by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he unexplained bill of almost $300 turned up on the credit card that our college student son has in his possession. Mom put in a call: What gives? Well, seems it was the cable hookup bill for the house he shares with five other students. Seems he paid the bill and is collecting checks from his housemates.

The kids needed the cable hookup for wireless computer usage. That, and basic cable TV. I suppose we could say to them, "OK, pay for the computer, but you don't really need cable TV." That would save some money, no doubt. Or, perhaps we could say, "OK for the wireless computers, but if you want basic TV, get some rabbit ears."

Whoops, no can do, not after & lt;a href="" target="_new" & February & lt;/a & .

We could, I suppose, enroll him in a Canadian university; up there, analog television broadcasting is not being cancelled. But if study abroad isn't an option? Nada.

I know all about the justifications for getting rid of the rabbit ears. More stations. High definition. Some money for the Treasury. And besides, it won't cost that much to get an adapter. (I should note that the & lt;a href="" target="_new" & coupon & lt;/a & we received for the $40 discount has expired -- and why it makes any sense to have a discount coupon expire before the February date is beyond us.)

Still, I can't help suspecting that the middle class is about to be gouged yet again. Analog television -- what is left of it -- is the last remaining television on the public airwaves. And if you believe that the cable and satellite companies aren't going to be passing along new costs, well, I've got some great swampland just waiting to be drained. Nope, expect it: Soon we will all see our cable bills rise once again -- to provide more "enhanced" service, of course.

All that stuff we are hearing about more channels? Who cares? Turn on your cable TV on a Sunday morning and what do you see? One "paid for" program after another. Shills selling trinkets, face cream, exercise equipment, golf equipment -- you name it. Do we want to pay for any of this nonsense? No, we don't. Given a choice, we would pick 20 or so channels, and that would be that.

But no. To get the 20 or so we would like to have, we have to buy some fancy kind of enhanced package, which just gives us more drivel.

In the meantime, these government "regulated" monopolies keep jacking the price up, promising their captive audience more and more channels. And the programming only gets worse.

The Spokane area is home to an unusually high number of viewers who presently aren't hooked into cable. And why? No secret really: Because Spokane is a relatively poor area, we have a disproportionate number of viewers who get along just fine with television that goes out over the public airwaves.

So, let's see: The government, in cahoots with the cable guys, passes a law that places an undue burden on people who would have had cable in the first place could they have afforded it, but since they can't they don't, and as of February they won't have anything unless they invest in a converter box.

And is another lower- and middle-income gouge a good idea?

There are other viewers (I know more than a few) who, while they can afford to pay a cable bill, are so fed up with the crapola they find being peddled (for upwards of $140 or more a month) that they have opted out. They rely on the broadcast channels, including public television, and if they want movies they rent them.

Now, these folks, if they wish to watch anything, will be required to buy in, to be gouged just like all the rest of us suckers.

And this is a good idea?

About all that money that the government will make: Honk if you care. The amount estimated doesn't pay for even one month's worth of the war in Iraq. And when stacked up against the various bailouts, we're talking peanuts.

Which brings me back to the high-definition promise. Those 20 to 30 channels you identified? I'll bet that on further consideration you will find that, given the lousy programming, you don't need even that many: Oprah in the afternoon? Dr. Phil? The Nightly News? Monday Night Football? Masterpiece Theater? A favorite sitcom? The Zags? A documentary or two. Some good children's programs? Add in a talking head program or two (or three), the occasional movie -- and what do you have? Not much. Then, take off all of the talking head shows (you will be surprised at how easy they are to do without) and your list shrinks some more.

About the movies: Sign up for one of these monthly movies-by-mail deals. My wife gets two a month for not very much, and good movies too. (Most of the movie channels air the same movies over and over again.)

Do all this and what's left? Not a reason to get excited about high-definition television when it comes at added cost, that's for sure.

Evergreen State of Consciousness Five Year Anniversary @ Washington Cracker Co. Building

Sat., Jan. 28, 5 p.m.-1:45 a.m.
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