“Leave No Trace”: documentary about sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America (review)

Camp Letts, MD 2015-1

A documentary directed by Irene Taylor, “Leave No Trace: The Hidden History of the Boy Scouts”, for ABC News and Hulu, 108 minutes, studiously examines the history of the Boy Scouts of America and its history of male sexual abuse incidents, which was finally settled with victims but which has resulted in a Chap 11 bankruptcy.

Leave No Trace, trailer

The film, perhaps, makes the problem look bigger that the overall coverage of its history, like in Wikipedia, would.  It might be compared in principle to the continual scandals in the Roman Catholic church with priests, which may result in part from the policy of priest celibacy. There have been several films about this other problem.

This film starts out with a history of the BSA, which was founded in 1910 as an effort to keep boys in contact with nature and the outdoors while more boys grew up in newly industrialized cities.  The organization was given considerable power to monopolize its public impact with its trademark, although there were sister organizations for girls.

The history of problems goes back at least to the early 1960s, and may have always been around. 

The film presents several harrowing cases.  One is a middle aged man who said he went bald at age 13 permanently.  In fact, from appearance, it looks like he has alopecia universalis, which is total loss of all body and scalp hair, apparently permanently, from some sort of autoimmune process, maybe triggered by the emotional trauma.

Then the film shows us a family with a slender, seemingly attractive teen who cuts himself as a result of the trauma.  The family has an attentive dog and cat, who both know something terrible is going on.

The BSA headquarters were apparently located in Irving, Texas for a long time (near Highway 183, near Cowboys stadium and on the way to DFW).  In 1979 (the year I moved there from NYC) they started having their first hardships with layoffs.  But I remember that in the summer of 1981, when I re-entered the mainframe IT job market, that they had programming jobs.  I never interviewed there and I didn’t think I wanted to.

In fact, I had some tangential experience with them growing up.  In third grade, I belonged to a Cub Scout troop in Arlington for a while.  I remember one of the boys, Ivan, was so much bigger than everyone else and I felt terrified.  That summer, my parents tried to enlist me into a day camp, which did not turn out well.  I was always called “lazybones” (this was 1952).  They also tried a place on the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis called Camp Letts. 

The Scouts were good at honing in on practical skills like “tying my necktie” or tying shoes with (“algebraic”) topologically secure knots, that I was not good at. 

Toward the end, the film presents the case of a gay scout, James Dale, who was kicked out and sued.  The Supreme Court ruled that since it was a private organization, Dales lost his case.  (I remember many conversations with a law student at Southern Illinois University on the case at the time.) But the case turned public opinion against the Scouts somewhat; and they eventually changed many policies, gradually loosening all policies about gender and sexual orientation over time, including allowing girls in some cases and eventually transgender.  In the film James Dale appears as he looks today in middle age.

The BSA has developed a policy saying that no scoutmaster may be alone with a minor.

I also recall, that when I was in the Army and stationed at Fort Eustis as permanent party in 1969, the field grade officers were under a lot of pressure to become involved with the Boy Scouts publicly. In many cases BSA chapters had received public funds, and the Dale case caused this aspect of their operation to get more scrutiny.

I also wanted to share a PBS Space Time video from July 27 with Dr. Matt Dowd, “How Many States Of Matter Are There?”.  The neutron star interior stuff is pretty interesting.  What about strangelets?

How Many States Of Matter Are There?” PBS video

(Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2022 at 6 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)

“Aftershock”: Sundance documentary hits the subpar maternity care for non-white women

NYC from Freedom Tower 2015-11-7

On July 19, Hulu started aired the 88 minute documentary “Aftershock”, directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, from Onyx and ABC News and shown at Sundance 2022, depicting the inferior health care to pregnant women of color.

trailer for “Aftershock”

The documentary traces the tragedy of two families in particular, where mothers died of childbirth complications.  The tagline for the film is, “when a black mother dies there is a ripple effect.”  The film focuses mostly in New York City, (a new women’s center is built in the Bronx), Tulsa OK, and Massachusetts.

The film maintains that sometimes doctors are quick to do cesarians rather than natural delivery. It is also critical of the way the practice of delivering babies has evolved.  In the past, the deep south had black midwives who also delivered babies for the owners on the plantations.  The field of delivery gradually became professionalized, but not always with good results.

Toward the end the film shows a natural delivery, up close and very graphically.   The moment where the baby sees the outside world is very sharply delineated and he does breathe right away.

The film predates the overturning of Roe.  But it is well to note that it is very dangerous to expect some women to carry pregnancies with major problems, and ectopic pregnancies can be treated only what is technically abortion (whether by medication or surgery).  The sudden crackdowns in several red states have made it very difficult for some women to get medically necessary care, forcing them to become very ill before an ectopic is terminated. 

I’ve met a male Air Force doctor whose specialty is to deliver babies (of female personnel or of spouses).

Back in 2008, Morgan Spurlock (who had thrown up in public in “Supersize Me” after eating at McDonald’s without the supervision of Johnny Harris) made a film “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?” where he interviewed people randomly (in various places in the Middle East) on the villain and guessed right about Abbottabad.  At the same time his own life was late in pregnancy and the film ends with him as an attentive husband when his wife gives natural birth to his son. A very nice Baxian epilogue indeed.

trailer for “Where in the World …”

(Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2022 at 10 PM EDT by John W Boushka)