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By Joel Klebanoff

Deep Sleep Speaks

The background material for this week's tirade was slipped to me in the utmost confidence by a highly placed government insider. He agreed to speak only under two conditions: First, I had to guarantee his anonymity. Second, I had to promise to never date any of his sisters, aunts, nieces, or cousins. He left his mother off the list, but I assume that was an oversight.

The second condition was easy to fulfill as I was in no mood to hear yet another recitation of the inevitable "friend" speech. Being a "nice guy" is nowhere near what it's cracked up to be. In order to honor the first condition, we agreed that I would use a code name whenever I spoke or referred to him. We settled on the moniker "Deep Sleep."

Deep Sleep's need for confidentiality is understandable. He works for a top-secret branch of the government. Even the most senior bureaucrats and politicians are unaware of its existence. Of all of the elected and appointed officials — from the head of state down to the lunchroom busboys — only one person, one person in the whole government, a part-time, fifth-floor janitor, knows anything about Deep Sleep's department. And he's not talking. Although that's probably because he speaks only Sassarese, an endangered Sardinian language that is not widely used in the corridors of power that he sweeps here in North America.

Deep Sleep's concern over the protection of his identity was recently heightened when a $537 million government appropriation, funneled through the Sassarese-speaking janitor, was given to his department, allowing it to undertake an ultra-top-secret study of electromagnetic radiation emanating from computers left on at night and, in particular, the effect of that radiation on the health of centipedes inhabiting government buildings.

The information that Deep Sleep provided to me had nothing whatsoever to do with that classified project, but he was concerned about divulging the information nonetheless. If he should ever be caught revealing national secrets, he would be placed on leave with full salary during a three-year investigation into his activities. If deemed guilty, he would receive only 18 months severance pay upon dismissal, which would occur immediately after the 74-member investigating commission's final report was vetted, published, and distributed. Furthermore, his pension would be reduced to just 95% of what it will be if he is allowed to put in time for the 15 years left until his normal retirement. Worse, his privileges at his department's subsidized cafeteria would be withdrawn seven years after leaving the government's employ.

To minimize the risk of being seen together, Deep Sleep suggested that I meet him in his office at 2:30 Monday afternoon, that being more than an hour after his fellow civil servants begin their customary post-lunch naps. By 2:30, they are well into REM sleep, giving us a full two hours to talk before the government workers wake up and prepare to go home for the day.

I was worried that I might arouse his colleagues as I walked past their offices, but Deep Sleep assured me that a particularly large herd of stampeding bull elephants would be insufficient to wake them. I weigh at least 10 pounds less than the average lone bull elephant, and I'm physically incapable of stampeding, so I was sure that I'd be safe.

To alleviate another of my concerns, Deep Sleep informed me that, unlike his co-workers, he is a light sleeper. He swore that a gentle nudge and a quick jolt from a 50,000-volt Taser would be enough to awaken him from his nap. He suggested that, in addition to the Taser, I also bring a two-gallon thermos of strong coffee, a long straw, and a cattle prod to prevent him from nodding back off.

After following his instructions to a tee, all of my hard work, not to mention a lot of exceptionally good luck, paid off. I now have the information that I desperately sought. It came from another multimillion-dollar study, the results of which were deemed to be so mind-numbingly tedious, pedantic, and redundant that releasing them would likely cause a popular revolt that could bring down the government. But The People have a right to know and, as an intrepid journalist, it's my duty to inform them. So here it is: After years of in-depth research by the highest levels of the intelligence community, it has been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that technological change moves much more rapidly than regulatory change.

There. I've disclosed it. I won't reveal my source, not even if they throw me in jail. Not even if they torture me. Not even if they sing opera to me around the clock. If they threaten to bar me from Starbucks for the rest of my life I might reconsider, but nothing less will make me divulge his identity.

Consider this fact: Currently (although this might change if some politicians have their way), the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates content on broadcast radio and television but not cable television or satellite radio and television. Did I miss something? Is there a law that prohibits households with children or particularly sensitive adults from subscribing to satellite and cable services? Are children only allowed to watch media that have been around more than a certain number of decades? Or maybe there's a law that says families are allowed to use these newer media outlets, but they just can't subscribe to the tier of channels that includes those that aren't also broadcast over the airwaves. No, that can't be right, can it?

Yes, I know that many of the new satellite and digital cable services offer parental control features that let parents block the viewing of certain channels by their children. Of course, children will probably have to show their parents how to work these new technologies, but never mind. The point that I want to make is that the newer media outlets really are no longer all that special in terms of their relationship to children. Most new televisions come with V-Chips that allow parents to block programs containing inappropriate content even when those programs are transmitted over standard broadcast channels. And parents can get set-top boxes with V-Chips to provide the same capabilities on older sets. (Again, that's probably dependent on children educating their parents on the use of V-Chips. And, in the case of the set-top boxes, unlike their parents, most children are probably clever enough to take the cable out of the box and put it directly into the TV when their parents are out of the room but, again, never mind.) How long will it take for the regulators to wake up to these technological changes and treat media equally? History suggests that you shouldn't hold your breath unless you have superhuman lungs.

Full disclosure: Deep Sleep did not feed me this information about the FCC's mandate. I got it from a couple of articles in the July 21 edition of The Economist.

Another thing that I learned from the articles in The Economist is that the FCC regulates only the use of bad language and the depiction of sex on programs, not the depiction of violence. Great, the FCC is working hard to ensure that little 10-year-old Johnny doesn't learn bad words on television. Bully for the FCC. Children who see and hear only broadcast TV and radio will still have to learn swear words on the street or from their parents' slips of the tongue like the rest of us did. But the FCC doesn't give a damn if little Johnny watches an endless stream of people being blown to bits in blazes of glory. Oh yeah, that's much better for him than the occasional utterance of naughty words. It seems that, in the FCC's mind, the use of swear words is worse the use of weapons of mass destruction. What are they thinking?

Just to be clear, I am not, I repeat not, suggesting that the broadcast networks should run prime-time screenings of shows depicting a bunch of naked people running around swearing their heads off while having intimate relations. If I ruled the world, unsupervised children in their formative years would not be able to watch any shows containing gratuitous profanity, sex, or violence. And I think that it's parents' responsibility to monitor their children's viewing to avoid programming that may be harmful to them if seen without guidance before their knowledge and understanding of the world has matured. And the government should help to ensure that parents have the tools they need to do so. Because it's impossible to fully shield children from all objectionable material, parents should be available to try to remedy some of the more harmful effects of the offending programs. (That's easy for a childless adult like me to say, isn't it?) All of that having been said, when it comes to sex and bad language versus gratuitous violence, I think that the FCC has its @&*% priorities screwed up.

As an absolutely irrelevant aside that will hopefully get your mind off the last few paragraphs and, thereby, limit the number of vicious complaints that MC Press receives about me, consider this totally off-topic fact: It seems that Disney was correct. It is a small world after all. You, who may be in any country, anywhere in the world, are reading the words of a Canadian who drew on information from a U.K.-based publication to write about U.S. regulation in an article published by a U.S.-based online magazine. Three cheers for globalization. Then again, considering some of the ranting that I've seen and heard concerning the use of offshore workers by U.S. companies, maybe pointing out that I'm Canadian is not the best way to reduce the number of complains. Oh well, c'est la guerre.

With that aside out of the way, we now return you to our regularly scheduled tirade.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the agency responsible for regulating the broadcast industry here in Canada, is not much different from the FCC. The CRTC depends on self-regulation by broadcasters to control the amount of violence on TV during children's prime viewing hours. And it too does not treat the new media technologies equally with the old. Actually, in order to protect the fragile Canadian culture from the onslaught of programming coming from the far richer and more popular broadcasters to the south, the CRTC's regulations are far less concerned with sex, obscenity, and violence than they are with ensuring that Canadian broadcasters transmit an adequate volume of Canadian content that absolutely nobody will watch. Go figure.

So what is the point of this seemingly interminable diatribe? The point is that if you're a mature adult who wants to find the best smut, forget broadcast television and subscribe to digital cable or satellite TV. Either that or get your DVDs from the local adult video store. No, wait. That isn't the point at all. I've lost my train of thought. Oh yeah, the point is that a nice nap after lunch can be very restorative.

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.



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