alsa does indeed start with the master muted and everything turned down. usually the init scripts should save and restore reasonable volume levels, so the fault lies there. the reasoning is so as not to deafen or kill any listeners or speakers inadvertantly.
PCM should probably changed to something like "Digital Audio".
the master volume issue has come up before: the best thing to do might be this: start out with something sane like all the submixers at 75% and the master at 50%.
the master volume will then act as follows: the 0-X% range will solely fiddle with the master output. towards the extreme end, before hitting a 100% the master will increase the submixers to 100%. (everything unmuted).
if the level's are unequal the 100% should still mean all at 100% (but the relative balance will be restored if you back down).
this is non-optimal but probably good enough for most users. for those that it's not, they can open up the mixer and tweak stuff themselves.
that said, i do take exception to your tone: the indignance reminds me of slashdot. and that's never good. not that it may not be deserved.