Monday, July 31, 2017

Ugly Tips

The good news is if you’re ugly, you might be making more money than those who are less unsightly than you are, you freak.

The bad news is since Hillary Clinton is “less conventionally attractive” and regarded as “a threat” by other women something something something Donald Trump is in the White House. As opposed to Sarah Palin(!) who is prettier and thus easier for men to control. Or something.

At least that’s what I garner from Peggy Drexler’s confusing column – “Ugly People Earn More, but at What Cost?” – on CNN this morning.

I should announce right now I am a self-declared ugly person, and have applauded Unsightly Rights on this blog before. So Drexler’s reportage on a study by the Journal of Business and Psychology’s reportage revealing the least attractive 3% of the population out-earned the 50% who are “only sort of ugly or just average looking” should please me.

This is where you get to hear about my big but.

Drexler argues – without offering any support – that ugly people earn more because of the “human tendency to favor the underdog,” and that this is “not a noble act,” but rather a form of “intra-gender sexism, or clear and troubling evidence of female misogyny.”

Rewarding the ugly (and here she implies ugly women rewarding ugly women) “is one way to keep those more threatening women down.”

Now I’m no expert in any of this malarkey. But I can spot a person using a study to support their pet notions from miles away.

Note: I’m not saying Drexler isn’t right – I am going to say she does a poor job proving her point.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The BSA Issues an Apologih-gee.

So here’s the thing:

The Boy Scouts of America *shouldn’t* have to apologize for the speech President Donald Trump offered at the National Scout Jamboree Monday.

But, I suppose as President Trump himself likely won’t apologize for the speech which brought politics to the BSA in a venue where politics should not have come, *somebody* had to apologize.

“These character-building experiences have not diminished in recent days at the jamboree,” writes Michael Surbaugh, national chief scout executive in the apology. “Scouts have continued to trade patches, climb rock walls, and share stories about the day’s adventures. But for our Scouting family at home not able to see these real moments of Scouting, we know the past few days have been overshadowed by the remarks offered by the President of the United States.”

For my part as Scoutmaster, while I’ve encouraged my Scouts to talk about service and civic engagement, particularly when we’re working on the Citizenship merit badges, I’ve always tried to steer the discussion clear of partisan politics. Such talk does little to enlighten and serves mainly as a soapbox where one side simply shouts down the other. 

We place emphasis on the maxim that we can disagree without being disagreeable.
Unless, of course, you’re Popeye. When you reach that point, well, you reach that point.

That Ol' Empty Chair

From the “Just In Case You Didn’t Know” Department . . .

Remember this?

He wasn’t the first . . . 

From “The Teapot Dome Scandal,” by Laton McCartney, page 247:

In the national campaign, the Democrats as well as the newly formed Progressive Party, which put forth La Follette and Walsh’s protégé Burton Wheeler as its presidential and vice-presidential candidates, respectively, hammered away at Teapot and the Republicans without much effect. Davis, Al Smith, Walsh, and others (the showman Wheeler debated an empty chair on which he asked his audience to imagine President Coolidge was seated) tried to get Coolidge to respond to charges about the scandal, but “Silent Cal” remained entirely mum, refusing to take the bait.

The Republicans won the election, just so ya’know. Coolidge took 382 electoral votes and the popular vote, of 15.7 million. Democrat John Davis of West Virginia got 136 electoral votes on a popular vote of 8.3 million, while Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, who ran on the Progressive Party (Teddy Roosevelt Progressives of the Republican variety) earned 13 electoral votes on a popular vote of 4.8 million.

This stunt alone inspires me to read more about America’s “Progressive Era,” where the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson (presidents all) were joined by authors like Upton Sinclair, industrialists like Andrew Carnegie (!) and Thomas Alva Edison, members of the Womens’ Suffrage movement (Susan B. Anthony) to combat problems stemming from industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and corruption in government. Sound like familiar troubles, eh?

I’m already a fan of Sinclair Lewis, who wrote of these times.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


One of my favorite stories of solitude starts in this way:

“Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.”

Another includes this passage:

“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”

Both the story of the prophet Enos from the Book of Mormon and the story of Henry David Thoreau’s thoughts from Walden echo the ideals of self-communion and isolation; Enos in the company of his thoughts and God, Thoreau in the company of his thoughts and Nature.

Maybe I’m lucky, but I’ve never had a problem with being alone. I’ve written two books in which the central character, even surrounded by others, is essentially alone in his quest to find peace. When they are in the company of others, they often find confusion and hatred and despair. Alone with their thoughts, or with a choice friend (antagonistic at worst, imaginary at best) they find . . . something. One finds a small pocket of peace at the end of a long road of pain. The other finds himself back at the same place he started, with nothing really to show for the long isolation he put himself in. One finds peace as thoughts of guilt flee. The other finds only the insanity that lies in the space between his ears.

Both escape the cave allegorized so well by Plato, even if one only does so briefly.
I spend my summers alone – have done so for the past six years. The best summers were where I was not teaching English online through BYU-Idaho, where I spent my summers in isolation, writing books or tiling floors. Now I have a seven-week stretch in which I will not teach, and three of those will be while my family is still at Scout Camp for the summer. I will have to see what I can do to make these weeks worthwhile.

Last Saturday I saw a glimpse of that contemplation, as I recorded a near-Enos experience. Maybe more like that will come.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Plew Trail

Update: I'm grading papers furiously. Very impressed by what I've read so far. But I also wanted to record a few thoughts from this week's scout camp adventure. And to share them with you.
In the shower, that’s the best time of day at scout camp. The warm water rushes out of the shower head and with the soap floods away the dust from the trails and the sweat from the sun. The wet cedar boards of the shower floor, cupped just enough to capture a bit of water, allow tired feet to soak up relief, and your feet are so tired and dirty you don’t mind that the cedar is tinged green with a little bit of algae.
But this shower is bittersweet.
Clean, yes, but not for long. Tonight we hike the Plew Trail.
More dust. Lots of dust. Island Park Scout Camp is in a volcanic caldera, so the soil beneath the firs and wildflowers and quaken aspens is loose. And the scouts never pick up their feet. In fact, on the way through camp to the Plew Trail head, they scuff their feet in the dust, kicking up clouds of it.
And I’m breathing that. It’s getting on the Class A uniform I reluctantly put on after that glorious shower. You always wear Class As on the Plew Trail. Because of that Scout Law, the part about being reverent. Being dressed in that stiff shirt with the neckerchief and the patches and the long pants, that promotes reverence. Or so you tell your ragged Scouts, tired from three days at camp, when they don’t want to put on their Class As.
But they do. Because you have yours on. Even though you don’t want to.
Island Park Scout Camp is all about the mountain men. Teton Pete is our mascot. We’re on Pete the Ninth. I’m old enough to remember Pete the First, Dwaine Loertscher, my sixth-grade teacher. Tall and fat and jowly, but always at the front of the line on a hike and he could fire that massive muzzle-loader, nearly as tall as he is, without flinching.
They don’t sing his ballad any more at camp. But I can’t help but to sing it in my head as we march past campsites to the head of the trail:
Oh do you remember my friend Teton Pete
Who crossed the wide prairie his fortune to seek
He came to Wyoming and then Idaho
Saying "Here I have found it, no further I'll go!"
Singing om pa pa om pa pa om to de aa!

One evening quite early when Pete stopped to eat
He threw in his line to Fire Hole Creek
When he got a nibble and pulled it out
It was cooked to perfection a big rainbow trout.
Singing om pa pa om pa pa om to de aa!

When Pete bedded down in his Island Park camp
He yelled "You get up you lazy old scamp!"
While Pete lay a-sleep'in his yell travelled on
Bounced off the Tetons and woke him at dawn.
Singing om pa pa om pa pa om to de aa!

And so on – to the tune of “Sweet Betsy from Pike.”

That’s the kind of thing you learn as an adult. When you’re a scout, you just learn the funny song.

We see Dakota – our assistant commissioner – on the trail ahead. The Plew Trail is starting, and we’ve already walked a mile to the starting point.

Dakota reminds us that many of the campsites at Island Park are named for mountain men who worked and lived in the Island Park area. He also explains the meaning of the word “plew.”

“When mountain men came to their rendezvous, they traded their furs for things they needed to survive the winter: Flour and shot, black powder and blankets. But they kept their best fur – their plew –for last, or when they were desperate for an item and the trader who had it wouldn’t budge on the price,” Dakota said.

Plew is an English mangling of the French “de plus,” or “extra.” The French pronounced it plew. That’s what you learn as an adult. When you’re a scout, you just know you’re going on a hike of some length where you’re going to stop on occasion to listen to a member of the camp staff read a letter from Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting.

So we march. We march past flowers of lavender and yellow and white and Indian paintbrushes of startling, vivid red. That’s what you know as an adult, but as a Scout you just know it’s difficult to do this hike in silence, as Dakota said it should happen.

There are occasional whispers, immediately shushed, and not even by leaders, but by the scouts themselves.

At the second stop, I noticed one of my Scouts hopping from one foot to another, as if he were footsore. He was panting a bit – our leader was setting a cracking pace. And he was sucking lustily on the tube to his Camelbak. He looked uncomfortable. As I looked at him I flashed back to that wonderful shower, and how happy I felt, and how tired I felt now.

So as we left, I patted him on the shoulder and whispered “You doing okay, bud?”

He flashed an enormous smile, hopping lightly on his feet and whispered back, “you bet!” And shot up the trail, leaving his tired Scoutmaster to follow at a trot.

As I walked, it was if a window opened.

A window opened from heaven and a father I once knew and would know again leaned out, patted my shoulder, and whispered, “You doing okay, bud?”

I stomped my left foot hard, as if to keep myself anchored to the ground because I felt like a balloon filling, filling, filling and rising above the canopy of Douglas fir and quaken aspen. I felt as if I were back in that shower, with that cleansing water washing the dirt and sweat and weariness away.

“Give them your plew,” the voice whispered.

I could not react like an adult.

I, too, flashed an enormous smile, hopped lightly on my feet and whispered back, “you bet!”

And shot up the trail, no longer feeling tired, and sang along in my head:

Once you have stayed in Pete's camp for a week
Where ever you go or whatever you seek
You'll always remember and be extra proud
Of Island Park camp and Pete's happy crowd.
Singing om pa pa om pa pa om to de aa!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Best Part: "Flying Dutch," by Tom Holt

“Have you ever actually asked yourself what’s so utterly terrible about Montalban’s conspiracy, or whatever it is?” [Jane asked]

Danny stared. “Are you serious?” he said. “It’s a conspiracy. It’s a fundamental threat to the liberty of the free world. It’s . . .” 

“It’s the way things have been run for the last three hundred odd years,” Jane said thoughtfully. “True, I never liked it much myself, but I don’t think the fact that it’s an organized scheme by a really quite pleasant old Spanish gentleman in Cirencester, rather than the accumulated megalomania and negligence of generations or world statesman, makes it any the more terrible, do you? I mean, Montalban isn’t planning to overthrow democracy or annexe the Sudetenland, he’s just trying to get rid of a smell. Will it really be so awful if he succeeds?” 

“But . . ." Danny spluttered. He knew exactly why it was so pernicious and so wrong, but he couldn’t quite find the words. “But he’s just one man, one selfish individual, and he’s controlling the lives of millions and millions of people. You can’t do that. It’s not right.”

“I see,” Jane said. “So if we have third-world poverty and nuclear weapons and East-West hostility and economic depressions, but all brought about by means of the democratic process, then that’s all right, but if just one man is responsible then it’s tyranny. Sorry, I never did history at school, I don’t understand these things.” 

“Don’t be stupid,” Danny said, “you entirely fail to grasp . . .” 

“Very likely,” Jane said sweetly. “But before you found out about Montalban, you would have given your life to defend the fundamental basics of our society and our way of life against the Montalbans of this world; the status quo, you’d probably call it. And now it turns out to be all his doing, you suddenly realise it’s evil and it’s got to go. Please explain.”

Danny glared at her and drew in a deep breath. “So you’re on his side now, are you? I see.” 

Jane shook her head. “I’m not on anybody’s side. You make it all sound like hockey matches at school. I don’t care at all whether Montalban gets rid of his smell or not – or rather, I do; I think it must be rather awful to smell and besides, if he finds a cure for it then Vanderdecker will be cured too, and I . . . well, I like him. And I also don’t want to see some sort of dreadful Wall Street Crash, and everybody jumping out of windows the length and breadth of King William Street, because that isn’t going to help anyone, now is it? Whereas – “ Jane suddenly realized that she’d just used the word ‘whereas’ in conversation, and didn’t know whether to feel ashamed or proud – “whereas if everybody’s sensible and we all act like grown-ups, we can all sort things out and everyone can have what they want.”