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To Laser or Not To Laser
Is it ok for Boy Scout units to participate in laser tag events?

The answer for the past few years has been an easy, "NO!" because you could point right to the "Unauthorized and Retriced Activities" section of Chapter IX - Sports and Activities in the Guide to Safe Scouting and read the exact wording from the Boy Scouts of America. Every scout leader should have the latest version of this document. It is available at local scout shops and online.

It used to read:
But, the latest version of that section on now reads:

So, how should the new wording be interpreted?
Was the word "lasers" purposefully deleted to imply that they are ok to use? If someone reads the old version and then the new version, that would be an easy implication to make. But, someone just reading the new version could include lasers as firearms.
Are laser tag guns "firearms" or not? They don't discharge a projectile. They don't cause injury. There's a valid argument that they should not be included in the category of "firearm".

The other activities listed in the Unauthorized and Restricted list are activities in which physical injury is a higher than normal risk. Laser tag has no more risk of physical injury than a run-of-the-mill scouting game like Grab the Bacon, Capture the Flag, or the dozens of others scouts play.
If laser tag was included in the list because of the fear it promotes shooting humans, then it doesn't match the reasoning for the rest of the list. That doesn't mean it should be an authorized scouting activity, but it does mean the BSA should specifically, obviously, and decidedly state if laser tag is aurhotized or not.

By the way, it's interesting to notice the last activity added to the list of unauthorized and restricted activities:

See Current Version or Previous Version (takes awhile to load).

Scout On
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Posted: 15:56 01-27-2008 302
2008 Boy Scout Rank Requirements
Now that the new requirements are in place for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class, folks are trying to figure out the right answers for the requirements. Until the new version of the Scout Handbook comes out, that can be a bit tricky. The new books should be available in local scout shops soon and they will have the information for the new requirement changes in them.

For a quick fix, BSA has published helpful information for scoutmasters, instructors, and troop guides to use in presentations.

Here are the highlights:

Be sure to check out the BSA's page.

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Posted: 21:58 01-24-2008 301
Fire Pistons for Scouts
Scouts like fire. Scouts like to burn stuff. Trying to make water flow uphill would be easier than changing that fact. At summer camp, scouts I know have had a tradition for the past 5 years of tying a small stuffed animal to a post and burning it at the stake. This started with those little beanie babies that were available at McDonalds. Every year someone has pulled one out of a pack - I just hope they aren't part of a little sister's collection.

Since scouts enjoy fire so much, ensuring they respect it and can manage it should be our goal. I encourage fires all the time and there's never a lack of volunteers to give it a go. Usually, a scout starting a fire has a gallery of advisors, whether he wants them or not. Once scouts are able to lay, light, tend, and extinguish fires properly, I challenge them to start a fire in more interesting ways.

There are dozens of aids to make a fire light faster, such as candles, dryer lint, potato chips, and purell. See Fire Helpers for a list. But, all of these need a spark, flame, or ember to get going. That is the challenge - how do you generate the heat source?

The different ways I've used to create the initial heat for a fire are Sparks, Friction, Sunlight, and Electricity. Electricity stored in a battery heats a filament such as fine steel wool until it burns. Sunlight is concentrated to a point with a magnifying glass until it ignites the tinder. Using a bow drill or hand drill to "rub two sticks together" causes friction which creates a smoldering ember. Flint & Steel creates a spark which is caught in fine tinder to produce an ember. These are all fun ways to create fire and some work better than others, depending on the weather and environment. Most of them take lots of patience, time, and physical effort.

I was just introduced to an extremely interesting, and fairly easy, way to create an ember without matches. In a diesel engine, air is compressed to produce heat. Did you know that by compressing the air around you into a small enough space, it will become hot enough to ignite tinder? There are now fire starters called Fire Pistons which do this exact thing, almost like magic.

I received a fire piston from Jeff at Wilderness Solutions so I could try it out. On my second attempt, I made an ember! It took all of about 20 seconds. Of course, I just had to show off my great new skill to the troop! At our troop meeting, I passed the fire piston around to see who could guess what it was. No scout knew - it was a brand new piece of gear! When I demonstrated it, you should have heard all the oohs, aaahs, and "How did you do that?" questions flying around. :-)

Jeff sells finished fire pistons as well as kits so you can make and carve your own. I've got two kits. My plan is to whittle them with our troop number and give them as Eagle Scout gifts. Jeff has a new Scout Fire Piston Kit with special prices for Boy Scouts. They aren't cheap, but the actual product is not cheap either. The solid coco bolo wood feels great and polishes up just beautifully. They are very solid with nothing to break if it gets dropped or even thrown across a campsite. The kits are simple to assemble and then scouts can whittle, sand, or carve however they like. They are a terrific activity for a patrol or the whole troop, especially in late winter getting ready for spring camping. There is a special bonus deal for scouts that order 20 kits that you should check out.

Here's a short video showing a fire piston in action. There are many other videos on Wilderness Solutions site.

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Posted: 12:17 01-23-2008 300
From the Scout Handbook - "A Scout is thrifty. A Scout works to pay his way and to help others. He saves for the future. He protects and conserves natural resources. He carefully uses time and property."

Of the twelve points in the Scout Law, I imagine that Thrifty is the one most difficult to quantify. A Scout in an affluent community may consider himself thrifty by saving his $25 allowance for two weeks to buy a video game while a few Scouts in a less wealthy neighborhood might pool the change they collected from turning in soda bottles to buy a bag of candy. Being rich or poor does not define the ability to be thrifty or not. A rich person can be thrifty without being a Scrooge and a poor person can be thrifty while still sharing what he has.

The boy with parents dishing out money for any and all scouting events he cares to participate in is a boy with no opportunity to understand thrift and the value of things. He begins to feel entitled to whatever he desires with no regard towards the necessity of the thing. Being required to do without is the best way to build a sense of thrift and value. Desiring something enough to be willing to work for it, and forego other things for it, gives that thing value and provides an understanding of thrift.

Someone with very little learns from early on that it takes effort, perseverance, and work to acquire those things that are desired. When you can't have everything, you prioritize and acquire first what you need the most, then work down the list acquiring the more important things. This is often food, heat, rent or mortgage, transportation to work, and clothing. When enough money is saved, then less important expenditures can be made occasionally.

A Scout should be given as many opportunities as possible to practice being thrifty within scouting. He can earn his camping gear by doing extra work around home or at a real job. He should have a budget for purchasing food for his patrol on campouts so he stretches the money as much as he can. Scouts should also work together to raise funds for patrol or troop gear, such as tents, cooking gear, stoves, and the like. Paying his way is an important part of a Scout's overall scouting experience. If a Scout joins a patrol and is given everything he needs, he sees no value in it and has no ownership of it.

Thriftiness is most often discussed in terms of money since we exchange work for money and money for those things we need and want. But, a Scout should be thrifty in all areas of life. Turning off unused lights, closing doors and window shades, recycling, and even planning driving routes around town are all ways to be thrifty with energy. Using things he has until they wear out or he outgrows them rather than wanting to be part of every fad that comes along is being thrifty with what he already has. Promoting conservation and natural environment restoration is being thrifty with nature. Using his time to accomplish goals rather than wasting it on idleness is being thrifty with his time on Earth.

The use and care of scout gear is a great example of being thrifty. A new tent assigned to a Scout should last seven years until he becomes 18 years old. By taking care of the tent, the Scout ensures his own needs are met, is conserving resources, and is helping the troop save for the future when new tents will some day be needed. Caring for gear also reduces the amount of repair needed. But, by repairing instead of replacing when feasible, the Scout further demonstrates his thriftiness and shows he can make do.

As Scouts and citizens in the most wasteful country in the world, we have a real challenge to raise our level of thrift. We are much like the child that is given everything and comes to expect everything. We consume more, conserve less, and expect better than we have. We know we should change, but few of us do.

Even worse, we have come to accept debt as a way of life in this country. A thrifty Scout should expect nothing and work for everything he desires. He should save the money for something before buying it, rather than buying on credit and sinking into debt. There are some large purchases for which going into debt makes sense, such as a home, but the debt needs to be managed with a reasonable payment plan that can actually be accomplished. And, the Scout should, on his honor, make the repaying of the debt of highest priority.

Whether relatively rich or poor, a Scout that is thrifty will be ready and able to help others. He may share food, money, or labor with others in need since he has kept his own needs met.

A Scout is thrifty.
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Posted: 23:26 01-22-2008 299
When do we Cancel?
Running with a troop of around 45 scouts, there are some interesting logistic problems that crop up. Things such as having enough cars, enough parking, enough seats in McDonalds, and ceremony lengths in courts of honor all become larger puzzles to solve. After becoming used to the larger numbers of participants, it can be a shock to have an event scheduled that gets little participation. And, then the question of cancelling or going ahead with the event comes up.

This past weekend, the scouts had scheduled an indoor climbing day trip across town. With Christmas break and a few other promotional challenges, the event did not receive as much exposure as normal and only 7 scouts signed up. The patrol leader in charge of organizing the event figured that was not enough and said at the Patrol Leader Council that we should probably cancel it. With 45 scouts, we're used to at least 20 or more on most outings.

As the Scoutmaster, I listened to the discussion, but then when the next agenda item began, I interrupted the SPL. I said I hadn't actually heard a resolution as to the climbing being held or cancelled and I needed to know in order to inform drivers. This started another round of discussion with the disappointment that only a few signed up being the main reason to cancel.

When the SPL asked me what I thought, I said that my mini-van can hold another adult and 5 scouts so that's all I need to go. We have two drivers signed up so we can take 10 scouts that want to go. The PLC decided to go ahead with it.

When the SPL gave me my minute to talk at the end of the meeting, I said that I felt the number of scouts going on an adventure should never be a reason to cancel. Whether we're a troop of 5 or 50 or 500, as long as the scouts schedule an event and there are any scouts that want to do that event, then it should happen. I suggested we might cancel due to dangerous weather, national emergency, fewer than 2 adults available, or fewer than 2 scouts signed up. I also mentioned that before our next planning session in March all the patrols might want to get ideas together that they would actually participate in and get those scheduled.

As it turned out, the patrols rangled another 3 scouts to go and the 10 of them had a great 3.5 hours of climbing. They went to Vertical Endeavors and had a blast!

Scout On

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Posted: 12:11 01-21-2008 298
From the Scout Handbook - "A Scout is cheerful. A Scout looks for the bright side of life. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way. He tries to make others happy."

Who couldn't be cheerful on a warm spring day in the hills, resting under a tree in a lush meadow with blue skies overhead, a snow-fed stream trickling by, and birds twittering above? I'll bet you have a trace of a smile just thinking of it. That is "the bright side of life" and we need to look for it in whatever situation we find ourselves.

Whistling while taking out the garbage, telling jokes while scrubbing the crusty cookpots, and sharing a story while carrying water back from the creek are all examples of a cheerful Scout. We don't often have time to sit under a tree, but it seems we have plenty of opportunities to do uninteresting tasks. A Scout is asked to approach those tasks with cheer.

Being cheerful is not the same as being happy. I'm certainly not happy about cleaning the latrine and I don't enjoy the job, but I can be cheerful while doing it. I can choose to grumble and complain and wallow in self-pity, or I can tackle the task with vigor.

The same choice is put before us for every challenge. Do I slog through the task, feeling sorry for myself, doing the minimum I can, being miserable, and most likely taking longer than required? Or, do I attack the task, doing it better than expected, and finishing quickly? Either way, I'm in the same situation, doing the same work. One way, the work drags on and I lose part of my life. The other way, I accomplish something and prove myself stronger.

A spirit of cheerfulness requires strong character and an understanding of life. When a Scout realizes that it is completely up to him to be depressed or cheerful, discouraged or resolved, cowardly or brave, then he can make the choice. Until that happens, boys will blame the world around them for their feelings. The amount of hardship required to adversely effect a person's demeanor is a solid test of that person's depth of character.

Sad occasions, such as a friend moving away, failing a test, or losing a pet for example, will understandably dishearten a person. Feelings of loss and sadness are normal and even a sign of respect. But, after an appropriate time, it is necessary to carry on with life and find goodness and cheer in other people and healthy activities.

Some people that lose their cheerful nature look for happiness in terrible ways, including alcohol and drug use. Those kinds of activities don't bring cheerfulness and purpose back to a life. They just obscure the world and temporarily dull the pain, causing more harm in the long run. Instead, addressing the cause of pain and sadness and overcoming the cause is a viable solution.

When situations are very difficult, many people are not able find happiness. They need support or counseling. A Scout is challenged to try and make others happy. When his patrol loses a competition, he can let them know he's proud of their efforts. When another scout must miss an activity to finish a chore, he can stay and help. There are many small ways in which a Scout can cheer up others. A Scout that goes into a career field of counseling can extend his influence and abilities in this area tremendously.

At the end of a day of Scouting, there is often a campfire program. At troop meetings, there may be songs, skits, or stories. I notice that the large majority of scouts sit back and are entertained by a few of the more charismatic scouts. A Scout's duty to the Scout Law should prompt him to contribute his own stories occasionally. Not only does this put him in a small leadership position for a few minutes and give good experience, it also lets him spread cheer to his other scouts and gives them a chance to enjoy the show instead of doing all the work.

In Scouting, the Order of the Arrow takes to heart this point of the Scout Law. The group's motto of "Brotherhood of Cheerful Service" shows that cheer in the face of work is their goal. I personally love the time I've spent doing OA service projects. It gives me time to refocus on this point of the Scout Law doing irksome labor while keeping a cheerful spirit. It also helps when I focus on the fact that my labor is helping other people and not myself.

We all have a threshold where the work we are doing becomes too much to remain cheerful. The trick is to push our personal threshold further every day. Having a buddy with a higher threshold doing the work with you is the best way to do this. A wise leader will understand this and pair up scouts for disagreeable tasks. That wise leader may even counsel the "more cheerful" one beforehand that his real goal is to be a role model of cheerfulness to the other scout.

I often hear youth (and adults) pray to God asking Him to keep problems away and to keep them safe. When I was 14, I realized that the only way I could grow was through problems and challenges. Since then, I have not asked God to remove challenges. I've asked only for the strength to cheerfully overcome all the challenges that I encounter. So far, so good.

A Scout is cheerful.
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Posted: 12:01 01-18-2008 297
From the Scout Handbook - "A Scout is obedient. A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobeying them."

Obedience and discipline go hand in hand. An obedient Scout is not someone that blindly does what he is told, but he does have the discipline to carry out tasks assigned to him, even if he does not agree with the assignment. Once he has completed his duty, doing his very best, he can then discuss the fairness or appropriateness of the assignment with his leader. Obedience is necessary for a group, such as a patrol, to be effective. The leader should have a picture in his mind of what he wants accomplished and how each task fulfilled will bring that picture together. A scout in the patrol needs to do his duty to support the overall goal, whether he completely understands that goal or not.

Many Scouts are at an age where they are experimenting with independence and that can make being obedient more of a challenge for them. They see being obedient as being weak and subordinate. When directed to do something, they may expend more energy arguing about the task than it would take to just do it. For example, "Why me?", "Why not have Charlie do it?", "Why do you need that done?", "Right now?", and so on. Boys would rather be independent, even if they are not yet mature enough, and they often interpret independent as meaning free of commitment or responsibility which is an immature interpretation. An independent person still has responsibilities, but he is able to take care of himself as well as make correct choices to honor his commitments.

Actually, an independent person has self-discipline enough to be obedient to his conscience. He obeys his moral and ethical honor and does what he knows is right, not because it is the easiest or most beneficial thing to do, but because his honor insists it be done. A Scout with a strong character, able to put the needs of others before his own and obey his conscience, can usually obey directions from leaders well because of his self-discipline.

As Scouts get used to the troop structure, they notice that the Senior Patrol Leader always seems to be handing out the orders and the Patrol Leaders in turn pass the orders down to the Scouts. They want to be on the top where they can give out orders instead of always taking them and that is often a motivation to hold a position. They don't yet realize that there is even more responsibility higher up the ladder of command and the leader needs to rely on those under him to accomplish a larger goal. Teamwork relies heavily on obedience, discipline, and trust.

The Scout leader also has the responsibility to arrange for the training of those on his team so they are able to perform assigned tasks. Within a patrol, scouts can teach each other, passing on knowledge to less experienced ones. In this way, a leader will also pass on the understanding of what is expected of the leader so all understand that he requires their help and is actually as dependent on them for support as they are on him for direction. The good leader also spends some time discussing the performance of the team in an effort to improve. The entire team should have input about how they might do better next time. This gives ownership of the success and failure of the patrol to the patrol rather than the patrol leader. Everyone has more of an interest in succeeding and obeying directions becomes easier.

In a Scout's family, obedience is a vital trait to develop. In many families, blind obedience is expected of children. Children are told to clean their room, perform household chores, stop fighting, use nice manners, comb their hair, wash their hands, and on and on. A child, learning life skills, needs these directions and reminders and is often too young to understand their significance. A boy of Scout age typically knows how to perform these dozens of daily activities and understands the need to perform them. He should be doing them out of habit without continual direction, which takes responsibility away from him and keeps him a slave of his parents' control. A Scout should be doing these kinds of tasks, as well as following other family rules, not only when he is told to but at all times to make life more pleasant at home.

As a Scout matures, the family rules should change along with his maturity. Some parents may hold on to control longer than is appropriate. In those cases, a Scout should work to change the rules rather than go against them. Examples such as curfew time, allowance amounts, when to do homework, driving privileges, or videogame limits are areas in which boys may request more freedom before parents are ready. Open discussions about the rules, expectations, and requested changes should demonstrate the Scout's increasing maturity, independence, and desire to be obedient which, in turn, would hopefully influence the parents' ability to allow more freedom.

By developing obedience in the family and in Scouting, the Scout is better able to handle the similar requirements of the workplace where orders are routinely given and expected to be completed. In all circumstances, whether family, school, work, or social, the obedient Scout must make sure that obeying a direction is not against his honor. If a boss tells him to cheat a client or a friend tells him to steal, he must compare the order to what he knows is right and wrong and first obey that inner compass.

A Scout is obedient.
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Posted: 10:07 01-17-2008 296
Shaming Us All
The latest news of an assistant scoutmaster being accused of molesting scouts made my stomach lurch, yet again. Considering the thousands of people involved in scouting, I guess the number of these miscreants that show up is very low, but one is one too many. It embarrasses me every time it hits the news, and makes me feel just awful for the family that put their trust in the BSA.

With each new case that hits the wire, I find myself stopping and doing three things that are probably good things to do occasionally anyway.
  1. Is there any way I could get mixed up in something like this or be accused of anything like it? By following the No one-on-one interaction of the BSA and using Two-Deep Leadership all the time, there's no way anything weird will happen. I think of all the situations I've been in with scouts and look for times when I might have pushed the youth protection guidelines.
  2. Are all our adult volunteers acting well and following the BSA rules? I go down the list in my head and try to think if there have been any strange behaviors or opportunities to break or bend the rules. This isn't not trusting the guys I volunteer with, it is just doing a check to make sure we aren't getting slack.
  3. Have we covered this with the scouts recently? I check when the last time was that we covered youth protection with the troop and make sure we have it on the schedule.

Every time a BSA volunteer screws up enough to get bad press, it hurts the entire organization, including me. I hear that scouts are embarrassed to be seen in their uniforms, but not me - I kind of like being associated with an organization with a good reputation. But, when an individual does something dirty, it soils the organization's reputation and then I feel like washing my shirt real good and starting over.

I hope this is the last one for a long, long time.

Scout On
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Posted: 0:25 01-16-2008 295
From the Scout Handbook - "A Scout is kind. A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing."

Of all the points in the Scout Law, if the world at large experienced an overall increase in the level of Kindness it would have the most impact. The majority of news stories come about from a lack of kindness. People take advantage of the weak rather than assist them. Fanatics attack and kill rather than have compassion and a desire for resolution. On and on it goes as we make excuses and rationalize our aggression and hate.

Kindness should be first practiced by a Scout in his own home. It can be a difficult challenge to show kindness to those in your family. Whether it be irritating siblings or misunderstanding parents, making constant efforts to be kind to those people with whom you have a conflict is hard work. Each of us is bound to fail some times, especially when we are in such close quarters for such a large part of our time. At those times of failing to be kind, kindness can still make a comeback through sincere apologies and forgiveness. The point of 'Forgiveness' is not in the Scout Law, but it is a real demonstration of kindness.

It's much easier to be kind to friends, teammates, other scouts, and family acquaintenances that are seen occasionally. There is less personal commitment and less intimacy so it is less work to overlook their shortcomings and differences in beliefs and behaviors. Still, a Scout needs to demonstrate kindness to these people in order to build friendships and strengthen his character. Typically, showing kindness to these people results in a response of similar kindness in return.

A Scout should understand that kindness towards animals and the natural world in general will most likely result in no direct personal response, but will have lasting impact for others. By considering how actions today will effect the resources available to generations later on, we are being kind to those people that have yet to be born. Reducing waste, becoming more 'green', practicing good low-impact camping skills, and helping others understand the needs of our planet are great demonstrations of kindness to the world.

An enemy can also be shown kindness. Maintaining a gentle demeanor when provoked and refusing to lower your honor to fight or exchange insults takes a strong person. Seeing that another person has a different view from your own and trying to understand it through empathy and compassion can minimize or defuse many confrontations. That is not to say that one should never fight; defending someone that needs your help may require extreme measures.

I'm sure you've heard of doing random acts of kindness. That is a great thought to keep active in your mind. If we're continually looking for ways to practice kindness, opportunities will continually show up. Another thing to remember is that being kind with no expectation of getting something in return is the best way to ensure you will get more back than you could imagine.

A Scout is Kind.
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Posted: 23:44 01-13-2008 294
Good Deeds and Good Samaritans
If, heaven forbid, you find yourself in a situation where you are able to provide quick assistance to someone, I hope you can ignore what is going on in California and just go ahead and provide the care.

A couple years ago, a woman pulled her friend from a car wreck and the legal battle is still going on about whether or not she should be liable for the disabilities suffered by the victim.

We often tell people that helping someone in an emergency is the right thing to do, as long as the assistance you provide is within your training, you act in good faith, and are not negligent. But, as it turns out, there may be conflicting laws in certain states and it may not be obvious how 'covered' you are in your actions.

Now, in this particular instance, I think there's more to the story than what can be read in articles such as Sierra Sun. The victim and 'rescuer' had been smoking dope and were returning from a bar, so I'm not convinced the rescuer used clear judgment in her decision to pull the victim from a car she thought might blow up. I don't imagine cars really blow up that often and the normal procedure is to not move a victim unless absolutely necessary to deliver care or if the current situation becomes unsafe. Leaving her sitting in the car would have been the easiest, sanest choice unless there was flame or maybe gas odor.

So, how does this effect Scouts and the rest of us? Well, I see it as just another reason to remain calm and cool in situations so clear, logical decisions can be made. As long as you keep your head and are providing assistance within your training, doing a Good Deed of any magnitude is the right thing to do. Letting the possibility of repercussions inhibit us from offering aid is the worst outcome of these sorts of events.

Scout On
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Posted: 23:31 01-12-2008 293
New UK Scout Badges
The UK Scouts have a bunch of new activity badge updates this year - 40 of them. This is an effort to revamp the program to reflect activities of today's youth.

The BSA has been updating some merit badge requirements every year, with Composite Materials being a recent new addition. Friends of mine in Idaho just made skateboards for that badge this winter. Hopefully, we'll soon find some more new badges available on this side of the puddle.

You can see the list of UK badges at the UK Scouting site and a few interesting looking ones are:
Street Sports

Scout On
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Posted: 23:23 01-11-2008 292
Christmas Tree Robbers
Boy Scout blog

So, you didn't recognize the Maldives boy scout earlier this week? What about these three guys? Well, hopefully you won't be seeing them for 50 years if they are actually found guilty as charged.

David (19), Kenneth (19), and Nashon (20) are indicted in the robbery last month of Boy Scouts selling Christmas trees. The thiefs had a shotgun and punched a 13 year old scout to get away with $350. So, that's about $117 each which will work out to about $2.34/year if they get the full prison term - what a deal.

These three thugs have prior records including rape and burglary charges, and the evidence against them is supposedly "overwhelming". Here's to a fair trial and Happy New Year with the streets starting out a bit cleaner.

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Posted: 16:25 01-11-2008 291
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