Saturday January 19, 2013

I’m old enough to remember a time when my Type-A, obsessive-compulsive dad would be outside in the yard turning a steel shaft that supported a bunch of aluminum tubes and wires that together (hopefully) would provide us with TV reception. Not real good TV reception, mind you. No sir, this would be genuine "snowy" TV reception. If you squinted you could see the silhouette of "Dragnet’s," Jack Web or "Have Gun-Will Travel," Richard Boone as Paladin.

Mom, my older brother and I would be in the living room with a casement window open shouting out to dad, "turn it a little bit. No, not that way. The other way. Try going up a little higher. No, that’s not it. Move the whole thing a little further away."

This level of guidance did little to temper an already agitated Type-A personality. As dad’s face got progressively redder it did appear as though the reception got marginally better. It was hard to tell if there was any correlation between to the two or whether the TV gods had simply decided they had messed with Jim Stannard just about enough.

All was well in the Stannard household, as long as the wind didn’t blow. The wind blew constantly so the above procedure was replicated about 8-10 times per week. That is until the greatest invention of all-time came along; the antennae rotor. That changed everything. From his lounge chair dad could simply turn the dial and the antennae would magically rotate 360 degrees. Life was good even if we did go blind watching a snowy screen.

There were guys out there who would do this sort of work, but we never had nearly enough money to pay them. I was raised in a do-it-yourself household. A generation later when I built my own house I hired Eddy Knight to install a roof mounted antennae, complete with rotor system. After watching my dad and his antennae escapades I decided doing all that on rooftop was suicidal.

That was then. This is now. Sometime when we were all asleep the cable TV companies tricked our elected leaders into allowing them to have a monopoly on TV service. Gone are the days when you could get a signal for free. We lost it overnight. Now, in order to watch TV you have to pay and with that payment you still get commercials. Basically, the industry pushed Congress into allowing them to make zillions of dollars more.

It would be fine if it stopped there but it hasn’t and it won’t. Today, multi-national corporations are in an all-out battle for everything including our food. A chemical company, Monsanto, wants to control the world’s seed supply through a patent on genetically modified seeds. The lack of citizen outcry over having a chemical company control our food supplies is disturbing. Other than the corporation and the members of Congress who undoubtedly receive millions in campaign contributions, who else thinks this is a good idea?

Last Thursday I had the occasion to run into my old friend, Gov. Howard Dean. He and I came into the legislature together in 1983; 30 years ago this year. We were reminiscing and he was telling Susan Allen, Kate O’Connor about places he’s been; one of which was Burma.

I mentioned to him that my son, Wesley, is married to a wonderful woman, May Oo, who is from Burma and expecting their first child (who will probably arrive as you’re reading this). He asked if I had been to Burma and I said that I had not. We are hoping to go at some future date.

"You better try to go quickly", he said.

"Really, what’s the hurry? It’s been there for a long time. Is it going somewhere?" I replied.

"The multi-nationals are moving in big time" he said. "This country is changing rapidly. You can’t get a hotel room in Rangoon for under $500."

I didn’t think much about what Gov. Dean had said to me at the time, but it’s true. China is making a play for Burma’s copper mines. Under previous military rule in Burma, China established a deal for a copper mine, which will result in displacing many farmers who are rightfully upset. The military is now fighting to quell the opposition.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is working to negotiate between all the parties. You may recall that Aung San was held under house arrest for about 15 years before international pressure was brought to bear and she was allowed to run for, and win, a seat in Parliament.

Speaking out against corporate and government interests is risky business. It’s riskier in countries like Burma, but we are not without risks in speaking out in our own country. Here, presidents have been known to keep tabs on real bad people like The Rolling Stones and John Lennon.

As we watch the endless quest for corporate profits over human rights, it’s almost enough to make you wish for those days of free TV; even if it was snowy. We’re looking for the next Paladin. Maybe he’s you.

Bob Stannard lives in Manchester.