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Culture Notes

Have cable, must carry

The Supreme Court upheld the law that requires cable TV systems to carry all local stations. The ruling represents a reprieve for independent religious broadcasters, but it may mean public-service cable networks such as C-SPAN get squeezed out. By a 5-4 decision (with conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas among the dissenters), the court rejected the cable industry's argument that the "must carry" law violates their freedom of speech by making cable companies carry stations they would prefer to drop. The majority opinion said that the law makes sure that the public has access to a wide range of information sources. Despite optimistic claims for the new technology, which promised an unlimited number of channels, the reality is that cable, as it now stands, can carry only so many systems. New channels, however, are proliferating. Companies have to choose what they will offer. Complicating the matter is that many new networks, such as Rupert Murdoch's Fox news channel, are paying cable companies to carry their signals. Cable giant TCI attempted to cut the music video channels M-TV and VH-1 to make room for more lucrative fare, but the music industry rallied its fans and made music videos a protected species. Now threatened is C-SPAN, which televises Congressional sessions and public policy programs (admirably giving equal time to conservative organizations). C-SPAN, which once reached 70 million homes, has lost some 9 million viewers and is facing further cutbacks. Once again, entertainment trumps information.

Out of the closet

Washington is again torn by a controversy over art--not over the federal funding of pornography, but over two warring versions of political correctness. In 1921, the National Women's Party gave Congress a statue commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The sculpture, depicting the 19th-century suffragettes Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, was briefly displayed in the sculpture gallery of the Capitol Rotunda, then stored in a basement closet. Recently, women's groups have campaigned to move the sculpture back to the Rotunda. The problem is that the gallery is already crowded with American heroes, and the suffragette statue is monstrously huge and not very aesthetically appealing, with its three heads looming out of a gigantic hunk of marble. Still, as usual, pressure from feminists has prevailed, and Congress has agreed to move the statue back to a place of honor (even though that meant making room by putting Roger Williams, the Baptist defender of religious freedom and founder of the state of Rhode Island, into the closet). But a coalition of black women's groups is opposing putting the statue in the Rotunda. The work depicts three white suffragettes, but it does not depict the major black crusader for women's rights, Sojourner Truth. An ex-slave and crusader for a number of 19th-century social reforms, Sojourner Truth was also a devout Christian. Delores Tucker, of the National Political Congress of Black Women, points out that the 19th-century women's movement was dominated by white women who often shunned the participation of blacks. "We can't let this statue be placed in the rotunda without Sojourner Truth," she said. "We cannot let black women step back again and allow white women to go first." Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) is preparing legislation to keep the statue in the closet unless Sojourner Truth is included in any memorial.

Not blinded by science

According to a study published in the prestigious journal Nature, four in 10 scientists believe in a personal God. Forty-five percent believe in a less personal deity, while only 15 percent claim to be agnostics or atheists. These are roughly the same percentages as in 1916, when the same survey was originally given. At that time, the psychologist James Leuba, a militant atheist, studied the religious views of 1,000 scientists. Though he had assumed that greater scientific education would mean a decline in religious belief, his data indicated otherwise. The experiment was carried out again by Edward Larson of the University of Georgia, who found that 80 years of scientific progress has had little impact on the faith of scientists. Significant in the survey were Mr. Leuba's careful definitions. He asked whether scientists believed in a God who communicates with human beings and who answers prayer. Forty percent of the biologists, physicists, mathematicians, and other scientists, then and now, believe in this kind of personal God. Though Gallup polls show as many as 93 percent of Americans believing in a deity, Gallup's question is far more vague, as is many Americans' view of God. Culture notes by Gene Edward Veith.