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His master's voice...

A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann

I laid down with CNN on, which is simply an engraved invitation to weird dreams. I was just going to put my head on the pillow for a minute, but you know how that goes: in a blink I was drowsing, snoozing. Not conscious, really, but never fully asleep. It's the twilit Neverland of fleeting juxtapositions, not entirely a bad place for me to be.

And I like watching CNN, for the simple reason that I love the contrasts of absurdity. On CNN, the field reporters are so smart and so energetic, and the anchormannequins, with the exception of show-horse Bernie Shaw, are so stupid and so lazy. I have the idea that CNN administers a very easy intelligence test to on-air recruits, and, if you fail it, you have to stay in Atlanta and pretend to understand the words you see on the TelePrompTer. To compensate, to keep things fair, you get unlimited free access to the company tanning beds.

Anyway, the dream wasn't all that interesting at first. It began with William Jefferson Clinton, the blow-dried object lesson on the dire consequences of casual bastardy, giving a folksy little speech to a captive audience of besuited business types.

"I thank you all for coming here," he was saying, "and proving to the American people that the era of big government is over. It's public-private partnerships like the agreement we've come to today that are the path to our future. You good people have given us something today we never coulda gotten on our own, and you've handed it over voluntarily. Ain't that somethin'!"

Clinton grinned like the cat that got the canary and in the dream the dream CNN flashed a picture of the besuited audience members, each of whom was holding a gun to his own head and shouting, "You vill do as you are told!" That's the weird juxtaposition part, in case you're confusing this with the real CNN. On the real CNN, they would have flashed a showy graphic and an overtanned moron would have mangled an internet address. Try to keep the distinction in mind, because things are only going to get weirder.

"Now," said Clinton, "when our children see violence on TV, we'll know that it's violence initiated and directed by Ms. Reno and Mr. Freeh. Not the random, senseless violence of entertainment, but the random, senseless violence of the omnipotent state. Not good guys versus bad guys. Not even Hollywood's nihilistic vision of bad guys versus bad guys. No, from now on, thanks to you, the only violence on television will be completely remorseless assassins versus unarmed women and children, for days and months on end. Ain't that somethin'!"

Clinton paused to let the wonder of it all sink in. "And now, when our children see or hear about sex on television, we'll have the solace of knowing that the people involved are of Cabinet rank or above. We've got to protect our children, and you folks are to be commended for realizing that. As my wife says, 'It takes a village to raise a child.'"

At those words, the dream CNN flashed an image of an army of functionaries, teachers and social workers and guidance counselors in blousy oxford shirts and boxy herringbone skirts. Each of the functionaries had a single child locked in a half-nelson, and the children were intoning in unison, "The era of big government is over. The era of big government is over. The era of big government is over."

"I thank you all," said Clinton, "for voluntarily setting the global village of electronic communications to the important task of raising America's children the way my wife wants them raised. I hope you know we never coulda done it without you!"

Clinton shook his head slowly, as if still unable to comprehend his good fortune. "We never coulda done it without you. I mean that, folks, from the bottom of my heart. Never, never, never! With all of the firepower at Ms. Reno's command, we never coulda blasted through that danged ol' first amendment. And here you've gone and done it for us, all on your own! And Ms. Reno didn't even have to draw her gun, she just kinda adjusted her gun-belt a little. Ain't that somethin'!"

Clinton nodded toward the ever-dowdier Janet Reno before continuing. "They say Napoleon Bonaparte wished that humanity had one neck, so he could chop it off. Don't seem very civilized to me. But I look out there and I see fiber optics and I see the merging of cable TV and long distance telephone and I see wide-band internet traffic and cellular waves and broadcast waves and microwave relays and earth-satellite links and on and on and on. And at the center of it all, I see Ms. Reno or someone just like her. But she isn't holding a gun and she isn't holding Napoleon's axe. No, she's holding a choke-chain, a leash that rewards the dogs who know how to cooperate and punishes the ones who don't. And that's the civilized way to run a government, don't you think?"

And the dream CNN cut away to a shot of the audience, still holding the guns to their own heads, and I'll be damned if they weren't nodding and smiling and wagging their metaphorical tails. A choke-chain is a small price to pay, after all, for a big bowl of crunchy meat by-products.

"The fact of it is," said the blow-dried Bastard-in-Chief, "I like to think of America as a big ol' dumb dog, too dumb to know he's being ordered around by his own fleas. Now the fleas sure do need that dog, can't live without him. But, surer 'n hell, that dog don't need them fleas! And it's public-private partnerships like the agreement we've come to today that'll keep that ol' dog from catching on. The words "censorship" and "voluntary" just don't go together. You can't use 'em in the same sentence, no way, no how. And yet, here we are today with an agreement that will bring about the voluntary self-censorship of the entire communications industry!"

And William Jefferson Clinton smiled the folksy, down-home smile of naked, ruthless evil. "Ain't... that... somethin'!"

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