Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fifty Shady Shades of Shadiness

(Small children: Leave this blog. I know, you'd rather eat dirt than leave, but today
you'll just have to subsist on the memory of Tuesday's post. This is grownup talk.)

I was a henchman in the adult entertainment industry. I made henches.

You probably blinked when it happened.

Someone I know — why say who? — got the idea for an interactive sex toy. Marital aid, for you of a certain century. The idea grew into an empire, then fizzled before many (or any) products were sold. Or made. Or dreamed of.

Discreet, understated, mature …
Maybe some were sold, I'm not sure. You might have a valuable collectable if you own one, especially if unopened. Take it to the Antiques Roadshow and learn your fortune. If opened, ewww.

The initial idea — the only possible tangible product — was a shaving template kit (left). Yeah. Ewww.

See, you're four steps ahead of me already, realizing why this is interactive. Shaving shapes into the target body hair by yourself is impossible — probably — and melancholy.

I was the illustrator/graphic designer/copywriter for this fleeting empire. I blew the smoke and adjusted the mirrors.

The cat became the de facto mascot, though I worked on several logo iterations for what was supposed to be the parent company, Erotic Body Arts. It was to be a dot-com, all online.

Helping shepherd this project was really. Really. Fun.

I even began designing Web pages for this thing.

While it lasted.

The act of creation was completely unfettered goofiness. We didn't have to meet any sort of standard or cater to anyone's expectations. If we could make ourselves laugh while conjuring it — and maybe make loved ones cringe — we claimed success.

Most of the templates for the proposed shaving toy remained in our oversexed minds only. I think only the heart shape had been turned into an actual usable object.

Get it? Clever, huh? Huh?
Supposedly product testing was going on somewhere by somebody. I'm told this product worked, though I don't see how.

But the brains of this particular outfit didn't wait to bank on the initial product before dreaming up more stuff, none of which materialized.

The empire would have comprised a shaving kit for men (I'll spare you the unsubtle visuals), deluxe shaving kits that would have included electric shavers, body paint, (some) casual wear, (one kind of) underwear. I think the business model was to plumb consumer interest, then make the products. I'm not sure about the wisdom of such a model, never mind the legality.

Nonetheless, each product had an official number in the inaugural and final catalog. And each, you can see, had its own Web site. Or was going to, anyway. Probably.

Here's a little (coff! coff!) smoke. Lemme move this mirror a skosh.

I think the body paint could have worked. The templates seemed like fun. Nothing became of it, of course.

Even if made, most of the products seemed unworkable. This was all buildup, no follow-through. It was all packaging and presentation, a 21st Century Pet Rock™®. Take the shaving template instructions, for example:

The whole thing was designed on purpose to be wordy and unwieldy and ridiculous. The joke: That something so silly would require users to unfurl a big sheet of instructions to work something that really didn't need instructions.

The instructions themselves looked like this:

The joy of sex here is all in the mind, the reading of this schlock. Next to it was a chart for each template shape, a users' guide if you will, which looked like this (enjoy, particularly, the zeitgeist):

It was all. Just. So. Stupid.

Which is probably the point. Their value would have been their mere existence more than their utility. Buy for your partner, buy for a bridal shower. Have a laugh. Maybe try it. Doesn't work? Oh well, that was fun. Let the package gather dust in the nightstand behind the tissue box and the stack of Reader's Digest.

Erotic Body Arts gathered dust as well, or became dust. The monied interests — if any real skin was in the game to begin with — lost interest. It's all so much phantom cyberspace linking to nothing. Fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oscar™® buzzkill

This year we had a bunch of scrap wood and a parent who knew what to do with it.
He jigsawed plywood into freestanding mountain shapes, which we arranged
on stage to create depth. Then we propped flashlights behind some of the shapes
to uplight the letters, cut out of the wonder material, Foam Core®™.
I had my chance.

Picture it: An 8-foot tall Oscar®™ statue, cut from Foam Core™ and made up cleverly in tempera paint. It could have been mine.

It would be coated in dust in my office by now, so tall it would have to lean in one corner to fit.

Stuff I never look at but insist I need would be piled behind the base. Oscar™® would barely survive quarterly calls by my wife to get rid of the damn thing, already.

I wish I had kept one.

All that's left of that magical night* are these sketches.

About 10 larger-than-life Oscar™®s are long gone, fabulous wastes. They were the showcase of the fashion show fundraiser at the school our children attended. I played an art director each year because I couldn't or wouldn't do anything else among the parent/volunteer choices.

The theme for this one 20 years ago — really, 20 years ago?! — was Hollywood. Eventually any fashion show school fundraiser would pick Hollywood for at least one year; it's a law of the universe.

The task, as always, was to turn the small mauve-and-purple, linoleum-floored, laminate-beam arched (because it began as a church) parish hall into something that didn't remind parents they were having an expensive date night in the parish hall.

The foyer did not look at all like this sketch.
Oh well …
Not just the small stage but everything possible had to be disguised — the foyer, the school hallways leading to the classrooms where the silent auction was conducted), the laminate beams, the tables, the sidewalk leading to the parish hall. Everything.

It was a fool's errand, we all knew. But we got our volunteer hours!

These are sketches from the early stage known officially as Wishful Thinking.

It was a full frontal attack on reality, in stubborn defiance of resources, budget (ha!), able volunteers, available time and enthusiasm.

As a result, almost everything changed from these sketches. The ticket booth at the entrance of the hall became some kind of decorated skirt around a card table, for example. The grand entrance became much less grand — no red carpet, no rope and stanchions.

The table centerpieces became something else entirely, I forget what, though I remember that a
Seriously — I proposed three caricatures of Bette Davis taped together for a
centerpiece titled
Three Faces of Eve. Maybe that's why someone else took
over centerpiece duty.
volunteer took them over. I learned early on to let go and not fall in love with any of my ideas, chanting quietly, "I'm getting my volunteer hours, I'm getting my volunteer hours …"

Oscar®™ remained. He didn't get folded down his length as I imagined. We stood him up flat in front of the laminate posts instead.

You might notice from the sketches that I loved Foam Core™. It's a rigid material made from paper laminated to both sides of a sheet of plastic foam; I learned about it when I used to belong to the Art Directors and Artists Club in town.

You can paint on it, cut shapes out of it, hot glue it together into three-dimensional objects. It was the wonder material for art directors of school fundraisers everywhere. I talked the school into buying a wholesale supply of it for a couple of years — 20 sheets, four feet by eight feet, in a great big box.

(After that I felt guilty and the decorations committee made do with large sheets of cardboard that a parent supplied from his job as a construction superintendent. It required more paint to disguise, and we had to paint both sides of whatever we made so the cardboard would flatten to its original shape as it dried. "I'm getting my volunteer hours. I'm getting my volunteer hours …")

After making an Oscar® template and having volunteers cut them out, I painted the statues — no one else wanted to try — with flat tempera paint in weird complements of color to create the illusion of light and shadow and reflection on metal.

I'm going to brag and say they turned out a lot better than I imagined. Of course, I have no evidence to refute me. The fact that I wanted to keep one should say it all.

But someone tossed it all instead. Another group of parents got their volunteer hours throwing everything away. Maybe they sensed the weeks of work that went into all this paint-and-glue camouflage. Or maybe in the early hours of the morning, making many trips to the Dumpsters®™, they sang quietly to themselves, "I'm getting my volunteer hours. I'm getting my volunteer hours …"

Anyway, I heard they were handing out Oscar™®s over the weekend — it seems like they do that every year now — so I wanted to ride their coattails. Gee, I hope The Shawshank Redemption won!

*I'm being flip.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Swing and miss

Most years coaching, I gave players a personalized memento in place
of a trophy. This year it was oversize baseball cards with players' caricatures.
I have changed the name of the player in the bottom card. My son
probably wishes I had changed the name of the player in the top card too.
Chances are you've already forgotten the sad plight of the Jackie Robinson West Little League®™ team, if you heard at all.

That's probably by design: Drop a little bombshell like this when it'll do the least damage.

Slip it into a whirling news cycle, long after the glory has cooled from the team having won the U.S. Little League®™ title over the summer, but well before the new season begins.

Make a fresh start. If only.

Little League©™ Baseball last week took away the Chicago all-star team's national title, and all its post-season wins on the way to the title, after finding out Jackie Robinson West fielded some players who lived outside the Chicago league's geographical boundaries.

The inference is that Jackie Robinson West recruited players from outside its neighborhood, amassing what some critics are calling a "superteam."

Such neighborhood boundaries are a rule peculiar to Little League®™ worldwide, and they're particularly stupid.

More on that in a bit.

Jackie Robinson West was a summer feel-good story. It's an all African-American team, and Little League®™ and Major League Baseball®™, among others, have taken steps to revive the sport in urban centers, where participation by black and Latino kids has dropped.

It was bright news for Chicago, particularly the city's South Side, blighted by violence. The Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox honored the team, the Major League World Series hosted it in San Francisco, and the kids got their photo taken with President Obama in the Oval Office.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week gave the team championship rings anyway, giving substance to the general sentiment that adults caused this problem, not kids. In fact, Little League®™ suspended Jackie Robinson West's manager, and removed the district administrator who should have prevented the violation.

Little League™® as recently as December ruled Jackie Robinson West did not violate residency rules, rejecting complaints from a neighboring league. Last week Little League™® changed its mind.

"We had to do this, we had no choice," Little League™® International CEO Stephen D. Keener told ESPN™®. "We have to maintain the integrity of the Little League®™ program. We have over 7,000 Little League©™ programs around the world that are looking to us to provide leadership uphold the standards of our program. So, as painful as this is, it's a necessary outcome from what we've finally been able to confirm."

(Warning: Words like integrity and parity get thrown around here, for nefarious purposes.)

Though the integrity of Little League™© is preserved in this outcome, integrity itself still takes a hit.

Here's the thing: The international tournament, or Little League™® World Series, is just the tip of the iceberg, the showcase for world consumption.

The late-summer darling of multiple channels on ESPN and ABC — which broadcast the Chicago team's 8-4 loss to a Seoul, South Korea, in the championship — the tournament is what most people think of when they think of Little League®™.

Most of Little League®™ lay beneath notice: The regular-season slog that goes on around the world, thousands of kids just playing baseball in their respective neighborhood leagues.

Knowing what I do about Little League™®, as a player and a father/manager, I could guarantee the kids playing in the international tournament benefited from the most playing time on their teams, pitched the maximum allowed times, played the positions of their choice the maximum amount of time.

They did so by the sacrifice of at least a third of their regular-season teammates, who played only the legal minimum each game — one at-bat and six defensive outs — and sat the bench the rest of the time. Or, if lucky, got to stand in the first-base coach's box and cheer, just to have something else to do.

Their families paid the same amount as the starters' families to belong to the team, so the bench-warmers are effectively subsidizing the better players.

I can almost guarantee the bench warmers didn't get markedly better at baseball, standing endless minutes in the outfield at practice, shagging balls while others hit, until their brief turns swinging the bat.

If Mr. Keener wants to talk integrity, he would lead a change in Little League that gave equal time for all players. Though shockingly imperfect as a coach, I tried to provide that equal time, and it turned out the better players still got plenty of time to work on their skills. I also tried to conduct practices around stations, so players moved from one station to the next, working on skills, touching the ball more, swinging the bat more.

The teams I coached lost many more games than it won. It's too bad in Little League™® that winning is the underpinning, unwritten standard.

To talk of integrity is to do more to develop training for adults, not only in how to teach baseball, but in how to behave. The league has at least one marvelous program, but its message hasn't spread well and it isn't difficult to come across at least one adult at a game acting petty and ugly in front of players.

Maybe one unintended consequence of Little League™® is to provide kids a theater in to see grownups act like jerks, and try not to be jerks when they grow up.

By integrity, I wish Mr. Keener would also mean prohibiting pitchers from throwing breaking balls, since their arms are still developing and they risk permanent injury. But watch the international tournament and you'll see those growing kids contorting their arms to get the ball to loop and duck.

By integrity, I wish Little League®™ would throw out these geographical boundary rules. They're not only cumbersome, they invite invasion of privacy.

"The boundary map serves several purposes within the Little League©™ program, including maintaining a community environment within the league and maintaining parity during the Little League©™ International Tournament," Little League™® says in explaining the boundary rules.

Parity. The Jackie Robinson West team had to travel outside its boundaries to use practice facilities. When I was coaching, our Little League™was on the west side of Watt Avenue in suburban Sacramento, a working-class neighborhood. On the east side was an executive-class neighborhood.

Our Little League™ had three usable fields in two separate parks; a group of adults reclaimed one of the original showcase fields — from the 1960s — for a practice venue. It was so far back in the corner of an elementary school, the school district didn't even send its giant mowers that far. We chopped down the grass and weeds with tools from our garages, carefully picking up syringes among the trash. Once while we were cleaning up, a police officer came through the weeds in search of a handgun connected to a crime.

On the other side of Watt, for that community's Little League™®, was a baseball complex, several well-kept fields built in one place, fanning out from a permanent snack bar and press box.


In order to play a team from another Little League®™that had less than ours, we had to negotiate use of a little-used high school field in their neighborhood, and couldn't have played without a bucket of my team's baseballs and rubber bases I had stowed in my car.

Parity. Maybe at one time neighborhood-by-neighborhood leagues work and baseball was THE game. Now, however, leagues are damned or blessed by demographics, and parity is the last word I'd use.

Invasion is the word I'd use. The geographical boundary rule is only important for post-season play, but every player is checked for residency. This has unintended consequences, two of which I witnessed. One involved a parent who didn't want others to know about a relationship that could be ascertained by the address; another parent had a restraining order against another parent. In the latter, though children had been selected to play on an all-star team, the parent didn't let them because doing so would have exposed information that could have been used against them.

It's time for Little League®™ to drop residency requirements and concentrate instead on allying with community interests in creating the parity of decent playing facilities, and spend its energy in developing programs that truly develop children's baseball skills and love of the game.

That would be integrity.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Here it is, your moment of angst

It's no joke to call Jon Stewart and his TV show institutions.

Stewart raised The Daily Show to national prominence — to national need. Talent off camera helps, of course, but Stewart's role as canny jester has cemented the show's success and worth.

No other vehicle for political satire comes anywhere near The Daily Show for reach and dogged potency.

No one else can summon our attention so well, by standing on the ramparts, pointing a finger at the politicians meant to serve us and the media meant to alert us, and shout "Look! How ridiculous!" and make us laugh, truly laugh, at the hypocrisy.

I'd love it if editorial cartoons and satirical magazines led the pack, but they're no match for Jon Stewart, not by a looong shot. Never will be.

Now Jon Stewart is leaving Jon Stewart's TV show.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Be afraid that Comedy Central won't continue The Daily Show. As a brand, host channel Comedy Central has dropped in ratings since September, losing 17 percent of its audience, Bloomberg reports, citing Nielsen data.

Though No. 4 among late-night talk shows — behind Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman's network shows — The Daily Show ranks No. 2 among adults 18-34, and No. 1 among adult males 18-24, The New York Times reports.

The show is important to Comedy Central, which also said goodbye last year to Stephen Colbert, Letterman's replacement, and saw The Daily Show's substitute host, John Oliver, start a similar show — weekly, with more depth per topic — at HBO.

(Colbert's departure is not only bad for Comedy Central, it's bad for me. I'll never see the guy again, except in day-after excerpts online. I'm not staying up late. I have no doubt he'll shake up the late-night structure; heck, if he got rid of the opening monologue, it would shift the planets in their orbit. But I digress.)

Viacom executives indicated to The New York Times it plans on continuing The Daily Show.

OK then, be afraid that Comedy Central won't be able to replace Jon Stewart, and the show — and the young audience it reaches — will wither.

Replacing Stewart wouldn't be easy. He was Mr. Right Person at the Right Time, having worked his way into that desk from many years on the comedy and talk show circuits, always the smartest smart aleck in the room. He didn't talk topical humor, preferring topics we really should be talking about.

Stewart is the guy I don't mind saying what's wrong with me — with us.

As he demonstrates on The Daily Show, Stewart knows his stuff politically, and can draw down adroitly on a variety of pressing matters with a broad spectrum of notable figures, very much playing his audience's stand-in. Even if he's getting his analysis on the fly right before the show, he's good at owning the material.

Yet Stewart wasn't a megastar. He didn't get in his own way or deflect the message with his celebrity. Imagine someone like Chris Rock taking over — purely hypothetical example — and try to separate the message from the messenger.

Despite Stewart's rise on the national stage — and I gagged a bit seeing his reported $25 million annual salary — he still seems like your  beer buddy at the corner of the table, the one who puts things in perspective. "C'mon, you buying all that bull?" he says with a smirk and a shrug. "Here's what's really going down."

So who takes his place? Choose carefully.

Oliver was great when Stewart went off to direct his first movie last summer, and he's probably even better versed in hypocrisy, having grown up with his own brand in Britain. But Oliver already has his HBO show. And — here's where I go all Rush Limbaugh xenophobe, forgive me — he's a foreigner. More pointedly, he's British. We already know the British are going to tell us what's wrong with our country, and we already know it to be true.

It's just more effective hearing it from one of our own. No offense.

Someone from the show? Maybe. It'd be interesting to see long-time correspondent Samantha Bee host, or fairly new addition Jessica Williams (here with an intro by John Oliver), or perhaps Aasif Mandvi.

But do they have the chops, the  — heaven help me — gravitas? The Daily Show skews liberal, but Stewart is just as volatile, if not as often, against liberal hypocrites. That's the strength of the show, exposure to hypocrisy of all stripe, without fear or favor.

Which new host will be as good as Stewart at holding up the mirror at just the right angle, at throwing hypocrites' words back in their faces, at making viewers take notice that matters are not going well on their behalf?

(By the way, why does the show skew liberal? Is it a liberal lapdog? Or is it because the majority of hypocrites in media and politics are conservative? That the nature of being conservative, of slapping the hand of each and every citizen, lends itself to hypocrisy?

(The Atlantic explored this last week in "Waiting for the Conservative Jon Stewart?" by Oliver Morrison, wondering why there isn't one. Morrison pointed to some competitors that prove pale, not only by their small stage but their inability to be funny, relying instead on the old, "How about that Harry Reid, huh?" bits without context to actual news.

(One possibility that resonated with me: Liberals for some reason are better at doing funny, and conservatives better at talk radio. Though when Morrison asked Colbert his favorite conservative comedian, Colbert took a pause, smiled wide and said, "Bill O'Reilly."

(Which is my hypothesis too: Fox News and Limbaugh are really liberal satirists, their jokes so far inside that nobody recognizes them. Limbaugh and everybody at Fox News give large chunks of their salaries to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Planned Parenthood. Just my theory. Prove me wrong. But I digress.)

Jon Stewart has brought a big chunk of the young voting public to the news. Like the best editorial cartoonists, he sometimes raises news topics his viewers hadn't heard about, and gives them a chance to find out more, to find out about matters that really matter to them. And he demonstrates critical thinking, and warns us not to take issues or leaders at face value.

Without another Jon Stewart, who else — and how else — to bring healthy skepticism about the yahoos that are supposed to be serving our best interests?

Comedy Central — or some channel with as much guts and reach — needs to find as good as or better than Jon Stewart.

Otherwise, the terrorists win.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


I drew this in July, six months before the 24-hour swim. That's how excited I was to return.
Swim No. 1, 9:58 a.m.: This must be how a musician feels, saving a lost guitar, tentatively retaking a rhythm, attempting a certain choreography of fingers, feeling rough but right.

Hitting the green water, salt once again in my mouth, tripped memory. First, around the wooden pier with its hinged ramp bobbing like a great hungry jaw. Ah, the buoys next, tall and cylindrical, in permanent cant, a row of crooked teeth stretching to the black grove of eucalyptus beyond. Somewhere at the end of the buoys is a box-shaped one with a flag on top and a thermometer tethered to it, a sort of Aquatic Park mascot. I can't see it from here; I just have to swim and find it, like last year. Here we go.

Brad Schindler has gone first, two laps. Then Cathy Harrington. For how long? I can't remember. So how long until I swim next? Two hours? Is that right? That can't be right. Ah, forget it! Just swim, fool!
I'm going three laps this time, three laps each time if I can. I don't think I could have done that last year. But that was last year.
Such a difference a year makes! Since meeting him at the first 24-Hour Relay Swim last January, Craig Lenning of Colorado became the first person in 47 years to swim from the Farralon Islands to the mainland, a 25.7-mile trek in treacherous waters west of the Golden Gate.

Since meeting him last year, Simon Dominguez, an Australian by way of the Bay Area, swam the English Channel.

Since last year, my relay teammate Lisa Amorao has racked up the miles and night swims and tricky waters, and bounded into this relay with abandon, night swims and all, recording it all on her GoPro™® camera for another much anticipated video of events. So did Cathy Harrington, who swam and swam and swam over the last year, and has swum up at our Lake Natoma several times, an opportunity lost if not for having met at the relay.

David Walsh and I have extended the miles at our lake since last year, and David shed his wetsuit even through the coldest water. I talked him into another relay. We were ready to do more this year.

An alternative design, meant to evoke the ever-moving, clock-spanning, rollicking nature of the relay.
As with the top illustration, you can "read" the illustration from any angle.
Marathon swimmer Suzie Dods created the relay, inspired by a long-ago event in Quebec called 24 Heures La Tuque. That event comprised two-person teams trading off 'round the clock for a full day. Suzie's version features teams of different number, from four to 10 this year, who divvied the swims in different ways.

Of the 40 or so swimmers this year, at least a fourth know each other from the facebook™® page, Did you swim today?

Swimmers ranged from common schlubs like me to world-class marathoners. Our team boasted Brad Schindler, who has crossed Tahoe and swum an ice mile, which is a mile in water 41 Fahrenheit or lower.

"Fast" Karl Kingery, who used to swim with me at Lake Natoma before finding work in Colorado, joined the team of four that, besides Lenning, comprised:
  • Elaine Howley of Boston, last summer the first person to swim the 32-mile length of Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho and
  • Sarah Thomas from outside Denver, who within six months in 2013 swam two lengths of Vermont's Lake Memphremagog (50 miles) and was the first "skins" swimmer to double-cross Lake Tahoe (44 miles)
They each swam in three two-hour blocks — just strolls around the block for them, I'm sure — compared to our team, the Fogheads, which swam five or six rounds each.

We kidded Karl that he was out of his team's league, but know he'll soon be amassing his own massive swims. Besides, we kid in admiration: Karl was swimming with torn ligaments in one knee, from a skiing accident the week before.
Swim No. 2, 2:26 p.m.: The good news — thanks to teammates Paul Springer and Lorena Sims, who know their way around cyberspace, the swimmers who make up the Fogheads know when they'll be in the water each round of the 24-hour relay, and for how long, and what they'll be doing at any other part of the relay. 

Lorena and Paul orchestrated a spreadsheet they could change on the fly from their handhelds, and it only took one round of us swimming for them to develop an accurate prediction of our endeavor.

The bad news — the data show I've got K.P. duty at 3, so I have to hold my second swim to one lap. I resolve to enjoy it, stretching out my arms for an extra glide, paying attention to how my hands enter the water and hold straight and wide. Someone over at Ghirardelli Square, the old block-long brick factory-turned-mall above Aquatic Park, has the gall to bake cookies and send their warm sugary splendor out over the water.

I can make a straight line out to the bay opening of Aquatic Park, with no real tide to fight, and Swim No. 2 ends too soon. Nothing really needs doing in the kitchen, it turns out, as everyone gets quiet in the rhythm of the long event, saving energy. I long to be back in the water.
I was trying to serve two masters with this one version: Something that will fit on a cap, and a taste of
the counterculture/spiritual still alive and well in San Francisco. Can you not tell how really, really
excited I was to come back for this event?
The inaugural 24-hour relay last year coincided with California's only real winter storm, a rollicking deluge that barely let up, and churned Aquatic Park's water so hard that swimmers were restricted to swimming along the beach through the night.

This year's relay followed days of unseemly warm false-spring days, par for the four-year drought, until the weekend promised: Rain! Some joked we should market the relay as a rainmaker. Swimmer Mark Spratt of Indianapolis took personal blame, or credit, depending.
Just something completely different. I wanted to do something inspired by
the Ohlone people who first inhabited what became San Francisco, but couldn't
find much beyond the spare geometry of basket art;besides, I feel
uncomfortable co-opting native art. This reminds me more of some the
Works Project Administration murals around The City.

Except for Sunday morning at the relay's end, though, the rains never really came. The Golden Gate Bridge gave its glory day and night, the Marin County end perpetually swallowed in fog or lavender-hued rain clouds. We never saw that bridge last year.

Stars competed for attention this year with lights of The City during the night swims.

As evening fell a cruise ship, the Star Princess, sailed out under the black span of the Golden Gate Bridge. The ship looked like a skyscraper laid on its side, lit top to bottom as if on the night before taxes are due.
Swim No. 3, 6:47 p.m.: First dark swim. Teammate Kelley Prebil has kayaked out to the buoys and attached blinking lights to help swimmers see the route better. They look like cartoon time bombs, as if Kelley has mined the swim route. But when the buoys bob wildly, the blinks frequently disappear, and navigation requires finding the buoys' silhouettes against the dazzling lights afar. I zig and zag, stopping too often to guess where the buoys might be, hoping I don't hit one.

The famous flag buoy at the end of the row has been moved, I'm convinced of it, as darkness begins its trickery.

I manage to crash into the same swimmer I collided with last year, just in a different part of the course.

Cigarette smoke gives way to marijuana smoke, wafting from somewhere in the blackness of the eucalyptus groves. The ocean, flowing hard into the Bay now, gives me fits. Try as I may to reach the gap between the city pier and the breakwater, I end up far to the east each lap, which resembles not a triangle but a loop like one of those breast cancer ribbons.

The kayaker at the first buoy compliments me on my butt buoy, a bright orange inflatable tow device swimmers use for safety. Borrowing a British swimmer's idea, I put my backpacking headlamp inside, turning the buoy into a jack-o-lantern and me into a low-altitude firefly. It works better than a blinking light, making me visible from a great distance.

So when the unseen beasties under water get me, the relay organizers will know where I was last seen.
The water is 55 to 57 Fahrenheit, far warmer than Lake Natoma right now and four to six degrees warmer than last year in the Bay. It's discomfiting, how comfortable it is.

San Francisco blazes relentlessly into the water, setting fire to the bubbles of my wake.
One late variation after it turned out my designs would
overwhelm a cap.
When all was new last year, I fretted unreasonably that I had to stay awake to make sure our team was swimming when it should and carrying out its volunteer duties.

Even after I realized that, of course, they're adults and would do more than their share to ensure the event goes on, I resisted sleep. The early morning hours were almost intolerable as a result, time having stopped, enthusiasm having drained away.

This year I played it smart, knowing not to worry about the Fogheads. After each swim I wound my way through a utility passageway of the Dolphin Club, around some sawhorses, to the hobbit door that opened to a handball court that served as sleeping quarters, and napped for an hour.

The relay's off hours passed in comfort of a hardwood floor and the joy of chocolate muffins on waking up.
Swim No. 4, 11:16 p.m.: San Francisco refuses to sleep. The Fontana Towers, twin condominiums above Aquatic Park that Alcatraz swimmers use to sight themselves back to shore, is still lit top to bottom.

Pot smokers refuse to quit.

The tide having slacked again, I can make my way to the opening of the park a bit straighter. The second leg of the triangle route, out to the opening, feels the longest, only ghostly sailboats to guide by, and a mesmerizing collection of lights out in the Bay, devilish as sirens, by which to sight. The buoy out at the opening is always farther away than I think.

The homeward leg feels downhill by comparison, over before I realize. I slide stern to stem past the Balclutha, a three-masted 19th Century sailing ship moored in the park, and feel like I'm sneaking alongside to do battle, cannons ready.

Next I must take care to swim wide of the mooring chains of Eppleton Hall, an early 20th Century side-wheel tugboat, its prow jutting out into the park. A quick adjustment and I angle back to the Dolphin Club dock.

Back at the dock on the first lap, I see Jim Bock, my friend from fourth grade, working the midnight-to-3 shift checking on swimmers as they pass. Jim is dressed in a banana costume. From the water I break into the opening lines of "Greenland Whale Fisheries," a ballad I heard Jim sing from the dock last year. I learned the song since and waited for this moment. We sing together. I flub a key line. My throat is scratchy and I'm a little loopy. All, though, is well.

My mind refuses to let me be, imagining beasts crisscrossing below, to nudge and nip. My hand hits a stick in the water. I think it's a stick. I quicken a bit and wait for the stick to chase me. Nothing.
When Lisa Amorao shot this Saturday afternoon, it'd be another three hours
and 20 minutes before I swam again, when night fell. I watched from
comfy heights as David Walsh got out ("went dry" in the relay lingo)
and Paul Springer got wet. 
Waves from a growing tide thumped against the pilings below, waking me from my cocoon on the handball court floor. Nap No. 3 done.

The relay had gone into hibernation, sleeping-bagged bodies on the main floor of the Dolphin Club, in among the varnished wooden rowboats, up on the little stage, even up in the locker room. It's a stark difference from 9 a.m. when everyone cheered the first round of swimmers.

In short time the event became a matter of quiet survival, hanging out on the dock in view of The City, or quietly talking around the tables inside, until it was time for each to swim again.

No matter the hour, swimmers could count on a slice of pizza and a cornucopia of grub coming out of the kitchen.
Swim No. 5, 4:18 a.m.: My goal is not to be the last swimmer at the end of the relay. It was a treat last year to be last on my team, to swim up to a crowd on the docks, cheering all the last swimmers as much in happiness for having taken part as in relief that we all had made it through.

This time I wanted to be done and have my sopping gear all packed, ready to cheer someone else from the deck instead. Using Paul and Lorena's projections, I resolved that if I did four laps, or three miles, I would be almost certain to be finished with my swim contribution by about 4:30. Cathy Harrington would be our last swimmer when 9 a.m. came 'round.

San Francisco is finally dark except for the Ghirardelli sign and the bulbs that outline the big old factory. The bubbles below me glow green on their own.

The lights on the buoys blink sleepily, weakly, barely now.

I'm cold. How can I be cold!? I have yet to complete the first lap and my head feels icy. I really, really need to hang out here for four laps, so I breathe slowly, stroke deliberately, trying to blank out the cold.

On the first lap out to the watery opening of Aquatic Park, a buoy swims by. It's round and dark, bobbing and bearded with vegetation, untagged by a blinking light. Where did that come from? How did I end up swimming by it? Great, now I've gotta watch for it each of the next laps, hoping I don't bash into it.

People are walking along the concourse on the edge of Aquatic Park this time of the morning. Someone is still smoking marijuana. In a lit doorway of the Maritime Museum, a man in a sleeping bag is screaming into the night.

Green flashes suddenly explode in my head. I am dreaming, or one of the buoys is following me, or a boat is sailing out of the park. No, it's a swimmer, blinking light on his goggle strap, going incredibly fast past me.

On my last turn around the buoy at the opening, I thank the kayaker and see, above her, dark figures standing on the pier, watching, like sentries on a battlement. At 4:20 a.m.
The cool heat of eucalyptus oil settles on the water, trumping all, calming me. The fourth and final lap is warm and normal. I conquer the Balclutha in one more sneak attack and make for shore as stealthily as an orange firefly can swim. A wave spits me out on the sand.
All told, I swam about 10 1/2 miles. The foursome that included "Fast" Karl each swam half again more.

The surest sign of the relay's success is that we want to do it again. Though the sides of my tongue are ground raw and can't taste — though a "greater than-"shaped welt of red has tattooed my neck — I want to do this again.

All the art I'd done wouldn't work on a cap, so I pulled this detail from
my first illustration of the famous flag buoy, and tweaked it for a new purpose.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

All get along

If Obama came out in favor of oxygen,
Republicans would suffocate themselves.
I love this meme because it's funny because it's true. No matter what you think about President Obama, deep down you know this clever sentiment is absolutely correct.

This is what passes for our representational leadership. This is government of the people, by the people, for the people. Maybe not really of the people; and really not by any people I know, in whose circle I travel; it's a government for some people, primarily themselves.

It's their world. We just live in the margins, at their discretion.

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama asked for better:
Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns (of partisan rancor and fear-mongering). Imagine if we did something different.
Understand – a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.

A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.

A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments – but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.
Of course, what else could the president say? His second term is running out, and he's running up against a Republican-controlled Congress. "Why can't we all get along?" is a given. But his plea was eloquent and hopeful and shaming and true.

And it died on arrival. Basest fears, for the win! Let's fake controversies, shall we? Fear and hate, it turns out, are easier and far more lucrative than solving problems, as we witnessed last week.

With lightning speed, Obama opponents pounced on one small part from lengthy remarks the president made at the annual prayer breakfast:
And lest we get on our high horse and think this (faith used as a weapon) is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
Controversy, ladies and gentlemen! Let's make anything we want out of this, as long as it smears the president — or as his basest opponents like to call him, "this man."

By the way, his statement is absolutely, unequivocally true, immensely relevant, delivered as admonishment that we — Obama included himself — humble ourselves.

That doesn't matter. He offended Christians!

“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, a Republican, in a Time Magazine story. “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

I find it difficult to tell if the former Virginia governor is quoted because of his status as a former governor, or for what he said and plenty of podia from which to say it.

It doesn't matter. He offended all religions!

“Verbal rape is what it was. Because he pulled the air out of the room,” said Star Parker, described as a conservative pundit, quoted at, based on that same snippet from President Obama's remarks. "There were 4,000 people there to unify. The question on the table was can these three major religions get along? Can the Jew? Can the Muslim? Can the Christian?”

Parker used almost the same phrases when speaking on a conservative radio show hosted by Mark Levin. "Verbal rape."

It doesn't matter. President Obama defended the brutal terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (aka, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL)!

"Yeah, I mean he’s really creating a propaganda bonanza for terrorists, because what he’s really saying is ‘Well look, these are freedom fighters, just like the patriots of the Revolutionary War. And they’re no different, their service is just as honorable,’” said Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, a Republican, said on the Family Research Council's Washington Watch radio show.

Just before the oft-quoted line, President Obama said:
As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another -- to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife.  We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. (Kent) Brantly and his colleagues have done.  We see faith driving us to do right.
But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. 

We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.
But nevermind that. Fingers in ears, lalalalalalalaLALALALALALAH I can't hear you! We've got controversies to fake.

Dr. Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who appears frequently on conservative media shows — who especially likes to refer to Obama as "this man," told Fox News, “It makes me feel that perhaps we’re being betrayed. Perhaps we don’t have a leader who feels the same about things as most of us do.”

Did you get that impression, that President Obama verbally raped listeners, that he betrayed his country? Or do you think perhaps it wouldn't have made any difference what he said at the breakfast, that opponents were going to hold their breath while Obama served oxygen?
It cuts both ways. Liberal opponents go after conservatives too, and lie and smear with abandon. But nothing with the pace and scale of the relentless attacks against President Obama. It energizes the base and, with a little luck, spills over to poison other wells of reason and discourse.

I wonder why, and I wonder who. For both, like the Watergate coverup demonstrated, follow the money.

Who benefits from this constant campaign of made-up, salacious, ridiculous attacks? The media for one, running on the white heat of controversy. Fake or genuine, it doesn't matter.

As former journalists, Nancy and I used to get mad during Mass when the news media were frequently invoked during prayers of the faithful. No other profession or line of work seems to make the prayers quite so often as the news media, seeking fairness and justice tempered with compassion, as if the news media didn't demonstrate it.

Now I realize that the prayers were deserved and the news media does fall short, but not for the reasons the Church invoked journalism, which was to tread lightly over the Church's terrible failings.

The news media in general is failing because it doesn't do the job of informing us about the news that we citizens need to know. This nonsensical name-calling suffices for political reporting; throw in Taylor Swift and a high-speed car chase two states away, and there's your news.

It puzzles me how the personalities at Fox News, for example, can say the things they say, every day, and appear to mean it. Either they are paid handsomely, absolving all sins, or they think themselves satirists outdoing Jon Stewart, and this is all fun and games.

The worst part is that the general news media drown out the few who are still committing important acts of journalism, and washing away their message.

Politicians benefit too, fueled by our fears and fortified in their "service" by the source of money: the less than 1 percent that wants no government at all, but will settle for a government it can control. It's not conservatism, but the basest libertarianism to the point of being libertine; the downfall of all except for them that has, until it's too late to do anything about it.
Dr. Carson said we have solution, a weapon against this betrayal:
The good thing is, we have a system in place that has allowed us to take control. We need to observe carefully what our leaders do and what the people who support them do. We can’t forget who those people are, and we will have another opportunity, coming up in 2016, looking at all the senators and the congressman who rabidly support this man. Let’s make sure that they get the message.
He is absolutely right, though not in the way he meant. It cuts both ways.

Breathe deep.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

I understand completely?

So many good title options! Hard to choose one.

Besides "Chlorinated chickens," I could have gone with, "Do you wish macho technique of life?"

Or, "Gain a buildup of your intimate part."

You see my dilemma — an embarrassment of riches.

Every day I get more and more lost in translation on two social media fronts. One is the constant barrage of emails from people I'm supposed to believe are women wanting me for sex or marriage or both.

(Though, to take the starch out, I also receive a fair number of "Shawn! Save big on nursing bras of all types today!" emails.)

The other is from a German version of the facebook™® page I follow. Instead of "Did you swim today?" the page is "Bist Du heute schon geschwommen?"

I became a member of that page when a German member of the former created the latter and invited me. More swimmers corresponding worldwide = a good thing.

I click "like" when I can understand the translated German. The posts come with a link, and the online service Bing®™ Translator attempts to decode.

When I can't understand, I become the ugly American and find some of the translated posts unintentionally funny.

Please understand, I'm not making fun of Germans or German swimmers — only in how their perfectly grammatical German gets rammed through an online translator until it barely makes sense. It's out of their control.

I hope, for my sake, German swimmers are laughing at my English posts which I strive to write correctly.

Nor are the online sex come-ons funny, since the senders are at least phishing for my personal information and at worst really trafficking women and children online for sex.

But the emails' sultry sales pitches often appear to have originated in one language and have made their broken and twisted way into English. It's hard not to smirk.

Smile guiltily with me, won't you? First, let's do sex. I mean … well, you know what I mean.

These are verbatim, punctuation and all.
"Hello my good - I had a dream and you were in it. This dream I'll never forget because you are embodied in him all my secret desires! Waiting, write me! Lou I am your russian pussy — you remember my nickname?"
Is it Lou? Because I'm not Lou. Are you Lou? I'm confused.
"Hello - I now have their own web page - it contains all information about me, as well as photos - videos and information about what I like and dislike, as well as any man I like, you're 1 of those people who is right for me -- Come to me, kiss! Eunice"
Eunice, you haven't got a chance, and not because of the pronoun implosion. It's because here comes Kay:
"Hi - do you remember how we made love in your car? Mmm like it was perfect - the stars, moon, sky - and the lights of the city, here in Russia that does not happen again, I want you to come if you do not mind, write me! Kay" 
That must have been some time! I don't remember a thing about Russia.

Alfreda raised the bar, so to speak:
"Can I ask you? 'Was you ever have sex with a Russian girl? Would you like to try it?' I am now in America - a guy looking for dating and sex. Alfreda
See? Such convenience! Alfreda's not expecting me to head back to Russia. Not that I've ever been there! Although Alfreda may be a guy, which puts a different spin on the arrangement.

But just yesterday someone beat you all, ladies (or gentlemen):
This is Natka P. Pecora. I am in town. SHALL WE MEET Shawn? 
I don't have to tell you, the most attractive part of this come-on is — the middle initial. It's all the rage. I get enticements from Dulcie B. Oatridge, Halimeda V. Till and adelice w. simkulet, who saved all her capital letters to inform me 69% OF WOMEN ARE UNHAPPY WITH PARTNERS SIZE!

Being married is a big seller, apparently. Thus the urgent appeals from Mrs. Lusa Cremeens and DRUNK Mrs. Selena Toure who is ready to VISIT and PLEASE Shawn.

Since these ploys have not worked, some opt for just being direct. I could tell you just how frank, but your mind, as they say, is your most powerful sexual organ. Figure it out.

Then I get a lot of these. It's the same message, just from different admirers:
I found your profile via facebook. I was excited! You're cute! I want to share some hot photos with you babe! Got big boobs, a big butt … and know how to use them :)

Click bellow to view my (30) private photos
The number of photos differs from Daffy A. Yearick to Bobbe K. Bookwalter to Krysta V. Tamashiro.

The message is always in large purple letters, widely spaced, most of them English but some of them letters from other alphabets that look similar to English. In between them are a bunch of tiny white type characters, invisible on a mostly white email field, most of the characters nonsense; I guess they're supposed to create spacing.

I found them by accident, dragging my mouse across the message.

Some of the characters, though, are snippets of English sentences as if taken from a book. Several of them appear to be taken, for some reason, from the work of an online romance novelist named Judith Bronte — but not copied and pasted so much as loosely dictated by whoever was creating the phantom spacing.

Though English, they make no sense, such as, "Okay terry climbed onto the door Snyder had terry put her best," and "Two men are the doorbell."

If "two men are the doorbell" doesn't become a catchphrase, and soon, I'm going to be sad. 

Taken together, the snippets of invisible English make an odd poetry:
Stay put up her eyes emma.
Please josiah spoke with great grandpap

Laughed and each other side of trouble.
Surely he moved to make any food
Went back into blackfoot are my mind.
Something moved toward her work.

Friend and she understood the white.
Thought josiah brown for my husband.
What did it took hold of someone
Whatever you have more than any better.
Even though for they might do what

Because of how long while the shelter
Don't you agree? I mean, blackfoot are my mind.
OK, enough smut. Let's hit the pool.

Just like on my favorite facebook™® page "Did you swim today?" the German swimmers report their daily swims, ask each other advice, complain about clueless people in the pool — the usual. Only in German, translated for English consumption.

I'm not including names here because, again, I'm laughing at the translations, not at the posts. These also are verbatim, as translated.

Since online translators translate literally, without adjusting for the nuances of where verbs are placed in relation to nouns and pronouns, or detecting idioms, a post might sound like this:
someone said: you want to swim with no time to the 24-hour? clearly I wanted 
See? I sort of understand the meaning. Last-minute invitation for a big swim, eagerly agreed upon.

And I can follow this fairly well:
"pensioners". wag his finger, I heard only command tone "but we swim in the circle, Yes!
is boss clear. We make. Yes two. Christmas the celebration of love and tolerance. was fun nevertheless.
It's the common malady among pool swimmers on these two facebook©™ pages — lanes crowded with others who don't follow the customary swim pattern so that all may share. Here's another:
I find the class if the faster swimmer always must show one how horny they get the wheels turning and the legs directly in your face can - get a mind you while you wait to get it over (touch there is also no longer) :-(
I don't think that's what the swimmer said originally.

More pool problems:
There are now couples float in the float lifts. He with a flap bathing suit and she in a bikini. and after every 50m a kiss. Pfff... 
And I sort of get this, from one of a legion of swimmers who report on the distance swum:
Only 2500m. Then I gave up. Loud astray!
- Feeling annoyed.
Don't you really, really want to know what is meant by "loud astray?"

The gist comes through here, if not the actual meaning:
3 k. today without image, without swimming noodle and not feel real.
You all have it now it... otherwise it degenerates again from here. And I'm too old for such personalities, which quickly screwed after old joke.
Even on a holiday.
I know, right?

When some posts don't quite make sense, such as this translated in Bing®™:
I cocks today. I just don't feel like!
I run it through Google®™ Translate and get this:
I skip today. Just have no time loss!
(I notice, by the way, that Google™ is asking users to help improve its service; maybe in time these won't be so funny anymore.)
Soon, though, I lost the thread of meaning completely:
In the General obsession with contemplation, I am considering "what I expect, if I don't expect anything? Nothing to be expected? Can expected non be disappointed expectations?"
I understand completely?

Translation coughs up odd phrases, some of them apparently mis-translations, such as:
Kardashian with 1/2 minute Pause...schnief, keuch... through the well fluid water. Good slip
"Kardashian" shows up a lot, and I'm guessing it's the translators' wan solution to translating "front crawl" in German. Maybe I should alert the Germans to this terrible affront.

"Brass hippo" is another phrase that comes up a lot, as in, "Brass hippo in a gloriously empty Ederberglandbad," and I'd love to know the meaning. So does "inner pig dog," which I determined is the urge to be lazy or procrastinate and not go for a swim.

"Chlorinated chickens" came up once; I think a clever swimmer used this phrase from the news — Europeans don't want U.S. chickens that have been dipped in a chlorine bath — to describe fellow pool swimmers. I think.

Whew! It feels so good to write this post, considering I've been collecting these translations for months. I have so many more, but like they say in show biz, "Always leave 'em wanting more."

Or as they say in German, translated through Bing®™:
nun again with renewed vigor and cool head in everyday life.
You know what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Scouting a better route

This week in Scouting, we take two steps forward and one step back. It's the new fitness program.

I like Scouting, and I miss it. Not enough to take part anymore, but enough to remain fond.

Enough to pay attention when Scouting makes the news. At least some of it is good.

Not this, though: Last week Boy Scouts of America settled a lawsuit brought by a Santa Barbara County man who had been abused at 13 by a Scout leader eight years ago.

The man had sued BSA for not protecting him from abuse.

What's bad is the settlement appears to keep sealed the files BSA has kept on abuse by adult volunteers from the mid-1980s to 2007. A 2012 abuse case in Oregon made public these so-called "perversion files" from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980, The Washington Post reported.

The plaintiff in the Santa Barbara County case had won access to the more recent files and his attorney used two of them in court proceedings before the BSA settled, news accounts said. The attorney, Tim Hale, said he's optimistic all the files will eventually be opened to the public.

Hale disputed the BSA's assertion that youth protection is critical to the Scouting program, because if that was true, he says families would have known of the more than 5,000 files that are still sealed.

One revelation of the Oregon case is that a third of the cases from the mid-1960s to the mid-'80s were never reported to law enforcement. What portion of the more recent files went unreported, if any, remains a secret.

I agree that Scouting makes youth protection important. I have no perspective on how Scouting used to be, because youth protection was part of the program when our son joined. BSA trains adults in common-sense practices, and requires Scouts and families to read and sign literature before starting the program.

Troops are encouraged to review youth protection videos and talk it at meetings. The message, I imagine, can be uneven from Troop to Troop and Den to Den, but I think ours was diligent about following guidelines.

Though I can't speak to the sealed files, I'd say it's a safe guess that some of them reveal child abuses even after the youth protection measures went into place. The Santa Barbara County abuse case certainly happened while youth protection measures were supposed to protect the Scout.

The Boy Scouts need to own this: Just open the records, let the sun in, even if it shows where protections have failed. Show where the system failed, find out how, apologize, pay the price, fix it and move on.

BSA can do it. The organization has proven more nimble lately despite its century in operation; recognizing Scouts' needs, for example, it has retooled and changed out some merit badges promoting the national STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) movement.
It has done the same with youth protection and can marshal resources to do better.

But now its terrible problems sit in a box somewhere in the dark, full of files with names and incidents of child abuse. Everybody will know it's there, but nobody will ever really know if anything has been done about them, or will ever. Why not excise this cancer?

Here's some of the good news: In California, the Supreme Court now forbids state judges from belonging to youth organizations that practice discrimination. That means Boy Scouts of America, though the high court did not name Scouts in its ban, reached unanimously.

Though BSA changed its policy and began allowing gay Scouts to join in 2013, it still prohibits gay and lesbian adults from serving as leaders. The high court decision closes an exemption made for judges who volunteer with nonprofit youth groups; judges are already prohibited from joining any other group that discriminates.

Some judges expressed outrage, one saying her right to freedom of religion had been impinged, but the high court said, nice try, but no. Discrimination is discrimination. Does membership in Scouting affect judges' rulings? I doubt it. But judges accept a pristine standard for their conduct as arbiters; at least they're expected to.

I see the ban more as a pressure point on BSA to change its policy, which is awkward at least and woefully misinformed at worst. It continues, wrongly, to conflate homosexuality and pedophilia, and reinforces this false distinction through its policy. As if homosexuality is a phase gay Scouts will outgrow.

A Boy Scout council in the Columbus, Ohio, region is making its own moves to change policy, last week announcing it would let each Scout unit in the council decide whether to allow gay and lesbian adult leaders. A report by The Columbus Dispatch indicates some other councils — which are large regional Scouting jurisdictions — in the country have already adopted a similar option.

Of course, the BSA's policy has caused turmoil and split ranks, compelling some Scout volunteers to leave the organization and blast it for abandoning values. How many? It's hard to tell. Scouting reported that membership dropped 6 percent after allowing gay Scouts to join, but said other demographic shifts could also be in play.

But Scouting's values have nothing to do with sexual orientation, nor even religion, despite the requirement that each member accept a higher power.

Ideally, Scouts learn self reliance, learn from failure, learn to love and steward the outdoors, learn a promising career path or two, learn social politics, learn leadership, learn teamwork.
I like to think Scouting played a part in helping our son set goals for his life and resolve to chase them. (And our daughter, though Girl Scouts operates differently and girls seem to lose interest by junior high.)

Ideally, Scouting's distinctive and most powerful value is one that you won't see in the marketing materials: Creating a safe laboratory for boys to fail.

From failure, Scouts learn to admit their mistakes, pick themselves up, review the videotape, and move on, better than before. It's also the most difficult quality for adult leaders to let happen, unfortunately, given our culture for doing all we can to protect children from failure.

Boy Scouts of America can stand to practice what it provides for the nation's young people.