March 25, 2013

Going for 50: one reason I write

Having a book on Amazon is a little like sitting by the phone waiting for someone to call and invite you over. I remember when I was a kid, with rotary-dial phones and before answering machines. You'd call up a friend and count the rings. If you got to seven rings, you were pretty sure no one was home. Ten rings, and you'd hang up. Any more than that, and you had to admit you were just desperate.

I have watched my own son go through this even in a world with answering machines and facebook and cell phones and texting. One Saturday morning he left messages and texts for five friends and then spent the next few hours waiting for a reply. Broke my heart to watch him wondering if maybe they were all doing something fun without him. (They were all at baseball or soccer games or other obligations.)

My point is, that's what having a book on Amazon is like. I watch the sales and download numbers, but even more I watch the reviews. Every review that's posted is a new thrill. It means someone not only got the book, but they devoted a few hours to reading it. And they took extra time to come back and let me and everyone else know what they thought about it.

You can leave your own review by clicking here.
Of course I like the 4-star and 5-star reviews best, but any review is fabulous, like a Saturday morning when I was eleven and the phone rang and my friend would be suggesting we ride our bikes down to the ferry or make an obstacle course in the back yard or go play with the new kittens at the dairy farm down the street.

But the title of this post is "Going for 50," right? Last week I tweeted a pitiful plea for reviews of Semper. At the time, Semper had 37 reviews. Today it's got 41, which is awesome. But I'd love to have 50 reviews before June 26, which coincidentally will be my birthday. (No, not my 50th birthday. Please. I've got a few years before that milestone, thankyouverymuch.)

So I'm taking that pitiful tweet and expanding it into a whole pitiful blog post. Because I'm insecure that way. So, if you've read Semper, please pop on over to the Amazon page and leave a one or two sentence honest review. I am grateful that you read it, and I'd love to know what you actually thought about it.

And if you haven't read Semper yet, it will be free for Kindle (and Kindle readers on all platforms) March 29 through April 2.

March 20, 2013

#BSA should follow this council's lead. THANK YOU @bsamdsc (blog post)

I never actually formally resigned my status as an Assistant Scout Master; I just stopped wearing the uniform and fulfilling the duties. I am not sure if it was just laziness on my part, or if it was my innate optimism causing me to believe that things would change soon at BSA, and when they did I would probably step up as a leader once more.

Last month, our local council (Mount Diablo Silverado) sent out a survey to over 5,000 stakeholders--scout leaders, registered adult volunteers, scouts, and scout parents--and got a 42% response rate. The survey was specifically about BSA's national "membership standards," which is the official term for BSA's policy of discriminating against gay people.

Earlier, our council was at the center of a media firestorm about BSA's policy. That drove me bananas and made me embarrassed to be a part of this organization. Today, I have tremendous hope because our council executed this survey and is completely transparent with the results and is taking action. The membership of our council spoke loudly and clearly.

Now, I'm a data wonk for sure. I love analyzing survey data, especially trying to mix in various dimensions to see what the data is really telling us. Back when I wrote a weekly college football column, I based nearly all my analysis on stats, and the more obscure patterns I could see, the more fun I had with it.

No such super-deep analysis is needed with this survey. The results pretty overwhelmingly say three things:

  1. The vast majority of our council membership want the policy changed, and most want it changed at the national level (none of this "each group can decide to be homophobic if they want to" stuff).
  2. Scouts in particular (the youth in the organization) want the policy changed.
  3. People who are prejudiced are really prejudiced. People who like the policy as it is say they would be even less likely to recommend scouting if it's changed. (Fortunately, some day, these people will die off. But that's my independent prediction; the survey doesn't actually say they'll die off.)
I took this survey, and I took the time to fill out every text box that was available to me. Apparently, quite a few others did, too, and some day I hope to see the verbatim responses which are not published in the web-accessible version of the report (which, I must say, makes total sense). The council called such responses "quite helpful and in many cases inspiring."

But what really has me feeling good today is the action our council has taken. I hope they don't mind me quoting it here--it's publicly viewable as section 5 of the survey results, and I think they should be commended for not only taking action based on the survey results but for being thoughtful about the right action to take and going that extra step. I actually got chills reading this, which is rare for me. It gives me hope amid all the prejudice and political bullshit that goes on in the world (Congress, I'm looking at you).

5. Recommendations
Given that the national board may evolve their view on this matter, our committee does not believe that the MDSC board should vote on the current proposed changes to national BSA’s membership standard. Rather we believe the MDSC board should vote to support a set of principles that represent the views of the majority of our members. Further, we believe our board should vote to advocate for these principles. Finally we believe our board should vote to encourage our national board representatives to vote in a manner consistent with these principles.

5.1 Membership Standard Principles that represent the majority opinion of the MDSCGiven the work of the committee, the findings from our survey, and our debates and discussions, we recommend the adoption of the following principles:
A. Scouts and Scouters should be judged by their conduct, their actions, and their character, consistent with the Scout Oath and Scout Law, not by stereotypes or group related prejudices.
B. The Scout Oath and the Scout Law are foundational ideas that every person should be exposed to so that all people can benefit from the Scouting movement’s principles, ideals, and values.
C. Regardless of sexual orientation, sexual topics and conduct, which include pointing out another individual’s sexual orientation, are not part of the Scouting movement and should not be tolerated. Further, the Scouting movement should not permit its organization to be used as a vehicle to promote any personal, political, social or other objective that is inconsistent with the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
D. The results of the MDSC Membership Standards Survey and the discussions of our committee have reaffirmed the role that the Scouting Movement has had and can continue to have in shaping the lives and values of young people. However the current BSA membership policy clearly excludes an entire group based on a presumption of behavior rather than on the actions of individuals. Excluding an entire group of people based on stereotypes and prejudices is inconsistent with the Scout Oath and Scout Law. The current membership policy is of deep concern to many in the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council for its potential to undermine the future vitality of the Scouting movement.
E. Chartered Organizations have always and will continue to create Scouting Units that are consistent with their organizational faiths, standards and deeply held beliefs. However, we believe that the national BSA board should not pass this important decision from BSA’s governing body to Chartered Organizations. Rather, we believe that the national board should adopt a standard policy, consistent with the Scout Oath, Scout Law, and the principles documented within this report, which ends the isolation and exclusion of LGBT individuals.
... and it leads to action

Thank you, MDSC, for asking us, listening to us, and taking action. Even better is this nugget from the newsletter that I got from the council and included in the survey's summary on the MDSC web site:
On Saturday March 16th at our Annual Business meeting the Committee’s recommendations (Section 5) were adopted and are now the guiding principles for the Mount Diablo Silverado Council.
It may have been a long time in coming, but the council has done this in such a way that it's based on facts and on the whole membership's beliefs. Hopefully the national BSA board will come around as well and stop basing their policy on the very loud voices and deep pockets of a prejudiced, fearful minority.

A view from Mt. Diablo overlooking our council's territory. Our mountain has one of the largest viewsheds in the western United States. No wonder our council takes a broad view of this issue and is taking inclusive action.