Monday, August 3, 2015

That Blunt Response to the BSA's Announcement . . .

When the news dropped that the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board had voted to change BSA policy to end its ban on gay leadership and leave leadership decisions up to chartering organizations, I was out of the news loop.

At scout camp.

Yet not out of the news loop, due to a few fathers bringing their cell phones and hearing the news.
The news didn’t cause a ripple among the boys. Outside of a brief discussion among our troop’s leaders/dads at camp, I didn’t hear a whisper about it.

But doubtless we’ll hear more about it in the future.

The BSA’s National Executive Board’s decision is not surprising, nor, to me, is it distressing. What the board decided is in line with what BSA President Robert Gates discussed earlier this year, in seizing the initiative to decide which direction to take the BSA as a national organization before courts decided the direction that should be taken.

What surprised us was the bluntness of the LDS Church’s announcement on the news.

The church said, in part:

When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.

As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.

I fear greatly that the LDS Church’s affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America is nearing an end, and that out session at Island Park Scout Camp this July will be our last there.

And I have to ask why.

I’m confused by the portion of the statement that says “the admission of gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church,” for if I’m reading the Handbook of Instructions properly, homosexual individuals who obey the Law of Chastity are entitle to temple recommends and church callings. I don’t see why a Scout calling would be excluded. I’ll be interested to see further clarification from the church on that point in particular.

I understand the concern that Scouting is not serving all church members. Scouting’s near ubiquity worldwide seems to make this an LDS Church issue, not a Scouting issue. But I can be further educated on that, as I don’t know everything there is to know about Scouting.

Is Scouting good for boys? Look at the benefits they receive: A rather shy boy in my troop found himself rather popular at camp this week when he revealed his rather startling wood carving skills when he made tow wooden knives in camp in about the span of twenty minutes. Look at three boys in my troop who started the week off on the wrong foot by wandering out of our campsite after curfew only to turn that to their advantage to earn the Astronomy merit badge. And look at all the boys working hard on their rank advancements and wanting to progress.

There are similar programs offered by the Seventh-day Adventist church, a non-denominational Christian group, and the new Trail LifeUSA program created in reaction to the 2013 decision by the BSA to allow gay boys to become Scouts. Their like-for-likeness I cannot determine. Direct association by the LDS Church with any of these groups seems unlikely, particularly with the latter as the LDS Church did not oppose allowing gay Scouts.

If the LDS Church were to establish its own program, it would indeed have enormous, Sideshow Bob-like shoes to fill. Duty to God is a good spiritual program, but it’s no replacement for the Boy Scouts. A program without equivalent rank advancement and skill assessment such as merit badges will fall short, in my opinion, an LDS program is going to have to be like-for-like.

And, if we’re going that far, it should involve both genders, not just the boys. I have a thirteen-year-old daughter who is counting the days to her fourteenth birthday so she can join Venture scouting. Leadership and outdoor skills that are good for the boys are just as good for the girls in my book.

However, I hope the status quo is maintained. There is too much good in Scouting to just walk away from it. Perhaps if the LDS Church does walk, we’ll look for community-chartered Scouting organizations to continue the benefits our children see in the program.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Peek at This Blog's Top Posts

Once in a while, statistics will show you startling things. Like the fact that the most popular posts -- at least the top two -- remain the top two most popular posts on this blog. One more startling thing: it just a few more months, it'll be two years since I had a new post break into the top o' the blog.

Behold, the most popular posts:

My babblings about the Yoo-Hoo bird remain as popular as ever, as does the conclusion to a novel that's changed quite a bit since that conclusion was written. The top five from the last time I checked the stats -- and I have to confess I don't remember when that was -- are still the top five.

So I have to wonder: Did I peak as a blogger in 2013? Have I written nothing worthy of the top posts since then? Apparently so.

But since no one's bothered to correct me on anything in the Yoo-Hoo bird post, I can probably rest assured I got things in that post mostly right. Or the real anal retentive bird-lovers haven't visited yet because they don't have to Google Yoo-Hoo bird to know what someone's talking about.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Last Christmas Gift

This is a review of The Last Christmas Gift by Nathan Shumate. It's an honest review, given in exchange for a free electronic copy of the book.

I wanted more out of The Last Christmas Gift.

Don't get me wrong -- this novella by Nathan Shumate is a wonderfully creepy tale of dead grandfathers, voodoo dolls and about the creepiest zombie I've ever encountered in print (if you think regular zombies are creepy, consider a suspected pedophile zombie as even creepier -- eeeough). it works on the creepy zombie novella level. It could have gone up another notch or two, however -- skipping the notch of mawkish Christmas tales completely -- with a heavier whisper of message (likely not Shumate's goal) that wouldn't even have to be all that Christmassy.

Shumate does have an ear for looking at death through a child's eye. His main character Malcolm reacts to death (he attends a few funerals, lives across the street from a cemetery, has to spend the night with his Grandpap's dead body in the same house) with the same kind of questioning and assumptions I recall from when my grandmother died when I was nine. (In contrast, the passing of my father fifteen years ago brings back memories and feeling that are nothing like what Shumate has Malcolm experience, adding to the veracity of his storytelling.)

What's the more I'm missing? I can't quite put my finger on it, but the books' tone shifts (obviously) at the moment Malcolm's voodoo chant (enabled by instructions found in a doll his father sends from Vietnam) summons the dead from the cemetery across the street. The tale shifts from a bittersweet story of a kid dealing with his grandpap's death do dead grandpap and kid defending the house against zombies (including the aforementioned suspected pedophile). Shumate doesn't get mawkish with sentiment -- but he does so by avoiding the sentiment of a reanimated father figure almost completely in exchange for a pedestrian telling of zombie hijinx.

One question for zombiephiles out there: Does the freshness of a zombie corpse influence behavior? Cause grandpap is grandpap, while everyone else (including grandpap's reanimated wife) is just the typical rotting shuffling zombie, motivated by what I'm not exactly sure, given that I'm not a regular reader of zombie literature nor do I watch zombie movies.

This isn't the first Christmas story to involve the netherworlds -- Dickens' A Christmas Carol certainly comes to mind. But Dickens' wasn't just a spook-fest, either.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


The cat walked into the room silently, its eyes reflecting the firelight.

Somewhere in the room was the catnip snake, the snake that crinkled when she bit it and smelled like green grass and dead mice and freedom. But it’s not just a matter of walking into the room and straight to the snake. She knew well where it was, tucked under the corner of the skin rug near the heart where the firelight danced. To go straight to it, however, could not be done.

Enter the room, pause. Eyes wide, saucers of black rimmed with a pale green. There on the mantelpiece, the great horned helmet. Walk three paces, pause, front left forepaw in the air. There by the chair, the massive arm slumped off the arm rest, rings catching the light of the dying fire. Left forepaw down, sniff the stone floor. Two sniffs, for show.  Three more quick paces then sit upright on her bottom, watching for the big bearded head to turn to see the light reflecting green from her eyes. 

Pause to lick a paw and rub it on an eyebrow. Then the other.

A snort from the figure in the chair and her paw frozen at her lips.

Boots still on, she saw, resting on  hewn log ready for the fire.

She continued to lick. Lick and rub, lick and rub.

The hand on the arm dangling from the chair idly fingered the oiled handle of the square hammer, its metal blue in the dim orange light. The hand picked up the hammer and tapped it gently on the stones and sparks danced on the floor and scurried like fireflies under chairs and over the booted legs and into and out of the fire where the sparks left holes in the flame that wavered blue and green until they sealed and burned orange again.

Her eyes watched the sparks dance and their light traced comet trails across the black saucers of her eyes.

Four more steps, then a pause under the table, watching the man in the chair, now snoring lightly.
Where he went and who he saw maybe she cared about, and maybe not. She sniffed at the smells he brought into the room: sweat and blood, pine and sage, mutton and mint and mead.

And her snake waited under the corner of the skin rug, ready to crinkle.

Six swift steps and under the chair now, its knobbed legs vibrating gently as the man in the chair snored. She turned to the left to sniff at the hammer, which sat blue and cold and idle as the master’s hand rested on the round knob at its pommel.

The snake.

The cat crouched under the chair and watched the snake, oblivious to her as it rested. She stared at it as the fire crackled and listened to the wood pop and smack as the black of her eyes grew wider as she stared at the snake and imagined the comets of the sparks from the hammer dancing around the room and staring at the snake with her.

Then the snake forgotten.

She emerged from underneath the chair and mewed.

The man in the chair rumbled and smacked his lips, but his eyes, hidden in the deep furrow beneath his eyebrows, remained closed.

The cat mewed again and jumped into his lap.

The man murmured and his right hand reached up and reflexively stroked the cat’s back.
The cat arched her back up to meet his hand and she mewed again. She spun slowly as the hand stroked her back and she began to purr and knead the fur-lined leather of his tunic.

“Katt,” the man said, half asleep.

He said it as “cot,” the K bouncing off the walls and the Ts off the floor and ceiling so both the cat and the hammer danced.

The cat mewed and turned her rump to the man’s face, arching her back as the hand stroked her head.
The man opened an eye.
“Katt,” he said. “Always with the butt of love, you are.” The cat mewed and arched her back higher. The man cupped her head in his massive hand, stroking it gently. The cat breathed deep the smell of the fur the man wore, and with each stroke she lowered her back until she lay on the man’s belly, purring as he snored.

The fire grew dimmer as cat and man slept until the only light in the room was a faint red glow from the coals.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Speck in the Universe

There was a time, I have to remember, that Pluto was a speck in the universe.

A speck.

But no more. Because, as Kleinman said, space is small; only the planets are big.

And Pluto is huge. As much surface area as the nation of Russia, which swallowed tens of thousands of men into the gulags of Siberia, which took the blast of Tunguska and spared the world that hardly knew what had happened.

And Charon has on it chasms larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon, with the surface area of Texas, but with no Texans there to wear hats, drill for oil, or to remember the Alamo.

Pluto is huge. As Clyde Tombaugh knew it would be.

When I was a boy, Pluto was a world of physics and geology. Physics that kept it in its misshapen orbit about the sun, geology influenced by the cold of space and the sparse energy the sun could cast its way.

Now it is a planet of history – though through the human view it is a history of hours as that spacecraft barreled by at fourteen kilometers a second. A second. And though it is but switching one set of arbitrary numbers for another, that is 8.7 miles per second. Five hundred twenty-one miles a minute. Or 31,284 miles per hour.

Pluto’s is a history, in human terms, written in mere hours.

As is the history of the moon of Earth. How long did the astronauts spend there, altogether, walking or hopping or roaming in their moon buggies? Not even eighty hours. Barely 3 ½ days, stretched over six Apollo missions.

Now the number is higher as space shrinks and the moons and planets grow ever larger. Countless hours now walked on the Moon, Mars, Titan, Europa, Ganeymede. Tenuous steps on the dark side of Mercury; ill-fated steps on the surface of Venus.

And there is me. The Hermit of Iapetus. Alone to walk here, where the cyanide dust falls from the open sky and from where – on Earth – I am but a speck on a speck orbiting a bright star. A star that once, to mankind, appeared to have ears that came and went.

I am a speck in the universe. And Pluto is not.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Atticus, Atticus . . .

There’s a hullabaloo brewing over rumors – the book "Go Set A Watchman" itself isn’t out yet – that Atticus Finch, one of the most beloved characters in American literature, is racist.

Few want to believe it, though it appears the rumors are based in fact on reviews and snippets of the book coming out prior to its release this week.

Do I want to scream “say it ain’t so?”

I think I can be planted firmly in the “what did you expect from the South in the 1950s?” camp.
One fundamental thing that many people are forgetting is that Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” is told from the point of view of a child – Scout Finch, the main character in the new book, “Go Set A Watchman,” that reveals Atticus’ racism.

Through the eyes of a child, everything is idealized. Atticus, defending the innocent Tom Robinson, must be kind and sweet and look like Abraham Lincoln, as Popeye would probably put it. Scout might have been privy to the public face of the court case where her father defended Robinson on points of law – and might have seen a softer side to her father when he advised walking around in someone else’s skin to see what it’s like to be them for a while – but she wouldn’t have been privy to everything.

Her barging in on the “mob,” for example, in this clip from the celebrated movie. Do we know all the motivations there, even those of her father? Or do we just assume, like Scout, that her father’s motivations are moral and driven by social justice, rather than by justice as applied by the law? We don’t know if Atticus wants the children to leave for fear of their lives – and would the mob have killed the children to get at Tom Robinson – or because he didn’t want them to hear what came next – Atticus sharing the mob’s racist attitudes but putting them aside for the legal attitude he felt, at this moment, was more important?

We can guess. We can hope. But we don’t know, do we?

About all we do know here is that Scout has picked up a bit of legal terminology from her lawyer father – entailments – and that she’s against them. Against them not because she understands them (I barely do) but because she understands Atticus doesn’t like them. (Entailments, for those who don’t know, is “an old-fashioned form of bequeathing real property” that limits inheritance only to legitimate children. Mr. Cunningham paid Atticus in hickory nuts to help resolve such a problem (what it is we’re not clear on, since Scout herself only understands that entailments are bad). We only have Scout’s understanding because this is Scout’s interpretation of the world she and her father inhabit. She only understands Atticus’ world as explained by Atticus.

Maybe she noticed his early racism. And maybe, given this was Alabama in the1930s, it was just accepted, even by Scout, as normal. She might not understand it, as many children might not. But it was part of who her daddy was – so she accepted it just as she accepted her understanding of entailments form her father.

We’re like Scout, reading “To Kill A Mockingbird.” We want to see Atticus as an ideal. As pure. That’s what all children do with their parents.

“Go Set A Watchman” may indeed be Scout growing up, still loving her father, but now recognizing her father for what he is: A contradictory man, a man who loves the law, but is also racist.

This aspect makes me want to read the book even more.

BSA Executives Move on Gay Leadership Ban

I’ve now read this form two sources, so it must be legitimate. Here’s what the Deseret News has to say:

The executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America has unanimously approved a resolution that would end the organization's blanket ban on gay adult leaders and let individual scout units set their own policy on the long-divisive issue.

In a statement Monday, the BSA said the resolution was approved by the executive committee on Friday, and would become official policy if ratified by the organization's larger National Executive Board at a meeting on July 27.

There’s more detail at the Buzzfeed link, indulging test of the resolution.

The BSA is also talking about it, as is the LDS Church.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens at the National Executive Board meeting July 27. I've already expressed my thoughts on the matter.

Who is on that board?

Wikipedia has a list of 2011 board members – it’s not clear from this list if that’s current membership.

Obviously, it’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds. And it will unfold the week we’re at Scout Camp. Maybe the news will penetrate the news blackout you experience in the woods. Maybe not. As for me, I'm not ready to put on the sackcloth and ashes.