Category Archives: Popular culture, general

What I think Donald Trump means by political correctness

Donald Trump is way ahead in all the national polls, in the race for the Presidency. And this unlikely fact is driving the professional political class crazy. Things weren’t supposed to happen this way. In the leadup to the 2012 election, the list of announced Republican candidates had a similar clown car vibe, and unlikely front runners did keep popping up–Herman Cain, anyone?–but eventually order was restored, and the putative favorite, Mitt Romney, did in fact become the nominee. That isn’t happening now. And various pith-helmeted politico/anthropologists have been jungle-safariing for an explanation.

The most recent of these was the respected conservative pollster, Frank Luntz, who declared “my legs are shaking” after meeting with a focus group of Trump supporters:

The focus group watched taped instances on a television of Trump’s apparent misogyny, political flip flops and awe-inspiring braggadocio. They watched the Donald say Rosie O’Donnell has a “fat, ugly face.” They saw that Trump once supported a single-payer health system, and they heard him say, “I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created.” But the group—which included 23 white people, 3 African-Americans and three Hispanics and consisted of a plurality of college-educated, financially comfortably Donald devotees—was undeterred.

At the end of the session, the vast majority said they liked Trump more than when they walked in.

The same night, Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace, who is working for the Jeb! Bush campaign, reported similar encounters with one particular Trump supporter: her father. She was on Rachel Maddow’s show a couple of nights ago, and she declared herself similarly baffled and appalled. Trump supporters don’t care: that Trump called Mexicans rapists and insulted Megyn Kelly and holds heterodox views (for a supposed Republican) on a whole range of issues. None of that matters. He says things that would permanently end most political careers, and his poll numbers go up. Then he’s called on it, refuses to apologize, refuses to back down. And his poll numbers go . . . up.

Here’s what I think is going on.

Remember, early on, when he said “I don’t have time for political correctness.” I don’t think he meant ‘political correctness’ as I generally understand the term. Political correctness usually refers to super-persnickity sensitivity to un-or-sub conscious sexism or racism in commonly used language. It relates to, among other things, the dismaying fact that English, unlike other languages, does not have a gender-neutral personal pronoun. Take this sentence: “when your child asks for chocolate, what he’s really asking for is. . . .” That’s sexist. It assumes that ‘your child’ is male. One unsatisfying solution would be to use the feminine pronoun ‘your child . . . she’s.’ Another, equally unsatisfying, would be ‘your child . . . he or she.’ My inner grammar finniken recoils at the increasingly popular compromise ‘they.’ Fact is, there’s not really an elegant way to de-genderize our personal pronouns. Well, the political correctness police don’t care about syntactical elegance. They want sexism gone from our language. They’re fine with ‘your child . . . he or she.’ Or worse, ‘your child . . . your child.’  Now I’m depressed. . . .

Sorry. Back to it. That’s not the kind of political correctness Mr. Trump seems to be referring to. Essentially, he’s saying ‘I’ll be rude if I want to.’ My beloved schoolmarm mother is, properly, horrified.

Digging deeper. I just finished reading a fascinating book, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Ronson describes a woman, Justine Sacco, who, as she passed through Heathrow Airport in London, sent out a tweet about the trip she was taking to Africa. A dumb joke, she thought. She got on the plane, shut off her phone, fell asleep. When the plane landed, and she turned her phone back on, she discovered that her life was essentially over. Her tweet had gone viral, and was widely condemned as racist. She lost her job. She couldn’t get another one, because prospective employers would google her, see the tweet and the reaction to it, and decide she was toxic. 30 years old, and unemployable. Terrifying.

So Ronson’s book is about public humiliation, the ferocity of the cyberworld, the way we judge others based on a single tweet or comment or incident. And he cites several other examples of people whose lives were ruined, as Sacco’s was. But his book also includes a fascinating, and rather Trumpian, counter-example.

Formula One racing mogul, Max Mosley is not just prominent in his own right, he’s also the son of a prominent man–Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader during WWII.  Max Mosley was filmed by the British tabloid News of the World having a spectacular sado-masochistic sex orgy with five prostitutes, in a torture dungeon filled with German memorabilia. And he survived it, reputation and employment intact. He survived by going on a national news program and saying ‘yes, that’s me in those videos. I have a kinky sex life. So what? Lots of people do. I’m not ashamed, or embarrassed, any more than anyone else should be about their sex lives.’ And it worked. If anything, he was more popular afterwards.

I’m not saying that Donald Trump has Nazi-themed sex orgies, or anything like it. But there’s a certain game that somehow attaches to politics more than other endeavors. It’s a cycle of mistake-scandal-contrition-forgiveness that all politicians, when they say or do something embarrassing, are supposed to engage in. When Donald Trump says he rejects political correctness, he’s saying that he’s not playing. He’s unashamed.

Look at Facebook. If your Facebook newsfeed is like mine, it includes dozens, hundreds even, of politically-themed memes. And a lot of them show some prominent political figure, and a quotation of something offensive they said on some subject or other. And we’re supposed to recoil in horror. We’re supposed to take that particular quotation as indicative of the program or platform or personality of that political figure. We’re supposed to conclude that anyone who could say something like that must be either a monster or a moron. Certainly, having said that awful thing disqualifies him or her for public office.

Well, Trump’s not having it. He’s not playing that game. He’s not apologizing. He’s running for President because he thinks America’s on the wrong path. He wants to ‘make America great again.’ And a lot of people agree with him, and love how unabashed he is about it. And one of the things they like about him is that he’s not acting like a politician, carefully parsing every statement and focus-group-testing every stance. I get it; I get why he’s popular.

We all say dumb things all the time. And our mistakes don’t define us. We all have blind spots and we all have cockamamie ideas and we all have irrational and foolish prejudices. Trump just doesn’t apologize for his. Part of his personality is that he says rude things about people sometimes. Part of his personality is that he brags all the time about how great he is. That’s who he is; that’s the package. If you don’t like it, vote for someone else.

And that humiliating search for ‘gotcha’ quotations and past policy preferences, and the perceived necessity of groveling before the media when you get caught; it really does seem demeaning and unnecessary and self-righteous. That’s what Trump’s not interested in. He won’t apologize and he won’t back down. And that’s what he means by rejecting ‘political correctness.’ It is, I’ll admit, kind of refreshing.

(There’s still zero chance I’m going to vote for him. He’s just wrong on too many issues. But I am starting to get his appeal.)

The End of the World (as we know it)

My wife and I have just finished watching two TNT summer TV series we were pretty hooked on, both on the premise of huge national and international catastrophes. One was Falling Skies, the other The Last Ship. The series finale for Falling Skies aired a week before the season finale of The Last Ship, which will continue next summer. In Falling Skies, evil space aliens, called the Espheni, have invaded the earth, killed a bunch of people, are kidnapping children (so they can turn them into Espheni), and taking over the planet. A ragtag band of American guerillas, led by a former history professor named Tom Mason (Noah Wylie), fight back. They call themselves the Second Mass (after Massachusetts), and are loosely tied to a larger paramilitary structure. On The Last Ship, a global pandemic has swept across the world. A single US Destroyer, the Nathan James, has been tasked with finding a cure, the key to which, apparently, is found in the Arctic. So a heroic doctor, Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra), and the ship’s heroic captain, Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), have to save what’s left of, you know, the human race.

The similarities between the shows are almost as interesting as the differences between them. For some reason, both shows seem to think that ‘Tom’ is a particularly heroic first name. Both Toms are played by actors primarily known for playing doctors. Noah Wylie was the hapless Dr. Carter on ER, while Eric Dane was mostly known as Dr. McSteamy on Grey’s Anatomy. Both have scruffy actors playing rogueish-but-heroic secondary characters–Will Patton’s Captain Weaver on FS is just a somewhat older version of John Pyper-Ferguson’s Tex on TLS. On both shows, the main character’s love interest is a doctor; Tom Mason marries Anne (Moon Bloodgood), while Tom Chandler is clearly majorly into Dr. Scott, though of course, that series is only in its second season. There’s time for that relationship to develop. If she survives–the season cliff-hanger involved her getting shot, by a weasel-y little creep who declared ‘sic semper tyrannis’ as he pulled the trigger.

Both shows were entertaining and exciting, and while the final episode of FS was pretty disappointing, the show did deliver lots of predictable-but-agreeable entertainment over its run. And the scrubbed and eager sailors are a little easier to make fun of than the unshowered masses of the Second Mass, so I think I like TLS a little better. But that ‘sic semper tyrannis’ line pointed to the larger problem of both series. Essentially it comes to this: on both shows, the biggest threat to mankind is posited as being essentially really bad guys. Not the virus, not the space aliens–both of which are bad enough–but villains.

On Falling Skies, the Espheni were plenty scary. They included big six-legged spidery things called ‘skitters’, plus big super-robot fighting machines called mechs, plus big hornet flying things, all under the control of really tall skinny aliens called ‘overlords’, which were eventually revealed to be under the control of a ruling spider queen. But we got alien help too, from two rival alien races, the Volm and the Dornia. Problem was, the Volm saw earth as a tiny unimportant skirmish point in their larger war against the Espheni, and didn’t really see fit to give humans many resources in our fight, and the Dornia are mostly extinct, and mostly communicate via dreams Tom has about his deceased wife. But the CGI was well executed, the acting was mostly passable, and we liked following the twists and turns of the plot. But, in addition to fighting off skitters and being bombarded by hornet-things, Tom Mason also had to worry about a angry human jerkface, Pope (Colin Cunningham). And at times, Pope was a bigger, or at least more immediate threat than the Espheni.

It’s even worse in TLS. In the first season, the intrepid crew of the Nathan James discovers an evil conspiracy to use human bodies to power cities. In the second season, Dr. Scott having found a cure for the disease, we learn that that small percentage of the small percentage of the population who are immune to it don’t want the cure distributed. They sort of like the power trip of being the Superior Race. And they have a nuclear submarine. ‘Sic Semper’ dude belongs to that loathesome crowd.

And I don’t doubt that a global pandemic/alien invasion would bring out the worst in a lot of people, just as it would bring out the best in others. It just seems to me that the biggest threat the human race would face, after we got the disease/aliens under control, would be something a lot more basic. Feeding ourselves. Not to mention basic stuff like drinking water and sanitation.

The fact is, the basic problem of any species on this planet is one we homo sapiens have basically solved; the problem of food. We have, over the years, developed an elaborate infrastructure devoted to the production, refinement and delivery of food. We don’t think about it, but grocery stores don’t really carry all that much food at any given time. A constant stream of food goes from farms to processing facilities to transportation hubs. Someone has to load it on a truck, someone else has to drive that truck, someone else has to unload it. Someone else shelves it, someone else sells it to you. Every. Single. Day. And any disruption of any part of that chain could be catastrophic. And those space aliens skittering towards you, or that infected neighbor stopping by to chat make for pretty serious food-supply-disruptions.

On both shows, there are scenes where the characters are, as they put it, ‘low on supplies,’ and have to stop in some city grocery store to restock. In reality, uh, good luck with that.

There was this one moment in FS when Tom Mason, having been zipped off sky-ward by a hornet alien thing, finds himself under the care of the daughter of an elderly farmer at his idyllic rural farm. And Tom is inspired, and thinks ‘this is the America we need to rebuild.’ It was a nice moment, this history prof basking in a Jeffersonian fantasy. He’d also know, though, that our history didn’t unfold that way; that we’re in fact way more Hamiltonian as we’ve evolved. And it got me to thinking; who would in fact survive? If our lives were disrupted by ETs or nasty microbes; who would actually thrive?

Well, small rural farmers. I mean, cities are complex triumphs of infrastructure and organization, and thus easy to disrupt. A pandemic killing 98% of everyone? Wouldn’t that just devastate cities? But in the wide-open places of the flyover states, pockets of folks would probably survive. And with the skills to continue to survive. Skills which, frankly, I lack. Along with most everyone i know. Ain’t that a pleasant thought?

TV requires photogenic, easily identified bad guys. To give our even more preposterously attractive heroes someone to battle. I liked both these shows, and will keep watching TLS, probably. But a show about reestablishing infrastructure and food distribution nets? That would be awesome! Actually, probably not. But it would make for a nifty board/video game, I think.


Just watch me

I know it’s well-intentioned. I know that people are trying to be kind, trying to offer counsel based on life experience, trying to provide a more mature adult perspective. And there’s truth in it. Not all dreams are realistic. But there’s a message our young people, and especially our young women, in Mormon culture and also in American culture, are being taught. It’s a message of limitation. It’s a message of can’t, a message of don’t try. It’s a message that says that your dreams aren’t achievable. It goes like this: ‘you have to be realistic. It’s going to be impossible to balance what you want to achieve against the realities of family life. You can’t have it all. It isn’t possible. No matter how hard you work, no matter how smart you are, no matter how disciplined, you probably cannot do all the things you want to do.’

You want to be a cardiologist. You probably won’t be able to. You want to move to Los Angeles, and act professionally. That’s not a responsible, reasonable dream. You want to go to graduate school, get a PhD, make a scholarly contribution. That’s probably not realistic. You want to go to law school, get a job in a law firm, sue big corporations, argue cases in the highest courts. That’s not likely to come true. Why are you majoring in construction management? That’s not really a good major for a girl. Switch to something more sensible.

You can’t do it. You can’t balance marriage and career that way. You can’t spare the time, the many years of professional training and preparation required to succeed in that field the way you want to. You can’t do it.

And more and more, young LDS women I know are responding to that advice, that kindly intended, so reasonable, so rational advice. And here’s what I hear them saying:

Just watch me.

If you can’t help me, then at least get out of my way. I can too do this. And you can’t stop me. Nothing can. Nothing will. Just. Watch. Me.

And also, by the way, some encouragement would be nice. Not that I need it.

I taught at the university level for over twenty years. And while I certainly don’t claim to have had a lot to do with it, I look back over the young women I had the great privilege of teaching. And they’re doing it. They’re doing what our culture has tried to tell them they shouldn’t even try. They are achieving.

I have a friend, a former student, who is in medical school–in fact, I know several doctors and doctors-to-be. One’s an oncologist: one is currently in a cardiology residency. Young women who are going to change the world. I know a whole bunch of lawyers. Smart, capable, hard working young women who have no interest in a culture of limitation. I just got a wonderful Facebook message from an actress who I once worked with in a show. She’s at Harvard, getting her PhD. She’s a brilliant young woman, with a joyful, positive, optimistic confidence in her own ability to write and research and change the way we understand the world. I know several young actresses, women who have carved out successful careers in what I think is probably the most difficult profession in America. They’re not movie stars, but they’re able to support themselves, they’re always working, they’re accepting professional challenges, and they’re succeeding.

And yes, I know a young woman who is majoring in construction management. She’s generally the only woman in her classes. And she’s excelling in her program. She knows exactly what she wants to do with her life, and she’s going to make it. I can also say that her parents support her goals one hundred percent. I can say that with confidence, because I’m one of them.

This is the future of Mormonism. This is where we are, and where we are going. And more and more, equality is going to be part of it, because these young women, these remarkable and motivated young women, simply won’t settle for anything else.

And what about the young men of Mormonism? Well, they’re going to have to keep up. They’re going to have to bring it. The women of Mormonism are simply not going to be interested in second-rate, or second-best. I’m honestly a bit more concerned about the guys, to be honest, because our culture coddles them, a bit, and they haven’t had to fight as hard for support.

But the women. Man, the young women of Mormon culture amaze me. Let’s stop trying to hold them back. Let’s stop well-meaning messages of limitation-acceptance. Tell these women that they can’t, that they won’t, that they never will. And listen to the response.

Just watch me.



The Rose Exposed

On Saturday, I was involved in one of the coolest arts events of the year. The theatre company where I do most of my work, Plan B, is housed in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center; one of six resident companies that share that facility. Well, on Saturday, we all arrived in the morning and spent the day creating works of art, which were then performed Saturday night at 8:00. The event was called The Rose Exposed.

All the works shared a theme: Dreamers. Dreamers refers to kids who, as small children, were brought to America by their undocumented immigrant parents. Now they’re here; they speak English, consider themselves American, have never known any other country. But they are not American citizens, and cannot get, for example, a Social Security card. They’re stuck. As is a piece of legislation, the Dream Act, that would allow them to become citizens; it’s stuck in Congress. Can’t get out of committee or to a floor vote. Which it would certainly pass. Thank your Republican congressmen for that. Anyway, ticket proceeds went to Art Access, an organization that explores and documents Dreamers’ lives.

Anyway, my contribution was a play. X, Y and Z are young Dreamers, late high school, early college age. And Z has earned, but cannot accept, a prestigious fellowship, because he doesn’t have a Social Security card. So his friends, X and Y, are searching various government databases to see if there’s some form, some process that will allow for an exception for their friend. Three actors, Latoya Rhodes, Tyson Baker and Anne Louise Brings, directed by my good friend Mark Fossen. And they all did superb work. Honestly, my only regret about the whole thing is that, during the performance, I thought of a Donald Trump joke that would have killed, if only there’d been time to insert it. Dang.

The whole thing began with a short film by David Evanoff, with a Star Wars scroll introducing the companies, and then backstage footage of each of the groups rehearsing. I love Dave’s work, its mixture of eloquence and impudence, and the opening film set the stage beautifully for what would come.

Next up, the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, featuring a wonderful young pianist, David Horton, performing the Third movement from Leopold Godowski’s Sonata. Played with beautiful sensitivity and, of course, remarkable skill.

Three of the companies at the Rose are dance companies. And as always, when I see dance, I wonder why I don’t go to see dance events more often. Dance is so remarkably beautiful. Anyway, next up was the Repertory Dance Theatre’s piece, to a Ravel toccato, performed by Anastasia Magamedova, featuring guest artist, Melanie Paz, who is herself a Dreamer. It was a piece of extraordinary precision and beauty, creating a series of tableaux, morphing then into the next set piece.

My friend Julie Jensen also wrote a play, for another resident theatre company, PYGmalion. Magamedova played again, this time Debussy. PYG’s play was about the idea of Dreaming more generally; Bijan Hosseini, Tamara Howell, Tracie Merrill and Aaron Swenson (terrific actors, who I very much regret not having had the chance to work with professionally. Yet) built the play around monologues about the dreams parents have for their children. Not specifically about the political issue that had brought us all there, but that doesn’t matter; it was a lovely piece, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Next up, another dance company, Sweet Beast Dance Circus, with an imaginative piece about Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden. It was sweet tempered, warm-hearted, and very very funny. Loved their use of a wheelbarrow and a long rope, which their Lucifer seductively wrapped around himself. Wonderfully acted and danced. Their music was a Schubert Impromptu, performed by Magamedova.

My piece, from Plan B, was next. I thought it went well. I was exceptionally well served by my director and actors. Could the piece have been perhaps a little too on-the-nose thematically? Could be, but I’m not going to worry about it. David Horton wrote and performed the music for our piece, and it worked spectacularly, especially the way it sparked Mark Fossen’s director’s imagination. Gave the piece a final mood of melancholy that fitted the evening perfectly.

The final dance number was by Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, accompanied by Horton performing six short Schoenberg pieces. The dance was itself in six parts, each a solo number featuring a different member of the company, broken up by the entire company marching in lockstep perpendicularly across the stage.

The evening culminated in a performance by Magamedova of William Bolcom’s The Serpent’s Kiss, one of those amazing rag pieces he composed. It’s a fun, showy piece of music, and it brought the audience to their feet.

But, then, the whole night was spectacular. Can you think of a better way to spend a Saturday night? To see five original works of performance art, saucy, profound, amazing, moving. And all for the best of causes. I am so honored to have been a part of it.

Sharknado, the first three: review

I think the success of the first Sharknado movie took the programmers at the Syfy network sort of by surprise. Of course it was a preposterously bad movie, based on a ridiculous premise. One of the enchanting pleasures of Syfy is their glorious revival of the tradition of the B-movie. No, not just of B-movies, of entertainingly terrible movies, the whole grindhouse/drive-in/American International/Roger Corman movie tradition. When I was a teenager, my friends and I loved to go to the Starlight Drive-in and watch abysmal (but fun) movies. Or, on nights when my parents weren’t home, we’d watch Sammy Terry’s Nightmare Theater on WTTV, the Indianapolis station that also showed IU and Indiana Pacers’ basketball games. I grew up watching awful sci-fi/horror movies. I think they’re awesome. Sharknado proudly partakes of, and contributes to, that tradition. Which is why my wife and daughter and I recently watched the last two.

But really, was Sharknado that much more ridiculous than other Syfy offerings? Was it worse than Scream of the Banshee, say, or Dinocroc? Or Dinocroc vs. Supergator? Or Dinoshark? Or Frankenfish, Pteracuda, Piranhaconda, Lavalantula, or The Man with the Screaming Brain? Yep, they’re all for real, and have all been broadcast in the last five years on Syfy network. So once you’ve committed to a movie on the premise of an anaconda/piranha crossbreeding, why not follow it up with one about tarantulas made of lava? Or, for that matter, a movie about a tornado that sucks sharks out of the sea and drops them on big cities?

But Sharknado took off. One main reason is Twitter. The actual viewing audience for the initial broadcast was actually not all that impressive. But enough people live-tweeted it, and those who did were sufficiently snarky, Syfy decided to re-broadcast the next night, but include the more amusing tweets. Let’s not pretend for a second that Syfy isn’t in on the joke.

But what about the actors? And there you have it, the secret to the success of these movies. Let’s not kid ourselves, acting in Sharknado requires a certain skill set that’s not quite, but is related to, acting. Ian Ziering has starred in all three Sharknados, and, you know, he does just fine. He treats the character Fin (yes, the character is named Fin) seriously, and commits physically to all the action requirements, most of which would seem to require a chain saw. You don’t ever not believe him. In the third movie, when he announces that he plans to name his infant son Gill, the joke landed precisely because he committed to it. After Beverly Hills 90210, his career pretty much flat-lined, which makes him just the right kind of star for a Sharknado-type movie. Famous enough to carry the picture, desperate enough to accept the role. (John Heard was in the first one, a better known, and probably even more desperate actor–he slept-walked through the first third of the movie, then became shark bait without anyone missing him).

The first movie also featured two main actresses: Tara Reid and Cassie Scerbo.  Tara Reid, you probably know. It’s not like she doesn’t have some impressive film credits: The Big Lebowski, American Pie. But she never could act, and after some forays into reality TV (and a famously botched boob job), she needed a hit. But she’s dreadful in all three Sharknados. Part of it’s the writing. Thunder Levin, the writer, has yet to give April, her character, anything to do except stand on the periphery of scenes and bite her lip in anxiety. Plus, Fin and April, for some reason, use a shark attack crisis as a perfect opportunity to work out their relationship issues. But whatever the challenges of the character, Reid conspicuously fails to meet them. In the perfect marriage of actress and character, April and the actress who plays her both manage to do nothing but annoy. (Bo Derek (!) plays her Mom in the third movie, and manages to out-bad-act even her.)

Cassie Scerbo, though, is something else again. Again, it may be the writing; her character, Nova, is a badass. She isn’t given much to do; shoot a semi-automatic weapon, throw hand grenades, look good in a bikini. But she more than meets all three challenges. More to the point, she has some energy. She’s forceful; she’s fun to watch. She’s only in the first and third movies, and the second movie is poorer for it. She’s the one actor in this thing that I think could have a subsequent actual career. Fin is a bit torn between the two great loves of his life, April and Nova, and Syfy obligingly sent a piece of debris hurtling towards April at the end of the third movie. Now we all get to vote on-line on whether April dies or not, in the fourth movie. Guess how I voted.

I appreciate watching a good actor meet an acting challenge, though. And in the third movie, they bring in the perfect Sharknado actor, for a far-too-brief appearance near the end. David Hasselhoff. And, I’m sorry to say this, but he’s brilliant. Genuinely good. Just tongue-in-cheek enough to play up the ridiculousness of the movie’s premise, but also charismatic. I mean, Hasselhoff’s career was built on joke-TV–Baywatch. His job was to be the one actual dramatic character in a show that was otherwise all about the bikinis. Well, this one’s about sharks. He knows how to handle this kind of material. (Frankie Muniz was also pretty great).

I mean, watching Sharknado movies does require a good deal more suspension-of-disbelief than is usually the case. If, in fact, tornados could suck sharks out of the ocean, they’d just die. If, miraculously, sharks didn’t die up in the air, they’d die when they hit the earth. Even if, somehow, they survived the fall, they’d die anyway, because they’re fish; they can’t live out of water. Even when (in all three movies) they land in commercial swimming pools, they’d die; fresh water with chlorine? Lethal to salt water sharks. Certainly, sharks wouldn’t be biting people much. But the silliness of the premise is most of the fun.

But in addition to the, you know, actual actors in these things, there are also many many cameos. In the third movie, Mark Cuban plays POTUS, and is impressive; at least, he looked like he was having fun. Ann Coulter plays VPOTUS. (Never have I so rooted for sharks to eat someone. But alas).  Matt Lauer and Al Roker play themselves in the last two movies, until they both become shark lunch. We get to see Lou Ferrigno, Bill Engvall, Jackie Collins, Lorenzo Lamas. Will Wheaton was in the second one. Of course, they all get shark-chomped pretty quickly, but that’s the gig; you get ten seconds of screen time, and then the actual stars of the movie–the sharks–take over.

And the sharks are, well, dreadful. Bad CGI is half the charm. The action isn’t really ever terribly convincing, and the effects are, well, low budget. And quite apart from the general absurdity of a sharknado, the movie’s plots are preposterous. But that’s why and how Syfy makes them. They don’t cost much, and they deliver. Movies are supposed to be fun. It’s nice when they’re also not poo. But when the movie is called Sharknado, I’ll settle for fun.


Ten greatest TV shows of all time

So, I’m sitting at lunch, enjoying a sushi burrito, with two actor friends. And we get to talking about what we’ve seen and what we’ve enjoyed, and Parks and Rec came up, and one of us said, ‘hey, what would you say were the Ten greatest television shows of all time?’

Coming up with lists like that are fun precisely because they’re nonsensical, and therefore lead to absurd arguments and preposterous controversies, all the more vehemently disputed precisely because of the extreme subjectivity of any and all artistic tastes. I’m putting my apples against your oranges, and against Barry’s bananas, with all of us sure that Alice, if she’d been there, would tossed in the trashheap. Besides the greatest television show I ever saw in my life was Game Seven of the 2014 World Series, which those other two bozos didn’t even watch. (Losers). Still, we came up with a list. Join the free-for-all, mock our choices. Just be prepared for us to mock back.

First, we had to make some rules. We’re only talking scripted feature television; shows that tell a sustained story. That lets out Sixty Minutes, excludes Johnny Carson, leaves out Letterman, bids Jon Stewart sayonara, counted out Colbert and omits Sid Caesar and That Show of Shows. No variety, no news, no fake news.

With considerable reluctance, we also decided to keep it to American shows only. Our game, our rules, though it meant leaving out Ab Fab and Fawlty Towers and Monty Python, and the British Office, which also led to the exclusion of the American Office, because the British one is better.

But we did decide to include both comedies and dramas, in part because we know, as professionals in the field, how hard funny can be, and also in part because that’s how people watch TV. We just watch. Nobody says ‘I can’t see Walking Dead; I only like sit-coms.’ Or, rather, you could say that, but you’d be wrong. Ecclesiastes-via-The Byrds: ‘to everything, there is a season and a time.’ We decided that applies to TV as well as life.

So here’s what we came up. And understand, we did not work historically or anything like that. We mixed-and-matched; modern shows and older ones thrown willy-nilly together, with no rhyme or reason to our choices.

Top Ten Television shows of all time, in no particular order:

Mad Men. Critical darling, plus it starred a friend of ours. We love its bitter condemnation of the past, and the open sexism and racism of a period historically within my lifetime. Plus, for an essentially realist period piece, it kept tossing in these astonishing moments of surrealism; a guy losing his leg to a riding lawnmower in the office, dead men dancing, Don Draper’s long affair with women who may or may not have actually existed.

I Love Lucy. It changed everything. It changed the way television was shot and transmitted. It was the first great star vehicle. Plus, we love this irony. Every episode of the show had the same plot; Lucy wants to do something, Ricky tells her she can’t do it. She does it anyway, and makes a frightful (but hilarious) hash of it. Ricky condescendingly forgives her. The message: those silly dames, thinking they can actually do things, even compete with men. But the show deconstructed itself at every turn. In fact, the show was a vehicle for Lucille Ball. It was about her comic genius. She made all the business decisions too. It was a show about a brilliant woman, playing a goofball brilliantly.

M.A.S.H. It lasted a good deal longer than the actual Korean War lasted, and it surely got gooey and preachy at times. But it was still an astonishing show, a dark comedy about America’s nightmare adventure in Vietnam Korea. And because it was about war, characters died, people we cared about. And every time an old character left the show, the character that replaced them was even better.

The West Wing. I know, it exhibited every Aaron Sorkin fault and flaw; his preachiness, his obsession with failed romances, its knee-jerk liberalism. And to some extent, it’s true; during the Bush years, The West Wing created, in Bartlett, the President we wished we had, as opposed to the actual President we were stuck with. But the characterizations were rich, the writing powerful, and the actors were up to the challenge.

Breaking Bad. Such an extraordinary depiction of a man gradually, day after day, choice after choice, descending into criminality, murder, and evil. With Aaron Paul’s and Bryan Cranston’s superb performances, we had two of the most compelling characters in the history of television, with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. And the amazing Anna Gunn, as Walter’s wife, Skyler.

Friday Night Lights. Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose. And yes, I know some of the teenagers were played by 29 year-olds. I don’t care. It was a show about football that my wife, who hates football, loved. Kyle Chandler was terrific as high school coach Eric Taylor, but my favorite character, always and forever, was Connie Britton’s amazing Tami Taylor. The most thankless possible role, the coach’s wife, and she made her the most dynamic woman in the town.

It’s interesting to me, BTW, how many actors were in multiple great shows. Connie Britton starred in Friday Night Lights, but also had a crucial smaller role on The West Wing, which also featured Alan Alda, Hawkeye Pierce on M.A.S.H. And Christina Hendrix not only held the company together in Mad Men, she was one of the most memorable characters ever in Firefly.

All in the Family. It’s the show that changed everything. It’s the show that demonstrated that serious discussions of the most important issues facing the United States could take place in a situation comedy, and also, that those discussions could be more than thought-provoking, they could be riotously funny. Not just historically important; it was brilliant, night after night, for 9 years.

Firefly. I know. It failed. Fourteen episodes only. We only got part of one season to fall in love with Captain Mal and Wash and Zoe and Inara and, OMG, the wonderful Kaylee. But fall in love, we did. So inventive, so wonderfully creative. I will never, ever, forgive Fox for cancelling the show just as it was finding its audience. And now it’s probably the most popular show on Comic-con.

Parks and Recreation. It passes the first and most important test of a sit-com. It was never, ever, not-funny. But it did something even more difficult. It managed, for seven seasons, to create leading characters who, though flawed, were all essentially good-hearted. That’s a magnificent achievement, and incredibly difficult. Plus, just watching the apotheosis of Chris Pratt as an actor is worth the price of admission.

E. R. I hesitated to include it. It went on much too long, got self-indulgent and grew ever soapier as time went on. But my gosh, those opening episodes were incredible. The fast dialogue, the incredibly realistic wounds and surgeries and illnesses. I’m not sure it ever survived George Clooney leaving, but for awhile there, it was appointment television.

So what shows did I leave out? What shows should I have left off? Because, here’s what’s fun; we’re all right. And we’re all hopelessly wrong.


Missing Jon Stewart

For the past few years, my weekday morning routine was the same; I would get my breakfast, sit in The Beast (my massive and beloved recliner), and watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recorded from the previous evening’s broadcast. I wouldn’t say that it’s been anything close to my main source of news or information. I watched it for one excellent reason; it’s been consistently, marvelously funny. It’s really kind of a miracle. Stand-up comedians hone their acts for months, then repeat them endlessly, like a politician does with his/her stump speech. But four nights a week, 22 minutes a night, Jon Stewart brought the funny. What an extraordinary achievement.

There has been, of course, a lot of ink spilled of late about the Meaning of Jon Stewart, or his Impact, or his Importance. What people haven’t done as successfully is describe exactly what he did. David Letterman ended his long late night reign recently, without anyone really noticing what his show was about; the nightly deconstruction of the cult of celebrity. By the same token, Jon Stewart’s show was about the deconstruction of television news. He wasn’t Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw; he parodied them. He paid attention. He was on to their tricks. Like every great satirist, he loved deflating pretention and self-importance. Above all, he had a finely tuned eye for BS. In fact, in a lot of ways, BS was his subject. His final monologue on the show was a short treatise, in fact, on BS, on the three types of BS he’d noticed, and how they functioned, every night, on the news.

I suppose it’s fair to admit that he was and is a liberal, and that Fox News was a favorite target of his humor. It would not be fair, or accurate, to say that his show was an all-out assault on conservatism, however. He took on CNN with every bit as much enthusiasm, and if he didn’t make fun of old-media dinosaurs like the evening news broadcasts on CBS or NBC or ABC, it’s only because they’re not on as much. The 24-hour news cycle has provided a fertile pasture for BS to proliferate.

No, what Jon found offensive about conservatism doesn’t seem to be serious policy recommendations, but the selling of policy, the marketing of politicians. That’s where the richest troves of BS were buried; both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have described themselves as ‘turd miners,’ and I think that’s crude but accurate. Bloviating windbags, of either party, were rich material for a comedian as astute as Jon Stewart, and he was as willing to make fun of Democrats as he was Republicans. His political agenda, if he had one, was for government to work, for policies that helped people who needed it. His two greatest campaigns were for extra funds to help 9/11 first responders, and for VA reform, for more money to help our wounded and hurting veterans.

Stewart’s Daily Show had two other features. First were his ever-changing cadre of correspondents, gifted comedians in their own right, who he would send out to ‘cover stories.’ Often this meant giving people with truly amazing views enough rope to hang themselves. The DS staff would find some local controversy and cover it; interview the participants. Sometimes, they’d pretend to take one side or another (usually the crazier side), in order to elicit a response. My wife and I would watch these pieces, and shake our heads in amazement that anyone would agree to be interviewed by anyone from the Daily Show. But often other news organizations would interview DS subjects after the shows in which they were featured had aired, and generally the folks would say they’d been treated fairly. They had been given an opportunity to explain themselves to a national audience, and they’d been quoted accurately.

You might say that those interview sequences were mean-spirited. After all, the point was to provide what seemed to be insane people a platform for them to air views. But, real news organizations do that too. Again, the point was to deconstruct mainstream news programs. On a news show, it isn’t particularly unusual to highlight some controversial issue by focusing on nuttiest fringe views imaginable. That’s what’s called ‘balance.’ So if a major network is doing a show about the US/Mexico border, they’ll interview some armed civilian vigilante type, out there with his shotgun and flashlight looking for ‘illegals.’ Controversy sells. (I also love how the various correspondents were given fancy titles: ‘senior foreign correspondent’).

It’s also worth noting, BTW, the subsequent careers of Daily Show correspondents. Steve Carell is a major movie star. Ed Helms and Rob Corddry are in-demand character actors. Stephen Colbert will replace Letterman at NBC, and Larry Wilmore and John Oliver have their own spin-off shows. If the Daily Show was a parody of CBS News, The Colbert Report was a parody of Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox. Larry Wilmore’s show hasn’t quite found its voice yet, but looks a lot like those Sunday news shows, like This Week on ABC, expecially with Wilmore’s panel discussion feature. John Oliver’s show on HBO is the best of them all; a parody of 60 Minutes, really, but substantive enough to straddle that fine line between doing the news and making fun of it.

The final part of any Daily Show episode was the interviews, and to some extent, it’s late night formulaic, the place where the show drops its news focus and asks movie stars about their latest projects. But Jon Stewart transformed that part of the show as well. He did remarkably incisive interviews with major political figures, regularly sparring with Mike Huckaby and John McCain. President Obama was on at least three times that I can remember. Best of all, Jon loved authors. He often found interesting books, usually about either history or public policy, and interview their authors. I can’t tell you how many books I bought or checked out from the library and read after seeing their authors on the Daily Show.  At least thirty; probably more. He loved engaging with smart people who had interesting things to say.

In fact, if Fox News eventually wore him down (he said watching that network was the hardest part of his job, and led to his retirement), then the authors and books he featured invigorated him. By the same token, that’s my final takeaway from the end of this 16 year era. Jon Stewart represented incisive wit and fury and even optimism in a time when our politics seems irretrievably broken. Television news is drowning in BS, as is public life generally. But the world is also a place where smart, passionate, informed people can come and tell you about the great book they just wrote.  I wish Jon well, and I’m going to miss him terribly. And hope the new guy, Trevor Noah, does well. Those are huge shoes to fill.

Rain: Book review

Cynthia Barnett’s Rain: A Natural and Cultural History is an absolute miracle of a book, a meditation on a subject everyone absolutely takes for granted, which also happens to be a phenomenon without which there could not exist life on this planet. It’s also superbly researched, and written with a poet’s eye and gift for language. It’s one of those books you want to read slowly, so as to savor every paragraph and sentence. I finished it last night, and set it aside with a palpable feeling of regret, though of course, I can always read it again.

My son gave it to me for Fathers’ Day; said he saw it in a bookstore, was intrigued by the title, read the first three pages, and found himself hooked. I had the same experience. I wish I could guarantee that you will too. But it is a book about rain. If that idea turns you off. . . .

But start with this thought: there was life on Mars, and water. What Mars did not have was rain, and Mars remains today a lifeless rock. Are you fascinated by science, and especially by that most baffling of all currently unanswered scientific questions; why does life exist on earth? That’s one of the question this book addresses.

Or another: what is the connection between grunge rock and roll and the fact that Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Kris Novoselic are from, not Seattle, but Aberdeen Washington? Seattle is a city known for its rainy days and nights, but Aberdeen, a few miles further inland, is a good deal rainier. Listen to early Nirvana. Have you noticed the rain-dripping sound of Novoselic’s bass? What about The Smiths? Johnny Marr and Morrissey are from Manchester, the rainiest city in the famously rainy British Isles. Is it any wonder that the Smiths’ sound is so, well, gloomy? Is there a connection between the sunniness of certain bands’ popular music and the cities in which its members grew up? Or, in case of Nirvana and the Smiths, the raininess of their cities of origin? That’s another issue Barnett’s book raises, explores, discusses.

Or how does rain make itself manifest thematically? What poets have written particularly rain-intensive poems, what novelists have featured it, what painters have employed rain as a motif? What is the general history of rain in high and popular culture?

All right, how about this? What is the history of drought-busting rainmakers? What charlatans went about trying to make it rain? What have actual scientists done to bring rain to drought-stricken areas? What ideas have worked? Which ones have not? All questions carefully and thoughtfully explored by Barnett.

And, terrifyingly, what about environmental catastrophe? What is the history of acid rain, and how was it ended? What can be done today about various kinds of toxic rainfall? And, of course, what about global warming, climate change, the environmental crisis in which we currently find ourselves? What’s going on, what is the state of current research, what can be done, what are people trying to do? A fascinating subject, is it not? And an important one?

Buy it. Read it. Slowly, so as to savor its every detail. This is a wonderful book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Hunting and other sports: my crystal ball

One of the odder buildings on the BYU campus is the Monte L. Bean museum. It’s up on the north ridge overlooking campus, just east of the Marriott Center, and it provides popular daytime activities for families with small children. Monte L. Bean was a successful LDS businessman, whose favorite leisure activity was big game hunting. In 1978, he built a museum to display all the animals he’d killed. The collection has since expanded, and has a legitimate educational purpose; lots of life sciences exhibits, plus classrooms and labs. But for little kids, the cool part is seeing all the lions and tigers and bears. And, you know, giraffes, gazelles. There’s even a Liger. Plus, of course, it has a very cool, kid-oriented, gift shop.

I got to thinking about the Bean museum as I read about one of the biggest stories in the news these days, the American dentist who shot and killed Cecil the lion, and his subsequent flaying on social media. My immediate reaction was the same as most people’s. I thought that what this hunter did was contemptible, and I wished him ill. On the other hand, I just read Jon Ronson’s terrific new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, about the way social media can absolutely crucify ordinary people who do dumb/wrong/shameful things, and thought this dentist’s story would make a perfect case study for this new phenomenon. Disproportionate public humiliations, the internet version of putting someone in the stocks or sewing a scarlet A to their clothing. And so possibly we should all cut this dentist a little (very little) slack? Like, maybe, cool it on the death threats?

But then, I got to thinking about big game hunting itself, the practice of going on a safari to Africa and shooting different sorts of wild animals. Or, like, bighorn sheep from helicopters. That kind of thing. Like the stuff Monte L. Bean apparently was into. And of course, I totally get how horrifically hypocritical it is for us all to get all excited about Cecil the lion. When you consider the wholesale slaughter of other intelligent mammals that make up most of the protein in our American diets, outrage over one dude shooting a lion seems pretty ridiculous. Cows, pigs, chickens, anyone? We’re bothered by the death of Cecil the lion, but quite unperturbed by the deaths of Bessie, Wilbur, or (Chicken) Little. I don’t hunt, never have and never will, but I freely admit that my objections to hunting are aesthetic, not moral. I like my meat wrapped in cellophane, and I’d rather not think about how the specific steps that got it to the store. I even wrote an anti-slaughterhouse play. And, driving home from the theater, opening night, stopped at a MacDonald’s. Not proud of my hypocrisy, but I do at least admit to it.

So granted, our objections to big game hunting are, to a very large degree, emotional and sentimental. We like lions, because they’re awesome to look at (in nature documentaries), and because we liked The Lion King as kids. We like otters and dolphins and pandas, and don’t like weasels and rats and three-toed sloths. I remember the movie March of the Penguins and how scary it was, to see those cute little penguins under deadly attack from the vicious leopard seals. But leopard seals are just trying to survive too, and have every bit as much right to dinner as penguins do. And baby seals are cute, too.

But here’s my larger point: is big game hunting on its way out as a sport? It doesn’t matter if the reasons aren’t rationally defensible; emotions matter, and it seems to me that this is a sport that fewer and fewer people are willing to defend. That happened with fox hunting, for example. It’s been illegal in the UK since 2005. Well, there was a time when it was a very popular sport. How many British novels had fox hunting scenes, how many TV shows and movies, how many popular depictions of whooping aristocrats riding in hot pursuit of foxes. “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible,” Oscar Wilde called it, to the scandalized titters of his largely aristocratic audiences. But nowadays, it’s seen as barbaric. An uncivilized sporting relic; the kind of thing decent people just don’t allow. Well, does the case of Dr. Palmer DDS v. Cecil Felidae Leo suggest a similar social dynamic? Is big game hunting just not cool anymore?

Or other once-popular sports? What about team sports? I am on record as suggesting that American football may well be a sport that’s dying. The long-term health effects from brain injuries have increasingly led some of the best young professional players in the NFL to decide the risk isn’t worth the money. And the reaction from the players who do keep playing is even more interesting. When 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired after a very successful rookie season, the reaction from his teammates was to applaud him for his courage, with the subtext ‘I wish I could afford to do that.’  (And shortly thereafter, his teammate Anthony Davis did the same, retired mid-career).

I would argue that professional boxing might be the next major sport to go. It’s certainly lost a lot of fans; it’s nowhere near as popular as it once was. I’m not a boxing fan, and never have been, but when I was a kid, I certainly knew who the heavyweight champion of the world was. Everyone did. It was a big deal; star boxers were major celebrities. Not anymore; I couldn’t name three pro boxers anymore, and I have no idea who the heavyweight champion is. I think maybe he’s European. But I think mismanagement and corruption have as much to do with boxing’s decline, as much or more than any collective distaste over the atavistic violence of the sport. After all, mixed martial arts seems to be thriving. I don’t get that either, but it does seem to be a thing.

What about auto racing? NASCAR’s numbers are down, and the Indianapolis 500 has seen a ratings slump. I have seen just enough auto racing in my lifetime to consider it the smelliest, loudest, boringest sport ever created. But if movies are any indication, there’s still something thrilling about watching fast cars driving really fast. It’s possible that climate change may force a change in auto sports, but for now, they remain fairly popular.

Soccer’s doing well, and should; it’s one exciting sport. Baseball remains the favored sport for those of us with contemplative, Zen-state powers of concentration. Basketball is simply beautiful. Big game hunting may be gone from the planet in twenty years, and good riddance. What sport might be next to go?



Lord Baden-Powell and sexuality

In 1908, General Robert Baden-Powell, later elevated to Lord Baden-Powell, a highly decorated veteran of the Boer War, founded an organization he called The Boy Scout Association. That same year, he published Scouting for Boys, a guide to safely camping outdoors, and the first iteration of what would become the Boy Scout Manual. The year previously, Baden-Powell had tried out his ideas for what he hoped would become a national organization to promote wholesome, enjoyable outdoors activities for young men, by taking twenty boys to Brownsea Island and having the first Scout Camp. Two years later, an American businessman named W. D. Boyce discovered the British organization, and decided to start an American version. There’s a lot of mythology regarding the histories of both Baden-Powell and Boyce, but the basic facts are clear enough; Baden-Powell is the founder of Scouting, and Boyce the father of American Scouting.

Baden-Powell was, by all accounts, a charismatic leader, a ripping good storyteller, and a kind-hearted and gentle teacher. It’s quite possible that he was also a closeted homosexual. There have been several biographies of Baden-Powell, most of them hagiographic, intended for boys. Tim Jeal’s 1990 biography, The Boy-Man: The biography of Lord Baden-Powell is superb; meticulously researched, judicious in its conclusions, engagingly written. Jeal concludes that Baden-Powell was also gay. Two earlier biographies had reached similar conclusions. Evidence for this conclusion is entirely circumstantial. Baden-Powell came from a generation where homosexuality was considered a grave moral defect, deeply shameful and immoral. He almost certainly never acted on his feelings.

But consider the evidence, circumstantial though it is. He was a deeply sensitive and artistically talented boy, who played with dolls, but avoided girls at all costs. As an artist, his favorite subjects were attractive young men. In the army, he acted in a number of amateur theatricals, always playing women’s roles. Pretty young women sent him into a state of anxiety, which his friends all teased him for, and his closest emotional attachment was to a young man named Kenneth McLaren, a friendship which nearly ended when McLaren married, and finally did end when Baden-Powell married. In 1912, Baden-Powell, aged 55, met Olave Soames; she was 23. They married, but Baden-Powell was crippled by terrible, psychosomatic headaches every time they went to bed together. Eventually, he had to leave their shared bedroom, and sleep in an army cot elsewhere in their home.

I do not mean to suggest that his marriage with Olave was unhappy, nor was it childless; they had three children, a son and two daughters. Olave was his steadfast companion in running both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides, the equivalent girls’ organization he founded in 1912. Nor did he seem to be a particularly unhappy man; Scouting became his life, and he was a beloved figure among British boys.

Jeal’s biography (which I whole-heartedly recommend), also deals judiciously with the one genuinely dark rumor about Baden-Powell; that his politics were essentially fascist, and that he supported the Nazis in the Second World War. What’s true is that Baden-Powell was both conservative and politically naive, and reflexively patriotic, and that he distrusted communism. It’s certainly true that an early Scout badge included a swastika. But that was well before that particular symbol had been appropriated by the Nazis. He was, finally, a former military officer who valued discipline, and wanted his Boy Scouts to conduct themselves in an orderly, restrained manner. The evidence does not, however, suggest that he was a fascist.

And here’s what Jeal concludes about Baden-Powell’s homosexuality; it drove him.  His accomplishments are startling; something drove him to achieve. He was an honorable and brave soldier, a genuine war hero, a man who devoted his life to working with children, and a charming and funny raconteur. Jeal quotes at length Baden-Powell’s final letter to his beloved Scouts; I think it captures him beautifully:

I have had a most happy life, and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and to enjoy life. . . One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong when you are a boy, so that you can be useful and enjoy yourself when you are a man. . . . but the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try to leave this world a little better than how you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy feeling . . . that you have not wasted your time, but have done your best. “Be prepared” to live happy, and to die happy.

So what does any of this mean in relation to the current controversy regarding Scouting and gay leaders? I would say that it doesn’t mean anything. If, as seems likely, the founder of Scouting was gay, it did not impact the importance or value of the organization to any degree whatsoever. What was the exact nature of his relationship with Kenneth McLaren? We don’t know, we will likely never know, and it does not matter.
Lord Baden-Powell was a wonderful man, who devoted his life to improving the lives of boys and girls world-wide. He was also a fine writer and painter, and a genuine war hero. That’s how we should think of him, because it’s the only aspect of his life that matters. And if today, a similarly gentle, decent and talented man, who also happened to be gay, were to be named Scoutmaster of a troop in the Boy Scouts of America (or for that matter, the Boy Scouts Association in England, or any of the Scouting organizations active internationally), the result would be, not just benign, but actively positive. Children would learn valuable skills, and have a lot of fun doing it. Period. And, in time, that someone else could say, like Baden-Powell, ‘I have had a most happy life, and I want you to have a happy life too.’ That’s the good Scouting can do. Irregardless of the orientation of the volunteer leaders that make it great.