Boy Scout Membership Policy Change

This was written in response to a request for input/vote on the Boy Scouts’ membership policy excluding those who are openly homosexual.  If you are involved in Scouting in some capacity, you are invited to share your courteous input prior to Friday, March 8th.

I have seen a substantial number of principled men turn in their Eagle Scout medal in protest over the membership policy. These men are the best and brightest of a generation that should be growing into roles as leaders of the Boy Scout organization. Instead, they are being lost to us because they hold the principle of equality to be more important than the title they worked so hard to achieve, and are willing to make a personal sacrifice to demonstrate the sincerity of their beliefs.

I have no Eagle Scout medal to return in protest, nor would I if I did. I believe that I can do more to improve the current state of affairs by remaining involved and supporting change from within. Nonetheless, I respect the moral stand they have taken, and what I have seen leaves me concerned for our organization’s long-term health without men of such caliber. We are diminished by their absence.

Another category of young men being lost to us are the boys who are in a state of confusion about their developing sexuality. We have been sending the message to those young men that they are of no value to our organization and that they are not welcome here. We have an opportunity to provide wisdom and guidance to young men struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction, and equip them with tools to work through that as safely as possible, whatever the outcome. If we abandon that opportunity, it leaves the education of those young men to groups or individuals who may not offer the moral compass that we do, or worse, may not have the young man’s best interests in mind.

Finally, in my experience, Scouting is not so flush with volunteers that we can blithely exclude willing and able leaders because of whom they choose to love or what they do between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home. Being a homosexual is not equivalent to being a pedophile. Formulating policy based on that fallacy does nothing to protect our young men, nor does it place us upon the moral high ground we claim to protect and cherish. If we are to sit in judgement of our fellow man, let us at least give him the courtesy of his own individual trial and evaluate the evidence before we convict him.

Potential leaders. Proven Eagle Scouts. Scouts seeking our guidance. These are the resources and the mission rendered unattainable by our current policy. Let’s vote to include both those who would help us and those who need our help.

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Good Night, Dear Heartbroken

A ghost came to haunt me this past night; I do not know if it was Samuel, Susy, or Etsegenet; but I knew that I would know no peace until I shared this tale with another.

We have not yet invented the time machine or transporter that can move things between different moments or places, but a song can move us emotionally through centuries and halfway around a world in the space of minutes. The trip back for me is not so fast; though I write this story with 21st century technology from North Carolina, my heart is in scattered pieces across time and space between New York and Ethiopia.


I first heard the song while chaperoning my daughter’s high school chorus on a day trip out to Meredith College for a choral performance festival. Their Advanced Mixed Chorus performed two songs; it is the second one in the following link  (about 60% through).

Apex High School – Advanced Mixed Chorus @ Meredith College March 2012

I was so caught up in managing my recording process, and the acoustics of the hall were a bit dodgy; so I didn’t quite get all of the text of the song the first time through, nor was it captured all that well in the recording. The beauty and sonority of the music was enough, however – I was unprepared for the effect that it had on me, and was choking back sobs within the first minute.

My daughter was also utterly destroyed by the piece – she came home and listened to my recording over and over in a fruitless attempt to inoculate herself against its effects, sobbing uncontrollably all the while.

I then chaperoned the chorus trip to Atlanta, GA in late March, and had the opportunity to record the song again – this time with a better miking setup in a more modern venue with better acoustics. The resulting recording I captured is much clearer, and the text can be understood. Both my daughter and I were again crushed; there is an audible sniffle from me at about 1 minute in to the recording – and it is fortunate her section had performed earlier, as she was inconsolable for at least twenty minutes following.

The story behind the song would penetrate even the stoniest heart.

Mark Twain’s daughter Susy Clemens passed away from a spinal meningitis infection in 1896 while the author was traveling on a lecture tour.

She was buried in Elmira, NY, where her headstone has inscribed an adaptation of a poem called Annette by poet Robert Richardson:

Warm summer sun, shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind, blow softly here,
Green sod above, lie light, lie light –
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.

Skip ahead more than a century later; a composer (Dan Forrest, also from Elmira, NY) has a brother planing to adopt several orphaned children from Ethiopia. One of the children, a four-month old baby girl named Etsegenet, passes away from an infection before they can get there. A video by his brother explains what happened (jump to about 80% of the way in), and shows the tiny, roughly-marked grave dwarfed among the other fenced-in crypts in the graveyard; set to another recording of the piece. Mr. Forrest tells the story behind what inspired the work, and how he researched the text and wrote in less a day the piece you’ve heard.

While researching this, I found other works that set these words to music – but none that moved me in nearly the same way. Dan Forrest has captured the bittersweet agony of loss in his harmonic setting alone. The text adds a marble marker over the music’s deep hole in a green field on a hill; a hole never filled despite being covered; and a place never forgotten even were it left unmarked.

I know more than I care to about the pain of losing a daughter (having had two foster daughters in our care, one for more than a year before the social workers decided it wasn’t working out). I know at least that they live on, and have the hope that we planted seeds that were able to affect their lives in some positive way.

I cannot bear to think what it would do to me to lose my daughter of 14 years. I know that the Forrests loved that baby they knew only in pictures and letters for a few short months no less than Samuel Clemens loved his Susy for her 24 years.

To Susy and Etsegenet – I hope you are both at peace and in the loving arms of your parents in heaven.

To the Forrests – I hope that time and the joys of the children you have adopted have helped mend your hearts.

To my daughter – I hope to see you in heaven; mind you, I am planning on arriving first, and I am in no rush.

Denise
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Love, Vintage Nerd Style

I happened across this old modem in my garage the other day – it was one of the modems used by Trex, the BBS chat system in Mountain View, CA, that was responsible for introducing me to my wife. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a look back at our nerd romance and the technology that enabled it?

The mid 1980′s were a time when home computers were somewhat of a rarity, and those who used modems to connect their computers to bulletin board systems were an eclectic group to say the least. The kind of focus and determination needed to understand how to get the new technologies to work correctly together was something that few people possessed – it seemed to self-select for the young, bright, and socially backwards. I was all of these things.

Around the time I was 15, my father had acquired an IBM PC clone to aid in the financial work of running a semiconductor equipment manufacturing company. I immediately gravitated to it, having been exposed to Atari 800 and Apple II systems through the gifted/talented program in my fifth and sixth grade classrooms. My father, on the other hand, interacted with the computer with substantial amounts of cursing involved – and still does to this day.

I spent a lot of time helping him work around problems, and upgrading the system to faster processors, better graphics, and higher-capacity hard drives (I was so excited when we got a 20MB drive to install on the system). My aptitude for the technology became one of my first real paying jobs, and I was enlisted as the resident computer genius to take on some projects at the office. I was compensated for one of my jobs with an internal modem card.

That first modem was a real dog – it used an alternate standard for an attention sequence (CTRL-E) instead of the Hayes command sequence of “AT” (for ATtention) – and if the modem was already in attention mode, sending an extra sequence caused it to go stupid for several seconds. This frustrated most attempts to macro-dial busy bulletin board systems, until further projects earned me a more worthy MultiTech external modem that supported the standard command set. I spent many late nights cruising around the various single-user BBS systems in the area – one particular favorite was a Waffle BBS called the Dark Side of the Moon, running software written by the older brother of one of my high school friends. That’s my geek version of almost knowing someone famous by nerd standards.

Around this time, Trex (The RElational eXchange) came online – January of 1987. I discovered it pretty quickly, and while it didn’t have much content – no files to download; no manuals for anarchistic behavior; it did have something entirely new to me – interactive chat. The owner of the BBS had multiple phone lines, and multiple modems, all connected up to a custom-built PC running his own software, that allowed people to type messages to one another either privately or to everyone logged in. The instant messaging capability that everyone takes for granted today was the latest hot new tech back then – and to a teenage boy looking for love (or something like it) the promise of real live geek women willing to talk to me was an irresistible attraction. The reality was that the board had originally been started by and for gay men, and they made up a substantial portion of the board’s membership. There might have been one woman for every ten men regularly connecting to the board. They never lacked for anyone to talk to, that’s for sure – any female logging in was immediately mobbed by every straight man online.

Another element that Trex brought to the table was the regular IRL (in-real-life) meeting – Sunday nights were pizza at Tony and Alba’s in Mountain View (until I got us thrown out of there when I accidentally opened a door too fast and broke the glass against a bench sitting right outside). In the summertime, they would have “Trexnics” at the area parks – Rengstorff Park in Mountain View and Steven Creek Park in Cupertino were favorite spots. We gravitated towards more secluded locations in later years because, frankly, we were not a family-friendly kind of group activity – there was a lot of outrageous behavior going on; and the keg that was obtained for the “adults” was frequently tapped by the less-adult.

It was at one of those Stevens Creek Park picnics that the relationship between myself (“nod”) and my wife (“Pebbles”) got started. We had each dated various other people from the system, but never formed a lasting connection with any of them – and we continued to flirt with one  another all the while. Finally, we both found ourselves unattached at the same time – and we started going out. I spent a substantial portion of my freshman year of college in San Jose at her house when I was supposed to be in Santa Cruz at my classes. I didn’t get very good grades that year; but I did get the girl. I just could not resist the way she shook it when she danced.

The modem was gifted to me sometime in the mid-1990′s at a Trexnic by the sysop of the bulletin board, Brette. He had upgraded to newer equipment and had a small collection of these vintage 1200 baud modems laying around gathering dust. As one of the ‘founding’ members of the community that had actually gone off and gotten married, he felt like it belonged with us.

You can still connect to Trex today via telnet to trex.org. The system has migrated to run on a Sparc 10 running Solaris and a rewritten application layer; they no longer have the multiple banks of modems but they keep one connected for old time’s sake.

I feel fortunate to have been there in the middle of that revolution. Today, it’s almost a cliche to hear that somebody met their significant other online. We did it 25 years ago before it was cool – and I like to think that since I got first pick, I got one of the best ones.

Of course, no profession of my undying love for my spouse would be complete without a song – so I present to you (with apologies to The Hollies) my cover of “Bus Stop” entitled “Chat Board”:

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Biography

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“Hard out here for a pimp”? Try being a mom.

During our recent family vacation in Hawaii, Sherri’s mother met us in LA for the flight out to the Big Island. The first few days went fine, but as the trip passed on, her mother grew more and more lethargic and kept passing on activities to stay in bed. We thought at first she’d picked up a flu, but on the day we were scheduled to fly out, we found out she was bleeding places people ought not to be bleeding from, and we made a trip to the local emergency room with her.

After an initial diagnosis of a systemic infection, it was determined Mom Tanner would NOT be traveling anytime soon. Our original plans to part company with her in LA and continue on to WA/OR to see my sisters/parents were edited – Sherri would stay behind with her mother until she was well enough to travel; Denise and I would carry on with our original plans to see my family (a visit which we very much enjoyed, and I will eventually get some highlights of posted).

A week passed, and Mom was cleared to travel about the same time that we returned home to NC. Sherri went home with her to help her travel and get life situated back home in CA. Given the testosterone-soaked environment there (Dad Tanner, Sherri’s older brother, and his teenage son being the other residents) there was not a lot of optimism she’d have the caregiving and support she needed for her recovery. (As it worked out, serious drama later ensued there, but that’s a story for another time.)

Against that worrisome backdrop, Denise and I returned home to NC with a few short days to spare before her first day of high school started. There were last-minute supplies and girly things to shop for, a mountain of mail and bills to sort and pay, and some very unpleasant surprises left on the carpet by one or more cats who appeared to have been sick, upset with us, or both. Of course, the carpet cleaners were at the shop being repaired and needed to be picked up. There was school open-houses,  fundraiser meetings, and extracurricular activities to attend, and all three vehicles needed servicing (two with DMV registration deadlines, naturally). In case I was sleeping too much, Denise started 6am daily seminary classes at church, and needed transport from there to school. “Dad, what’s for dinner?”

Somewhere during all of this I was also supposed to do my job, complete with the additional responsibilities that resulted from my former manager being reassigned away from my team about the same time we got home.  Oh yeah, and then there was this hurricane thing coming our way. I would have sprayed for locusts too if I could have found the time.

I would like to say that I handled all this with courage and aplomb and grace under pressure. Instead, I stumbled through with outbreaks of Tourette’s syndrome, inflicted concerns for my sanity upon my daughter, and spent profligately on take-out food.

Of course, I called my wife regularly to whine and wallow in self-pity – her answer: “Want to trade?” While she’d managed to put her job on hold by arranging a leave of absence, she had the worry of one very weakened woman, attending to her medical needs and doctor’s appointments, and the challenge of two and a half rather uncooperative men with serious entitlement complexes. I already know she is a patient and forgiving woman (otherwise I would not be alive to write this) – but I do not know where she found the grace to deal with the challenges she had in that household. (There was some Valium involved, to be fair).

This week, the decision was made that Mom Tanner’s recovery might be better accomplished in a less-demanding environment, and thus she and Sherri are flying to NC today – I pick them up at about midnight tonight. I and Denise are looking forward to having Grandma as a guest and Mom back in the house.

From this experience, I have a new-found deep and abiding respect for mothers everywhere, particularly single and/or working ones. The world at large doesn’t appreciate the role, because there are no big flashy accomplishments that warrant any press – just an unending stream of small but ever-so-necessary tasks to keep a household and a family functioning.

I have a few small victories that I’m proud of that wouldn’t impress anyone else. I cooked a few meals that didn’t come in freezer boxes – one even completely and properly from scratch. I got the house cleaned and the laundry and dishes done. I didn’t completely lose it and go on a drunken bender. And I think I’ve finally gotten those spots and that smell out of the carpet.

Tonight, as glad as I will be to see her, I predict that I will be too tired to do more than give her a peck on the cheek before rolling over and falling asleep.

Moms – you rock.

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The Deep Thought of the Evening

At last night’s rehearsal, while flipping between numbers in The Here and Now, I chanced to read the text of the short baritone solo, movement 5, entitled “The value of our souls”:

There was once a man who inherited a lot of money and land
But he squandered it all too quickly
Those who inherit wealth don’t know what work it took to get it
In the same way, we don’t know the value of our souls
which were given to us for nothing.

I was too overcome with emotion to be of much use singing the next few pages…

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I lost a friend today.

Well, not exactly lost - I know exactly where she is (alive and well I would hasten to add.) And the “friend” status was apparently in Facebook terms only. What caught me by surprise was the sense of loss from someone choosing to sever an ephemeral virtual connection based on a decades-old relationship. Who knew?

She and I had dated in high school, and I guess you could say she was my first serious girlfriend. Despite that, it turns out I didn’t actually know her very well. After dating maybe nine months, we parted ways for reasons I didn’t understand at the time and she indicated she didn’t remember now.

She reached out to me about a month ago and is somewhat responsible for my joining Facebook – I’d resisted before now figuring that johnsen.org covered my navel-gazing and being-findable-on-the-net needs. In the conversations that followed, I discovered that she’d grown up (a lot faster than me) to be a really cool person, and I was kicking myself for not having known her better then or in the years in between.

I guess the interest was one sided on my part – a brief “Goodbye” email today was the announcement that I wasn’t on the friends list anymore.

I can guess at reasons why – old boyfriends aren’t always appreciated by new husbands; our politics were (at least according to profile data) rather opposed; I was apt to try and make humorous commentary on status updates that was sometimes perceived as being in poor taste – my brand of humor is not for everyone. Still, I don’t believe I made any major social blunders, and I promptly apologized for the minor ones.

The irony is that I really don’t know any better today why she “broke up” with me this time than I did when we broke up 25 years ago.

Even though I am happily married for nearly 19 years to a wonderful woman who tolerates my faults exceedingly well and has done a remarkable job of civilizing me, the echoes of a 15-year-old’s emotions post-abrupt breakup are bouncing around my head. Annoying, that – I did not invite them in.

Echoes eventually decay; as do relationships left untended – and they can’t be revived later with great big piles of fertilizer apparently.

Goodbye, old friend.

Biography

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How did we get here?

Since I’ve finally relented and joined Facebook, I imagine there are going to be a number of people asking the same kinds of questions about whatever it is I’ve been doing since I last saw them. (It is possible I am deluding myself and nobody really cares).

To this end, I’m going to do some retro-posting on my Blog under the Biography tag with dates relevant to the topics of interest.  These won’t be front-page items…

The miracle of Facebook auto-import will copy this stuff into my notes section so nobody actually need go to the blog. Still working out how not to spam everyone’s wall with the minutiae of my personal history….

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Weeds…

If you let your grass grow too long, you’ll end up with weeds…

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Good works lead to good press.

Im in the paper - for a good reason...

Okay, so I’ll admit to one bit of photoshopping – they didn’t spell my name right in the article. I took the liberty of correcting it.

But it’s better than showing up in the police blotter.

More images in the gallery

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Denise Graduates 5th Grade!

We have photographic proof.

Mom and Dad are very proud.

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