Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the third of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

I suspect that this belief ["Yeah, and a bogeyman lives in the bushes behind my house"] is nothing more than "personal preference" as well...
(R) No, if I actually believed it, it would be a fantasy...
(MB) Not according to your own previous definitions of "personal preference".

(R) ...just like your fears of religious-based curriculum taking over the public schools.
(MB) If there were no active efforts that had achieved any level of success in the public school system, there would be no reasons for concern. Religious education must stay within the boundaries of the private religious schools.

The "so what" is that the decision was not unanimous despite the overwhelming evidence against the Creationists and the self-contradicting and discredited testimony of their own witnesses.
(R) Agreed, there was overwhelming evidence in this case indicating a literal interpretation of the creation stories in the Bible is in error. However, this was on the periphery of the main issue in the case. The support of the many eminent scientists and Noble prize winners was somewhat irrelevant, impressive though it was.
(MB) If you can say this, you have very little idea of what was really going on in this case. Further, it seems to me that you are trying to soften or brush aside the impact that the decision had on the Creationist cause -- the same tactic that Creationists now use when discussing the case. It didn't take a Supreme Court decision to understand that the Bible is not literal truth.

(R) The contradictory testimony of the witnesses who were called was at the heart of the real issue. Was the act designed to allow *any* theory of creation to be taught? Or did it aim to specifically promote the theories of a single religion? Seven of the nine Court members felt the latter was true, while two held this was not clearly demonstrated.
(MB) Incorrect. There was no doubt that Creationist ideas promoted the views of one specific religion -- and one subset of that religion, at that. The question was whether or not that view of creation could be considered to be "science" or whether it must be viewed as "religion". The decision was 7-2 in favor of defining it as "religion" and, therefore, unconstitutional for being legislated into public school curricula.
    There is no problem with presenting alternative *scientific* views of the creation of the universe. The problem arose because the Creationists wanted to chime in with their religion's own views -- which are clearly not scientific by any stretch of the imagination.

(R) My personal opinion lies with the majority, but as with all complex issues, there was no simple, open-and-shut answer. It certainly wasn't the "no-brainer" you try to present it as.
(MB) It *is* a no-brainer -- or should have been, anyway. Creationists could not admit that their ideas are religious or they would have lost immediately and unanimously. Therefore, they had to try to position them as being "scientific". The court challenge and defeat has quashed that strategy. Now, they rely on things like the "Alabama Insert" disclaimer sticker to weasel their way into the public schools.
    Do you think that these same people would allow similar disclaimer stickers to be posted on the front covers of their Bibles? Would churches allow their congregations to read notices that the content of their Holy Book contained ideas that had not been proven and that alternative ideas exist?

And you accuse *me* of unsubstantiated innuendo? In the 1996-97 term, there were 80 signed opinions issued and 38 of them were unanimous verdicts.
(R) Actually, what I said wasn't innuendo, it was just wrong. I'm sort of surprised you let me off the hook so easy -- it was so thoroughly wrong, there was plenty of room for jeers. I appreciate it. This should teach me not to make such statements w/o checking them out first.
(MB) There was no need for jeering. The data proves the case and no more needed to be said. Onward and upward....

(R) Anyway, my knowledge of Supreme Court decisions is based primarily on the study of American history, and as such, I'm mainly familiar with the most important and controversial cases. Such landmark cases are almost never decided unanimously, which is why I don't view the 7-2 decision in Edwards v Aguillard as unusual.
(MB) Questions of the finer points of the law are rarely open-and-shut, which is why the decisions are rarely unanimous when such cases are heard. The Edwards v Aguillard case wasn't about a finer point of law. The law was clear here. The point under debate was essentially "Is Creationism religion or science?". The answer to that question would produce an automatic judgment under the law.

(R) After looking at a number of other post-WW II cases (I had no idea the court ruled on so many cases each year -- in some terms, a couple of hundred) I was struck by how mundane and obscure many of the issues on appeal are. It's mostly these relatively unimportant cases which receive unanimous verdicts.
(MB) Many times, what seems unimportant to lay observers may be a case which gives the Court an opportunity to clearly define a point of law as a precedent for future cases. They may also be private matters that outsiders have little or no interest in and the decision will have no effect upon anybody else. The Court also turns down the opportunity to hear a lot of cases. Given their potential case load, I doubt they would hear a case that they would consider unimportant.

The Creationists attempted to succeed by painting their brand of religion as "science" and they got the law passed on that basis. The law stayed on the books for five years before the glacial legal process even got it argued before the Supreme Court. This means that five years' worth of students in Louisiana high schools were affected by the provisions of that law before it was overturned.
(R) No, absolutely correct. Without a constitutional amendment modifying the relationship between church and state in this country, no law such as the Louisiana Creationism Act has the slightest chance of holding up in court. And it would be virtually impossible to get such an amendment ratified.
(MB) Why do you persist in avoiding the point here? I'm fully aware that no such law could ever become permanent or survive a court challenge. However, the point is that a law that is only on the books temporarily can have a profound impact while it is in force and whether or not it is eventually and inevitably struck down.
    Have you no concern for the five years' worth of Louisiana high school students whose educations were adversely affected by the Louisiana Creationism Act while it was in force? The eventual Supreme Court decision can't repair the damage that was done.

(R) It is true the legal system in this country is somewhat slow, but perhaps that is preferable to the alternative. After all, as Winston Churchill said, democracy is a terrible form of government, with its only saving grace being that it is better than any other.
(MB) I agree completely. However, this does not mean that we shouldn't be vigilant and should not attempt to prevent abuses of the system before they can happen.

It's anything but innuendo and/or conspiracy. Read the Creationist literature for absolute proof of what I say. In fact, pay attention to *any* argument based in religion that seeks to prevent certain things from being taught in schools. These folks echo much the same thing you did earlier in that they are all "worried" about the "consequences" of doing other than what they preach.
(R) All right, I'll grant you, you have now defined "them." It appears to be over-zealous religious people, particularly those who believe in a literal translation of the creation stories in the Bible. If you were to use the words "strict fundamentalist" to preface your views on the religious beliefs you don't care for, I think you would find I wouldn't disagree with what you say -- at least not all the time. But if you don't define your targets, such statements remain innuendo -- or worse.
(MB) When we are in the middle of a discussion about Creationism and the actions of Fundamentalist Christians and other religious activists, is it necessary to redefine the use of the words "they" or "them" each time such words are used so that there's no confusion about who is being discussed?
    Besides that, the point is the actions being undertaken. If the "majority of religious individuals" truly opposes them, why don't they tell the activists to shut up and make it clear that they do not represent the views of the majority? If that was made clear, do you really think that anybody would take the squeaky wheels seriously, no matter how indignant their righteousness?

(R) To respond to your latest comment, let me say a few things. First of all, most of these people are probably more concerned with what is taught to their own children than the children of others.
(MB) If that is so, why don't they just take their children to a private religious school (or homeschool them) instead of trying to overturn the public education system and interfere with everybody else's children?

(R) Additionally, with the current state of affairs in public education, perhaps what is being taught there is a likely candidate for concern, is it not?
(MB) Nope. The basics are still there and there's no need to change them. Additionally, the addition of vocational education and special courses for gifted students improves things. The problem today is that students are no longer instilled with discipline or any ability or desire to learn or understand anything that they are taught. Adding religious fairy tales to the curricula will not make anything better in this regard.

(R) Either way, these sentiments are not grounds for automatic censure. But even more interestingly, let me note that you have also expressed, if not concern, at least disquiet over the "teaching of superstition" to children. Why is it all right for you to pronounce on what is fit to teach children, but not for others to do so? Seems to me there's a word for your do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude in this area. Hypocrisy, isn't it?
(MB) Oh, brother, are you out in left field on this one! There are numerous reasons why any thinking person should be against the teaching of superstitious nonsense to children in schools -- not the least of which is the obvious fact that no such drivel will do anything to better prepare those children for real life.
    As to who gets to pronounce on what is fit to teach to children, everybody is entitled to their say and opinions, of course, will vary. As always, if there are two (or more) sides to an issue, they are not all equal just because they can be expressed. Each side must be justified and defended in order to gain validity and adherence. The case for teaching Creationism (or any other religious doctrine) in public schools is extremely weak.

They don't have much success? Have you noticed the ratings system that has been forced into use on TV now? When's the last time you watched a movie on non-cable TV where certain words and scenes haven't been "bleeped" out or censored? These groups pressure advertisers into pulling support from controversial programs and succeed. It's even illegal to show somebody drinking beer on a TV show. Unconstitutional or not, they have a great deal of success in forcing their beliefs and morality upon the rest of us.
(R) Cable-TV has had ratings on movies for years -- as, of course, have movies in theaters.
(MB) Cable TV does not rate the movies it broadcasts. Rather, they echo the ratings that the Motion Picture Association of America issues. These ratings have not been applied throughout the history of motion pictures.

(R) Why do you think such things are done?
(MB) Because pressure groups have forced the industry to do so. The MPAA has historically resisted these ratings and did not implement them without a fight. The same applies to the TV industry when these same groups began to focus their efforts on that media.

(R) If a parent is unfamiliar with a program, whether on television or in a theater, there are only a few choices they have in attempting to keep their children from viewing inappropriate material. They can watch it themselves first (only if it is a re-occurring program) or watch it with their children (which could still easily result in viewing inappropriate material) or make an concerted effort to read reviews or other material (if available) about the program before allowing their children to watch. All of these options are time consuming at best, and completely unworkable at worst. A rating system makes things much simpler.
(MB) So, these parents would rather have somebody else "rate" movies and apply some unknown and arbitrary standards for "objectionable content" instead of making the effort themselves? Also, how does one ensure that the ratings accurately reflect one's own views on what is or is not "objectionable"? Since the movie industry didn't decide this stuff, just who do you think did? And why?

(R) Does such a system provide an opportunity for "the government" to practice censorship? Well, I suppose so, but it doesn't seem to have had that effect in the movie industry during the 30+ years since ratings were introduced. As a matter of fact, many producers deliberately seek R-ratings to boost ticket sales. I see no reason why the situation will be any different in the television industry.
(MB) Rating a movie or TV show is not something I'd consider censorship. Censorship is when words are "bleeped" out or scenes are cut out because somebody has decided unilaterally that I (or my children) shouldn't hear or see them. I have not been given the opportunity to make a free decision for myself.
    I agree about the effect of certain ratings on ticket sales for movies. Actually, this has been a rather clever exploitation of the ratings system by the industry. NC-17 ratings are a good case in point. There are several movies that few people would otherwise have gone to see if not for them being given that rating ("Henry and June" comes immediately to mind).
    One other point... Movie ratings don't mean the same thing now that they did in years past. Movies like "M*A*S*H" and "Midnight Cowboy" were originally given "X" ratings when they were first released, but are now openly shown on network television. A rating of "X" now means hardcore sex. M*A*S*H got its "X" rating for the famous "Sally Kellerman and the shower tent" scene -- which is now considered to be very tame.

(R) "Forced into use?" I was under the impression the leaders of the television industry itself initiated the system to prevent Congress from coming up with more repressive legislation. I applaud their efforts. I guess, though, if you think following the law of the land, the expressed will of the majority of citizens, is coercion, then "forced into use" is the right term.
(MB) You make it sound like it was the industry's idea in the first place when that was anything *but* the case. You hit on the key yourself when you mentioned the threat of more repressive legislation. The industry was, indeed, forced into adopting a ratings system. They have learned how to deal with it (and, indeed, to exploit it) since then, but that still doesn't justify the methodology used to make it happen in the first place.

(R) I think you greatly exaggerate the market power of fundamentalists.
(MB) Oh, really? A market driven by public opinion is going to be driven by what people say and not by those who don't say anything. Since the majority of people in the country have some religious affiliation, if a fundamentalist group can successfully position themselves as the spokesmen for that majority, the industry is going to listen. They can't afford *not* to listen!

(R) "Ellen" didn't go off the air because the religious right didn't like it, it went off because nobody else did either. If the show was still popular it would still be on.
(MB) The massive hype effort for the "coming out of the closet" episode was certainly meant to increase viewership for the show, don't you think? Unfortunately for the show's producers, the effort backfired due in large part to the objections of the religious groups. Even if lots of people tuned in, it's not viewers that make money for the show -- it's the advertising that is sold. If advertisers are convinced that they face major boycotts as a reprisal for purchasing advertising on a controversial show, they simply won't buy any. Less demand means that the price of advertising goes down -- if any can be sold at all. Unprofitable shows get cancelled. So long, Ellen. I doubt you'll see any similar attempts at highly-promoted "coming out of the closet" shows in the near future.

(R) The current Southern Baptist offensive against Disney is laughable. I'm dying to take an "exit poll" of customers at Disneyland to see what percentage of customers are Baptists compared to the general population. I bet the difference would be something like .00213 percent -- to which Disney would no doubt respond by raising their prices .00213 percent.
(MB) I agree that the Baptists are way off base. Boycotts and protests would affect Disney World more than Disneyland since there are more Baptists in the Southeast than in California. Of course, if you are trying to say that only 213 out of every 10 million Disney customers are Baptists, I doubt they'll have many concerns at all -- especially considering how much of their business comes from tourists who live well away from any Baptist influence.

(R) Please explain to me why a rating system represents "forcing their beliefs and morality upon the rest of us."
(MB) When words are bleeped and scenes are cut (or movies are not even broadcast) because of somebody else's unilateral decision about what is or is not fit for us to see, those decision-makers are forcing their morality upon the rest of us.

(R) You're still perfectly free to watch whatever you want, aren't you?
(MB) Nope. Not if somebody else is forcing the networks to cut out what might euphemistically be called "the good stuff" or if they prevent the networks from showing a movie or show that I might wish to watch. Many communities forbid the retailing of certain types of movies so I couldn't even buy them on video for my own personal viewing. If I have to pay extra money or make unusual efforts to view my choice of movies, I'm certainly being affected by somebody else's morality.

(R) As a matter of fact, if someone normally watches only R-rated shows, a rating system makes searching for them easier.
(MB) Indeed, it does. But, if I want to see one uncut by the censors, I have to pay extra money for premium cable channels, pay-per-view, or movie rentals/purchases. The extra restrictions on X-rated material only make the situation worse.

(R) Finally, since I've become weary of explaining simple and obvious concepts...
(MB) Which all miss or ignore the central point...

(R) ...why do you think obscenities are censured in non-cable transmissions which go out over the public airways?
(MB) Because of the complaints of those who consider such language "unfit" for people to hear. If nobody (or nobody of any consequence) objected to it, that language wouldn't be censored. Isn't that a rather simple and obvious concept?

(R) What are the constitutional issues in this area?
(MB) None at all. The Constitution does not define what words are "bad" -- or even that there's even any such thing as "bad words". It's purely an issue of morality. This should be obvious since the list of "bad words" has varied over time.

(R) Could it be free speech vs. public welfare?
(MB) That's more likely, but, once again, we must define who is deciding what is or is not in the best interests of "public welfare". And, once again, we must return to those who are doing the censoring.

(R) Ever hear of the FCC? They've been around since, what, the 1920s?
(MB) Of course, but preventing somebody from destroying the moral fiber of the nation by saying "shit" on television is only one very small portion of what the FCC does. It's major function is the totally uncontroversial job of assigning the frequencies that broadcasting stations and devices can use -- without regard to the content being broadcast.

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