Subject: AAFWD: Theistwatch for 2/29 (THEISTWATCH is a service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a nat

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From: Subject: AAFWD: Theistwatch for 2/29 (THEISTWATCH is a service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. It is distributed to members and supporters on the AAFWD list; our thanks to Rich Daniel for operating this list. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer) ************ Those of you who are AMERICAN ATHEISTS members -- we've got news for you. For starters, the American Atheist Magazine is ready for shipment; this is the August, '95 issue which the Murray O'Hairs had nearly completed before their disappearance. The few un-finished pages were "fleshed in" with topical articles, and the finished product has been assembled under the direction of Spike Tyson, our new office manager at ghq. It is being prepared for shipment as you read this e-mail. The American Atheist Magazine and the AA Newsletter will be edited by Mr. Frank Zindler. Many of you have seen Frank's postings on this list, or read his articles in the magazine, or perhaps have heard him on radio debating creationists and other religious zanies. Mr. Zindler served as director of our former Ohio Chapter, and is currently a translator and linguist, with a specialty in ancient languages. Frank faces the task of getting both of these publications back on a regular schedule; but we wanted to let all of you know that "regular business" is being handled. In addition, book and product orders are being processed at the Austin office by our new staff. Production is still going on for our site on the world wide web. You'll be able to order books and other products from our on-line catalogue, and we will feature a special "news flash" section with current news and information. We'll let you know the URL when the site is operational. We are also working on the various electronic lists. We will feature this discussion list, THEISTWATCH, a list for news and press releases, and other services. If you have a back order or other business, PLEASE DO NOT CALL THE GHQ. We are still building the office staff up to full-strength, and Spike has his hands full -- literally -- with things to do. The phones are all automated, and there is no way at the present time that we can handle the deluge of calls. If you were a contact person for the AMERICAN ATHEIST TV FORUM, you should know that we are making plans to duplicate and distribute the Forum tapes once again, using the "Atheist Viewpoint" show presently done by Ellen Johnson and Ron Barrier. This will take some additional time, however, since Mr. Tyson will have to train a new staff for that job. While we have made considerable progress in the last few months in "jumpstarting" American Atheists, we still have a long, long way to go. Other news: we are re-printing books as quickly as possible to fill orders. We have at least three new books (including a possible children's book) "in the pipeline", with others planned. Ms. Wait is pulling the FaxNet together, and Neal Cary will be taking over as National Outreach Director. American Atheists has the goal of having State Directors in each state in the near future, our trained "eyes and ears" to keep track of relevant First Amendment issues. So, please be patient. We have been working hard to resurrect this operation;to borrow a phrase, "we've been blessed" with some dedicated and hard-working folks such as Ellen Johnson and Spike Tyson. And TW will keep you posted as things progress. ********** THEISTWATCH ON THE CULTURE FRONT One effect of the slew of religious conservative candidates begging for public office jobs has been President Clinton's steady move to the right. Bill is fast shedding his image of a being a "didn't inhale" kinda'guy who invited the well-padded members of Fleetwood Mac to play at his Innaugural shindig, in favor of a sterner, mainline family man. To whit: first, he and Al Gore (and you KNOW that Second Lady Tipper had a role in this one...) pushed through the Telecommunications Bill with its provisions against "obscentiy" , and the mandatory V-Chip. Supposedly, this Big Brother device will have to be installed on new television sets over a certain size to "assist" families in "planning" their viewing schedule. There's evidence, however, that this could backfire. A University of Wisconsin study suggests that older youngsters, especially boys, actually prefer movies with an R-rated over its G-rated counterpart. For instance, when asked if they preferred a version of the 1964 Disney movie "The Moon-Spinners" starring a young Peter McEneary and Hayley Mills, girls in the 5-9 age range picked the sanitized verion by a 6-1 margin. Girls in the 10-14 range, however, chose the G-version, 29.2% to 11.1%. The shift was even more dramatic for the boys. The 5-9 year old males picked the G-version, 2)% to 4.8%. But the 10-14 year-old males wanted the R-version. 50% chose the more adventuresome version of "The Moon Spinners", and none (0%) picked the G-rated version. Some recent studies also suggest that the issue of TV "violence" is over-stated. USA TODAY noted that one survey found "many parents do heed on-air advisories and shield young children from the most violent TV films." It was also observed that when mom and dad aren't glued to the TV box, though, "a ratings system could backfire, making movies more attractive." Meanwhile, there is a scramble of TV execs and politicians trying to make hay out of this cultural sunshine, before the public consciousness moves on to a new fad (or, "heaven" forbid, a more substantive issue.) Media Mogul Rupert Murdock is on the stump, insisting that his brassy Fox Network is "serving the public interest." The "public interest" as determined by the government or the American Family Association, though, seems distinctly different from that measured in the marketplace. Certain programs -- some good, others bad -- attract large, enthused audiences. Which raises a long-overdue question, again...who decides? Murdock has his own rating system ready for takeoff, which has irritated his counterparts at the Big Three of CBS, ABC and NBC. He's threatened to act "unilaterally if necessary." But the head of News Corporation is more an expert in political judo than straight-on boxing and clubbing; Murdock, a pioneer in zesty tabloid journalism, KNOWS that a stable of titillating ratings will only attract more of the viewers he seeks. Interestingly, TV execs have brought in former Kennedy White House man Jack Valentin to do some damage control; Valenti is head of the Motion Picture Association of America, and is now charged with being the spin-doctor for media conglomerates faced with public calls for regulation and censorship. But how soon we forget the past, no? The absurd "ratings system" in movies was basically an outgrowth of the conspitation and social paranoia of the fifties. The Roman Catholic Church and the Legion of Decency were beating the drums against adultery and drinking being portrayed on the big screen; Liz Taylor was a major target back then, not only for her role in movies like "Cleopatra" and "The Sandpiper", but for her on-and-off relationship with Richard Burton. From pulpits across the land echoes the charge that Hollywood was peddling immoral filth; "something" had to be done! Like "violent" or "suggestive" TV programs or movies today, the targets of righteous wrath were often chosen by religious prudes in cohort with the politically ambitious. And they drew large audiences. One suspects that many a Catholic snuck off to see Mr. Burton agonize over his dual role as a priest and a man, tempted by the seductive eroticism of Ms. Taylor; and today, those "action films" exercise a similar lure, racking up big audiences at both the theater and the video rental outlets. True, we can stand only so much Schwartzenegger and Stallone; but the same has to be said of "good, clean, wholesome" family fare ground out in a repetative formula by the Disney folks. Is any of this really relevant, though? Concern over the propriety of television programs may have been understandable during the B.C. era of history ("before cable"). Back then, there was a small offering, usually the Big Three with the inevitable local "independent" channel which aired bad commercials for community businesses and whatever re-runs it could afford. Later there was the "educational channel", which at first aired only a few hours each day, and often featured a college professor discussing abstract art. The situation is remarkably different today. There is already a dedicated "children's network" with several imitators, and programs like "Sesame Street" and "Shining Times Station" can easilly be found. There are hundreds of video tapes for children and other youngsters. There is an exploding market of inter-active instructional CD-ROMS. And there is the public library or the local bookstore, with shelves ready to collapse under the weight of the year's current offering of new kids books. Older children are reading authors such as R.L.Stine whose "Goosebumps" series threatens to displace Stephen King as the Master of Horror. So, do we really need the legislative intervention of solons like Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), who is busy pushing a bill which would mandate that ONLY programs suitable for "family viewing" be broadcast when kids "make up a majority" of the potential audience? Does this make sense in the era of direct-satellite broadcasts, dedicated children's networks (around the clock), and 500-channel options? President Clinton, however, cannot appear weak, immoral or (even worse!) reluctant to heed the call of the religious right about "values" and "family", and exploit it for his own political advantage. Mr. Buchanan, who barring a miracle will not be moving into the White House next year, has nevertheless succeeded in shifting the locus of political discourse substantially to the right. We are in trouble when Senator Dole appears as a moderate, or Mr. Clinton, intoxicated with his own newly-discovered pro-family agenda, is a "progressive." And who would have imagined four short years ago that the President of the United States (especially the one who promised to focus on "real issues" such as the economy and un-employment "like a laser beam!") would instead be using his office as a bully pulpit for SCHOOL UNIFORMS? The Education Department is set to distribute manuals to the nation's 16,000 school districts"offering legal guidance" on this faddist, hot issue. Mr. Clinton even used his State of the Union message to admonish us that "if it (school uniforms) means that teen-agers will stop killing ech other over designer jackets," then by all means let's start making the kids wear them! There is the usual spate of "studies" and annecdotal tales about how uniforms magically decrease the incidents of violence. The same "get tough" ethos that results in praise for the revival of prison chain gangs or public whippings finds a new outlet. And a generation of Clinton-aged yuppies which grew up questioning things like uniforms, arbitrary stands for hair length and even the military draft now see the "answer" in dealing with their own rebellious sibblings as a Catholic-esque tradition -- uniforms. Knowing better than to offend the religious, though, Clinton has instructed the Education Department to remind school boards that any policies concerning unfiroms "should accomodate items worn as part of religious expression." (USA TODAY, 2/27). A kid may not wear a sweater, or jeans, or sneakers or "gang colors" that don't fit the "uni", but it is more than permissible -- in fact, it is encouraged -- to wear turbans, crosses, yarmulkes. One hesistates to ask what children raised in voodoo cults might wish to wear in announcing THEIR religious affiliation... If kids squabble over the clothes on their back (something that at least in popular accounts has gone on for generations), imagine what happens when uniforms reduce the bulk of the student body to a bland UNIFORMITY, but accentuate differences of those who will invariably insist on advertising their religious beliefs. Surely, the new social doctrine of "uniformitarianism" resonates the with the warning of observers such as Umberto Eco that we live in an age of tempting "ur-fascism", where social regimentation, the cult of a nostalgic past, and religious fundamentalism all converge. Few want to question any of this, however. Ratings, unforms, religious ritual in the public square are all part of the triumph of form over substance, of quickie "feel-good" fixes over the requirements for critical though and skepticism. Bill Clinton once supposedly represented a generation that wanted to change the world. He still does. But the question is: into what? *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: * * PO Box 140195 FTP: * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: * * Info on American Atheists:, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************


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