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How Does the FCC Find Naughty Language?

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It was a banner weekend for F-bombs. In Boston last Saturday, Red Sox designated hitter David “Big Papi” Ortiz dropped one into a pre-game speech, saying “This is our f***ing city. And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

Then, on Sunday, A.J. Clemente spent his first and last day as a weekend anchor on KFYR, Bismarck, North Dakota’s NBC affiliate. Clemente, not realizing his mic was on, let loose a “f***ing s***” just as his co-host went to introduce him. He was fired on Monday.

Since the passage of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005, such violations of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decency standards normally mean a fine of $325,000. The FCC has apparently decided to let Ortiz slide, though. Chairman Julius Genachowski took to the Commission’s Twitter account to say:

There’s no word yet on whether there will be a fine for Clemente’s language. The incidents got us wondering, though: How does the FCC keep tabs on radio and broadcast TV programming for the obscene, indecent and/or profane material that it's tasked with policing?

As much as one might want to imagine a small army of government agents in a bunker somewhere monitoring every TV and radio station in the country around the clock, the FCC admits that they cannot and do not monitor particular programs, performers or stations. Instead they rely on everyday citizens to narc on broadcasters and bring objectionable material to their attention in the form of official complaints. They received 1883 of these in the first three quarters of 2012, the latest numbers available. As these complaints come in, the FCC reviews them to figure out if a violation has actually occurred. If one has, FCC staff investigates and may issue a Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”) to notify the broadcaster of the violation and then a Forfeiture Order, or fine.

The FCC’s quick forgiveness of Ortiz may be less “let’s give Boston a break, they had a rough week,” and more of a sign of things to come. Earlier this month, the Commission asked for public comment on whether it “should make changes to its current broadcast indecency policies or maintain them as they are.” Specifically, they’re wondering how we’d all feel about them focusing on egregious (i.e., deliberate and repetitive) violations, and being more lenient on isolated incidents.

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Big Questions
What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
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AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

Big Questions
How Are Rooms Cleaned at an Ice Hotel?

Cleaning rooms at Sweden’s famous ICEHOTEL is arguably less involved than your typical hotel. The bed, for example, does not have traditional sheets. Instead, it’s essentially an air mattress topped with reindeer fur, which sits on top of a custom-made wooden palette that has a minimum of 60 centimeters of airspace below. On top of those reindeer hides is a sleeping bag, and inside that sleeping bag is a sleep sack. And while it’s always 20ºF inside the room, once guests wrap themselves up for the night, it can get cozy.

And, if they’re wearing too many layers, it can get quite sweaty, too.

“The sleep sack gets washed every day, I promise you that. I know it for a fact because I love to walk behind the laundry, because it’s so warm back there," James McClean, one of the few Americans—if not the only—who have worked at Sweden's ICEHOTEL, tells Mental Floss. (He worked on the construction and maintenance crew for several years.)

There isn’t much else to clean in most guest rooms. The bathrooms and showers are elsewhere in the hotel, and most guests only spend their sleeping hours in the space. But there is the occasional accident—like other hotels, some bodily fluids end up where they shouldn’t be. People puke or get too lazy to walk to the communal restrooms. Unlike other hotels, these bodily fluids, well, they freeze.

“You can only imagine the types of bodily fluids that get, I guess, excreted … or expelled … or purged onto the walls,” McClean says. “At least once a week there’s a yellow stain or a spilled glass of wine or cranberry juice … and it’s not what you want to see splattered everywhere.” Housekeeping fixes these unsightly splotches with an ice pick and shovel, re-patching it with fresh snow from outside.

Every room has a 4-inch vent drilled into the icy wall, which helps prevent CO2 from escalating to harmful levels. Maintenance checks the holes daily to ensure these vents are not plugged with snow. Their tool of choice for clearing the pathway is, according to McClean, “basically a toilet brush on a stick.”

When maintenance isn’t busy unstuffing snow from that vent hole, they’re busy piping snow through it. Every couple days, the floor of each room receives a new coat of fluffy snow, which is piped through the vent and leveled with a garden rake.

“It’s the equivalent of vacuuming the carpet,” McClean says.

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