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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Why do television and movie directors think they must fill every moment of a show with background music? I know many others feel as I do. I am particularly bothered when the wonderful nature shows have such loud background music that it's difficult to understand the commentary. What would be wrong with simply hearing the natural sounds of nature, like the sea or the forest?

Many people I know dislike going into restaurants because, again, the "background" music level is so high it is impossible to converse. And forget about sitting in a movie theater. Any sound level about 90 decibels does permanent damage to one's hearing -- yet studies show that practically every movie theater exceeds this damaging level by a huge margin. Ask a theater manager to turn down the volume, and you'll be told the public likes that noise. We are permanently damaging the hearing of our people. -- NANETTE FABRAY MACDOUGALL, PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF.

DEAR NANETTE: You're absolutely right, of course. But restaurants use music to discourage patrons from lingering over their meals so the table can be "turned" to accommodate another seating, which equals more profit for the restaurant. Call it modern restaurant management.

If one were to ask theater owners and managers why the volume is raised so high in movies, I'm sure the reply would be that it adds to the realism for audiences whose hearing is already impaired from rock concerts and dance clubs.

Speaking as someone with a degree of hearing loss of my own, I agree that television shows are sometimes marred because the background music overpowers the dialogue. But whether or not it will be altered depends upon the demographic the producers and station executives are trying to appeal to.

Sad to say, but the situation probably won't improve until people are able to prove in a court of law exactly where they were when their hearing was damaged.

DEAR ABBY: I am responding on behalf of the Vermont State Judiciary Committee to a recent letter from "Needs to Know," who plans to "marry" in Vermont. We would like to clarify a potential misunderstanding of our landmark civil union law.

In Vermont, the institution of marriage is available only to couples of the opposite sex. However, same-sex couples may establish a "civil union," which entitles them to benefits and privileges, as well as the responsibilities, equal to those afforded to married couples.

We hope "Needs to Know," her partner, their families and friends enjoy their stay in Vermont. -- JOHN F. CAMPBELL, SENATOR, WINDSOR COUNTY, CLERK, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

DEAR SEN. CAMPBELL: Thank you for the clarification. Regardless of what you call it, your landmark civil union law is sensible and forward-thinking. I wish other states would follow your lead and allow same-sex couples who wish to be officially committed to each other the privilege of doing so. It poses no threat to "traditional" marriages and promotes responsibility and accountability between the partners.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

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