am

From November, 2011 to February, 2012, AT&T demanded that Dave pay them for a service they had failed to provide.

They had promised to supply him with Uverse high-speed Internet–at 25 MBPs a second.  Instead, he had gotten only 6 MBPs a second.  And a big dot in the middle of his computer screen when watching YouTube videos.

Finally, an AT&T rep told him the blunt truth:

His geographical area was not yet supplied with fiber-optic cables that could provide high-speed Internet service.  

Dave canceled Uverse–and began getting a series of bills from AT&T.

First one for more than $400.

Then a reduced bill for $260.

Then another for $140.

And still another for $126.95.

After getting a phone call from a collections agency, Dave asked me to intervene with AT&T on his behalf.

So I decided to go directly to the Office of the President.

Long ago I had learned a crucial truth:

The man at the top of an organization cannot fob you off with the excuse: “I can’t do it.”  He can do anything he wants to do.  And once he decides to do it, everyone below will fall into line. 

I already had the phone number: (800) 848-4158. 

I had gotten this via a google search under “AT&T Corporate Offices.”  This gave me a link to “Corporate Governance”–which provides biographies of the executives who run the company.

And at the head stands Randall L. Stephenson–Chairman of the Board, CEO and President of AT&T Inc.

I didn’t expect to speak with him.  One of his chief lieutenants would be enough–such as a woman I’ll call Margie.

First, I introduced myself and said I was authorized to act on Dave’s behalf.  Then I handed the phone to Dave (who was sitting next to me) so he could confirm this.

I then briefly outlined the problems Dave had been having.

Margie–using Dave’s phone number–quickly accessed the computerized records documenting all I was telling her.

She said she would need three or four days to fully investigate the matter before getting back to me.

I said that, for me, the crux of the matter was this:

An AT&T rep had told Dave the company could not supply high-speed Internet to his geographical area because it had not yet laid fiber-optic cables there.

This meant:

  1. There was a disconnect between what AT&T’s technicians knew they could offer–and what its customer service reps had been told;
  2. Or, worse, the company had lied when it promised to provide Dave with a service it couldn’t deliver.

I said that Dave wanted to resolve this quietly and amicably.  But, if necessary, he was prepared to do so through the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The PUC regulates phone companies at the State level.  The FCC regulates them at the Federal level.

Just as I was about to hang up, I said I couldn’t understand why Dave should have kept getting billed, since he had been assured he wouldn’t be.

Margie said that the company felt he owed $150.00 for “breaking” the two-year contract he had signed.

I immediately noted that AT&T had not lived up to its end of the contract–that is, to provide the promised high-speed Internet service.  As a result, they could not demand that Dave pay for something that had not been delivered.

Clearly, this set off alarm-bells for Margie.

When I asked her, “How soon can I expect to hear from you on your company’s investigation into this matter?” she said there was no need to conduct one. 

In fact, she added, she was writing out a credit to Dave of $150.00 that very minute.

Previously, she had told me it would take three or four days.

Thus, Dave did not owe the company anything for his disappointing experiment with its Uverse service.

I felt certain that Dave’s experience with a rapacious AT&T was not an isolated case.  Just as banks use every excuse to charge their customers for anything they can get away with, so do phone companies.

I knew that AT&T didn’t want the PUC and FCC to start asking: “Is ATt&T generally dunning customers for money they don’t owe?”

I believe the answer would have proven to be: “Yes.”

And I believe that Margie felt the same way.

So, when dealing with a predatory company like AT&T:

  1. Keep all company correspondence.
  2. Be prepared to clearly outline your problem.
  3. Know which State/Federal agencies hold jurisdiction over the company.
  4. Phone/write the company’s president.  This shows that you’ve done your homework–and deserve to be  taken seriously.
  5. Remain calm and businesslike in your correspondence and/or conversations with company officials.
  6. Don’t fear to say you’ll contact approrpriate government agencies if necessary.
  7. If the company doesn’t resolve your problem, complain to those agencies, and/or
  8. Consider hiring an attorney and filing a lawsuit.
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