Friday, December 9, 2011


I've spent in the neighborhood of 6,500 hours in the cockpit of airplanes and helicopters. There is a saying in flying, "Rules are written in blood." This refers to the fact that the FAA, NTSB, and various aviation organizations are loathe to change regulations (especially those that cost money) until somebody (or a lot of somebodies) die(s).

An example, it has always been known that an empty aircraft fuel tank can be quite simply a bomb in search of a detonator. The flying public may not realize that if a fuel tank is not necessary for a particular flight, the airline will leave it empty. It costs money to carry weight, and jet fuel weighs 7 pounds per gallon. Airliners have tanks for long flights; therefore, most flights leave with at least one empty. Aircraft fuel vapor is incredibly explosive, and once a tank is empty (leaving from 2 to 20 gallons of unusable fuel in the tank, typically), it is filled only with fuel vapor. 999 out of 1,000 times, it won't find an ignition source. Which begs the question "Am I on flight #327 or 1,000?" This potentially dangerous situation was repeatedly brought up to the airlines and the FAA by pilots. The solution to this issue was never leaving a tank empty (unacceptable), or filling empty tanks with inert gas such as nitrogen (expensive). So it was ignored.

Predictably, on July 17, 1996, TWA flight 800, bound for Paris, took off with an empty fuel tank. Moments after takeoff, the fuel quantity indication system in that tank shorted and caused a spark, which caused a massive explosion with blew the plane into two pieces. We have all seen the gruesome simulations of the front of the aircraft, with probably fifty passengers and the pilots, breaking off and falling like a stone into the ocean as the rest of the passengers in the pilot-less aircraft streaked almost straight up before plunging for an eternity into the ocean. Soon after the cause was determined, the FAA required that all empty fuel tanks be filled with inert gas. That rule was written in the blood of 230 innocent people.

On a much smaller scale, the NFL has several rules which are designed to keep players from suffering crippling, fatal, or unnecessarily serious injuries. It is a simple rule, and I paraphrase: A player cannot use his helmet as a weapon, especially as a weapon aimed at the helmet (head) of another player. Football helmets do not, cannot, prevent concussions. Their use only reduces the number of them. A helmet-to-helmet hit on a player will frequently leave the recipient (if not the perpetrator) unconscious on the field. Players know that at the end of a professional career they may have lingering injuries; but drooling and not remembering their names isn't a result they have put into their calculations. The NFL correctly determined that if helmet-to-helmet hits were not stopped, somebody would eventually die, so they legislated against it. But legislation means nothing if not enforced.

Last night, I watched on live TV as Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker James "Headhunter" Harrison put the most vicious, intentional, helmet-to-helmet hit I have ever seen on Cleveland Brown's quarterback Colt McCoy. McCoy appeared to be out for several seconds, arms splayed out at his side like a dead man. He was revived, sat out of the game for two plays, then returned. But this morning, the headlines make it clear that McCoy has no recollection of the hit or most of the game last night. He reportedly told his father that he knew that his team lost, but has no recollection of the game itself. (The fact that the Cleveland Browns would put McCoy back in the game when rumor has it that he could not remember his name at the time is another fertile topic.) I should point out that I am not a Cleveland Browns fan, I have never lived in Cleveland and don't really follow the team. I also am not a Steelers fan, I don't dislike them, either.

As you might glean from his nickname, this was not the first time that "Headhunter" Harrison attacked another player with a method intended to cause injury. And a potentially life-threatening injury at that. On October 10, last year, he did the same vicious thing to (again) Cleveland Brown receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, intentionally spearing him head-to-head with his helmet, knocking him out. Then, in the very same game, he did the same thing to Cleveland player Josh Cribs, who was a former teammate of Harrison. There is a name for this type of play: "Dirty." Harrison plays dirty, an indication that he does not believe his skill level alone is adequate to keep him in his position.

Two weeks after the Cleveland debacle, Harrison speared Saints Quarterback Drew Brees with an obvious attempt to knock him out--from behind. As he ran toward Brees, who was unaware of his approach, you could clearly see Harrison lowering his helmet, not to hit Brees in the back, or the hips or the legs to tackle him, but so that he could hit him squarely in the helmet, raising his own as he hit him. Watching the videos of each of these attacks, you can see Harrison's technique, and its the same each time; hit the other player in the widest part of the helmet with the "hairline" of your own helmet as you drive into him in an upward motion. It should be called "the Harrison move." Or "the Headhunter." Or "the Loser." Finally, late that month, in classic Harrison "style," he leveled quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills. Check out the sequence of the photographs of last night's hit which are posted below. Note how Harrison ducks his head before the hit, and where his head is after the hit, in relation to McCoy's.

Harrison was fined a total of $125,000 by the NFL for the hits he made last year. what will happen to him for this hit has not been announced. After last night's game, Harrison belittled, and in a way challenged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to do something about the hit. Obviously, fines have not impressed Mr. Harrison. Harrison's current contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers is $51.75 million dollars over six years, which is $8.625 million per year. That $125,000 must have really stung. If you make $86,000 a year, consider each of the individual fines about $250. I get bigger fines than that for speeding, and I still speed. No, hand-slap fines don't get into Mr. Harrison's head (which is apparently hard enough that it can be used repeatedly as a weapon.) The only thing that might get through to him is being benched. Suspended. For a long time. Maybe that will get through to him. Maybe it will get through to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Maybe it will get through to his teammates. If nothing else, maybe it will save a life.

Note the position of Harrison's helmet as he approaches McCoy; he is looking up at him.

Note the absence of any intent to hit below the helmet, the chest-high tackle, the hips- or legs-high tackle. And note how Harrison has lowered his helmet. As he struck, his helmet was in an upward trajectory, striking McCoy in the face.

Now note how Harrison's head is once again up, a result of the intentional upward trajectory of his dirty hits.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Can Penn State really handle the truth? If not, they’ve just made a terrible mistake. They’ve engaged former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to conduct an in depth investigation into the actions and the failures to act which resulted in the magnitude of the current Sandusky melt-down at Penn State.

Here’s a suggestion from somebody who’s worked for Director Freeh, to anybody who has failed to report a crime, concealed or abetted Sandusky’s horrible acts, fallen short of complete candor, fallen short of the responsibilities of an honorable man or woman, or just turned a blind eye at an opportune moment: Run. Run like the wind. No, forget that; he’ll find you. Come clean now. Fall on your sword. Beg for mercy. Save what little you have left.

I remember vividly in 1994 when Director Freeh sent a letter to every agent in the FBI, a letter which became famous as the “Bright Line” letter. In it, the director made reference to the fact that there seemed to be some “gray areas” in the FBI where unethical (but legal) behavior by agents was tolerated or even concealed. In his letter, Director Freeh advised the corps of agents that in order to ensure that there were no “gray areas,” he was by that document drawing a “bright line” over which we could not cross without termination and, if appropriate, prosecution.

Specifically, many of the offenses for which agents would be summarily terminated were not necessarily against the law, but were ethically below the standards the public would expect from the FBI. As an example, a lie in any administrative investigation, (say you stopped at the store in your FBI car on the way home from the office and denied it), would result in immediate termination.

"All of us in the F.B.I. must be held accountable for our actions,” he said, “and I have spent a great deal of time developing new policies standards, and guidelines for Bureau personnel….these policies apply to all F.B.I. employees equally -- including the Bureau's top officials."
"Everyone should understand that there is no room in the F.B.I. for inattention to duty, lethargy, laziness or other derelictions," he wrote. "There are no snug harbors for those in the F.B.I. whose job it is to fight crime and protect the people. F.B.I. executives who fail to carry out their high levels of responsibility will by their conduct forfeit their positions."

In case you think that this memo was just so much talk, consider that Louis Freeh reported himself to the Deputy Attorney General for losing his FBI-issued cell phone, and when the loss  was swept under the rug as a courtesy by DOJ, Freeh made an official recommendation that he be given a letter of censure (which he received), the standard punishment for street agents for this infraction. The message, “No one is above the law.”

In short, this is a man of colossal personal integrity who expects it from others. From my few times interacting with him, I also believe him to be a man of immense empathy for victims of crime. Woe to the person who shrinks from responsibility or callously hurts others.

This is the man who has been chosen by Penn State to get to the bottom of what has caused a moral China Syndrome in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State administrators should also know that Louis (“Louie”) raised four boys of whom he was very protective. He is also on the Board of Directors of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and a former federal judge.

Initially Penn State had decided that the scandal would be investigated by a committee of PSU trustees headed by Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck pharmaceuticals. The decision for a university to self-investigate and tell the truth about a 13 year period when they failed to self-investigate and tell the truth did not sit well with the public. I personally believe that Mr. Frazier would likely have conducted a fair and impartial investigation, based on what I have learned of him. However, establishment of an in-house investigative committee was just the latest in a series of bonehead moves by PSU. Regardless of Mr. Frazier’s integrity, the message sent by an in-house investigation undermined the rhetoric of vigilance voiced by the university. Such an investigation would never possess an air of legitimacy. The choice of Freeh, however, is a convincing step. Somebody at Penn State really wants to get to the bottom of this. Bad.

Freeh’s team will consist of former FBI agents, former U.S. attorneys and prosecutors and investigators with experience in pedophilia and sexual predators. The team will interview all individuals involved in the scandal as well as go through university records and documents going back to 1975.
"I'm tasked with investigating the matter fully, fairly, and completely, without fear or favoritism, including the board of trustees," Freeh said. "The special committee ensured us total independence."
Freeh will also look into the Penn State University police, their role, practices, and investigative procedures. Obviously, where there is smoke, there is fire, and frankly, there’s a mushroom cloud over PSUPD right now. I ran the uniform and the investigative division of a major university’s public safety department for over two years. I know the pressures that can be put to bear on a department. If the police department fails the university, it fails it in ways that create immense damage.
When the Freeh investigative team has completed their work, the public can be sure that every single detail will have been pulled out into the light of public scrutiny. Beginning, as he said he would in 1975, could signal the extent of the detail of this investigation.
You know when you’re looking for your watch, you tend to find a few other things you’ve been looking for? Penn State should also know that it is likely that if anything was not completely right at Penn State from 1975 until the present (36 years), it will be found by this committee.
When a cancer surgeon removes a malignancy, he must make sure he has good “margins,” meaning that even questionable tissue is removed so that there is no chance that any malignancy remains. If he or she is not diligent, the cancer returns just as vigorously as the first time, this time spreading to other organs, and the patient will usually not survive. Louis Freeh’s investigative report will ensure that the cancer is identified right out to safe margins. Whether or not Penn State decides to do a complete surgery will decide the university’s future.
Only one question remains to be answered, “Can Penn State handle the truth?”

Monday, November 14, 2011


Glenglassaugh (glen GLASS’ uch) is a single-malt Scotch that I suspect few if any of us have ever tasted. I say this not because I believe we are Philistines (I certainly don’t), but because Glenglassaugh is so expensive and rare. This fine Scotch comes from the Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands where the barley and the water are so unique and superb that they are de rigueur for the finest Scotch distilleries.

For those less versed in Scotch, “single-malt” is the variation of Scotch that derives from a single aged oak barrel, rather than a mixture of the contents of several barrels, which is how other Scotches are blended. Blending multiple barrels is a technique used to bring up the overall quality of a year’s production by mixing good barrels with poorer barrels. Single-malt barrels, in contrast, are chosen specifically for their superior quality and are kept ‘virgin’ in order not to dilute their excellence. They are identified early in the aging process and regularly moved into different aging locations to change temperature and humidity to perfect the cask as the years go on. After a minimum of three years, the Scotch may legally be called Scotch (as long as it’s made in Scotland, of course) and it may be bottled. However, three years is hardly enough for single-malt. Many of Glenglassaugh’s single-malts are aged for decades and cost over $150 per bottle. You can even buy a full barrel (un-aged at purchase) for a mere $7,500 and within ten to twenty years, you’ll have a great cask of Glenglassaugh.

Oddly enough, I was musing over this recently as I was leaving my high school class reunion. This was the first time I had ever really gone to a full-fledged high school reunion. You see, I’m a pessimist. Not by nature, but by decision. I very much dislike disappointments and letdowns, yet I always seemed to be the guy who “believed” in long-shots and doomed-causes long after everyone else had seen the light. I was the kind of guy who strolled into a Chevrolet dealership in 1974 determined to buy a Vega because I was sure that the one I got wouldn't be a piece of crap. Years after Sony had given up on the Betamax, I still refused to convert to VHS, counting on a "Beta" comeback. Following my call for a recount the morning after Ronald Reagan beat my candidate Jimmy Carter, my family conducted an intervention (and an exorcism). I finally sought help. Under doctor’s orders I underwent radical therapy; I adopted the Chicago Cubs as my favorite baseball team and for the last 30 years have had every last bit of optimism ruthlessly beaten out of my soul, (and I'm now a Republican). It is because of my hard-won pessimism that I knew that I would never go to a high-school reunion.

I have heard every reunion horror story, and I knew what to expect.  Poseurs, losers and braggers. And I knew that I would, inevitably, become one of the three before the night was over. It’s almost inescapable when at a reunion; the ego stakes are simply too high. Because in a way, the reunion is a report card on your life. No matter what you have accomplished in intangibles like raising good children, giving to charity, helping old ladies across the street, your entire life will be graded within five minutes by everyone you speak to. And even if nothing is said, you will see it in their eyes. I would, I was certain, be judged by my weight, hair (or lack of same), grace in aging, financial wellbeing and career.  So I feared that I would be graded a loser or would try to be something I wasn’t. It’s a survival instinct.

Sadly, as my 35th high-school reunion neared, I fell off the wagon of pessimism and I had a severe relapse of optimism. This was caused by a series of freak events: My favorite football team, the San Francisco 49’ers went on an unexpected winning streak. Then, against all odds, I got a contract for my first book, and I suddenly realized that I had gone almost 20,000 miles in my Chrysler minivan without a transmission failure. Obviously, none of these things can be explained in purely human terms, so you can understand my confusion. In a fit of optimism about which I still feel shame, I caught a plane to Chicago for the reunion of the Buffalo Grove High School Class of 1976.

What I found at the reunion rocked me to my socks and set back my optimism aversion therapy probably for a lifetime. Inexplicably, it seemed, I had a fabulous time. I loved those people. In preparation for the event, I had memorized the “You can’t go home” adage (took me days), and had planned that each time I experienced an awkward silence because I had nothing in common with one of my old friends, I would simply repeat it silently to myself and the world would make sense. But as my old friends and I met up again after 35 years, something weird happened: We got along fabulously. There were no awkward silences. In fact, at times, I had the distinct feeling that we were continuing a conversation that got cut off last weekend, not in 1976.

Even people I barely knew in high school became new friends at the reunion. In 1976, Mary the winsome redhead and Cindy the cheerleader were both “out of my league” and I knew it. Now, Mary and her husband live on a spread in South Dakota big enough that people can hunt on it and she’s working on a book. Cindy manages a radio station and basks in the success of a son who recently passed the bar. Both were larger than life at the reunion and two of the highlights of my night.  Friend after friend blew away my preconceived notions; Laura, Mark(s), Catherine(s) , Lance, Alysia, Tims(s), “Chaddy,” Steves(s), Anne, Nancy, Keith, Michelle, Tom……I was amazed at the quality of the people I had the privilege to go to high school with. I had no idea back then. Today, my old party-pals and fellow classroom clowns are musicians, cops, school teachers, stock brokers, authors, airline pilots, senate staffers, screenwriters, coaches, fire fighters, engineers, geologists, even a rabbi and a minister. It was quite a cast of characters. In more somber moments, we recounted the members of our class who would not be attending any more reunions because they had left us. By this reunion, the number that we knew of had reached double-digits, and it was a sobering and sad thought.

Rather than fizzle like some reunions, ours continued even after the banquet hall closed. Then after the bars closed. Then, after they threw about thirty of us out of the lobby of the hotel. And then it continued in the empty restaurant the hotel graciously opened for us. At 3:30 a.m., twenty or so were still sitting around a huge makeshift table as our classmate Tim strummed his guitar and alternately serenaded us and played songs from our years in high school so that we could all sing along. How did I never know he was that talented back in 1976? For just a moment, I felt like we had gone home. But for only a moment, and it seemed like nobody really wanted it to end.

But by 4:15, the realization was hitting most of us that we could only hold on to the moment so long, and like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, we had to grow up and get on with life. We reluctantly hugged, kissed, shook hands and promised to keep in touch and went off in different directions to our rooms. The next day, we continued in different directions at 500 miles per hour. I felt true sadness that the moment ended, not sadness at what time had done to all of us. Because frankly, time had been a friend. No, we hadn’t recaptured our youth, we hadn’t “gone home,” nor were we reliving our high school 'glory days.' Maybe we realized that we would never want to recapture our youth.

On the way back to my hotel, my thoughts went to the conversations we had traded that night and I realized that no one hid behind the mask of “the perfect life.” Everyone at one time or another spoke of hidden pain, hardships and loss. Not one person wallowed in them, but neither were they afraid to admit them, to share their challenges and the ways they got through them, not because they wanted sympathy, but so they could encourage others. It was if they instinctively knew that everybody our age had been through hell at least once, and if you were on top one moment, you might be in a valley the next. It wasn’t a major topic, but it was there, and it was refreshing, and it was encouraging to see how people had overcome.


And as I drove, my mind went to Glenglassaugh. Not because I needed another drink.  I was reminded of two little-known requirements for the making of fine Scotch. Fire and Bourbon. The best Scotch brands are aged in American Bourbon barrels that have had the interiors charred by firing. It is that charred barrel, steeped and aged in Bourbon that makes Scotch spectacular. When the Scotch alcohol first comes out of the pot still it is called, appropriately, “new spirit.” It is perfectly clear, colorless, and has a strong, undisciplined character much closer to “moonshine” than fine liquor. In high school, everyone at that reunion had been “new spirits." We had a sharp, in-your-face character, un-mellowed by any hard lessons or aging, because we hadn’t had any.

But if aging alone would have mellowed us, everyone would be fine with age. But we know that is not the case. And it is not the case with Scotch. If aging alone could do it, there would not be rules about the cask, and the way the liquor is aged. The finest liquor experiences the harshest aging. The hotter the summers and the colder the winters the better the liquor. Temperate conditions create tepid flavor. Stagnation will create a poor Scotch, also. Sitting without any kind of activity takes the character out of the barrel, so the barrel has to be rotated frequently. Sitting and stagnating also create poor human beings. Finally, in Scotch, approximately 10% of the barrel evaporates during aging, and this is known as “The Angel’s Share.” It’s a simple equation; you can’t get a truly exceptional Scotch without experiencing loss. Every single person at that reunion had experienced loss, some more recently than others; every single person had given up “The Angel’s Share” in their life. And it seemed that the ones who had experienced the most loss were themselves the most “refined.” But ultimately, it is fire that makes a tepid, store-brand Scotch into a work of art and makes the “new spirits” into amazing creations.

As the sun came up, it hit me that I had spent the evening with a group of single-malt friends. Not one of us had lived our lives without experiencing pain, loss or grief. Cancer, divorce, the death of friends and family, loss of jobs, financial ruin….nobody I spoke to had gotten through the last 35 years unscathed. We had all experienced the fire. And I realized that it was that fire; the pain, the loss and the recovery that had made these people extraordinary. It turned out that pain and what we learned from it might have been the common bond that we now had.

In June, 1976 in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, several hundred high school seniors graduated and moved out into the world with high hopes for the “good life” and few problems. That same month, in Speyside, Scotland, Glenglassaugh Distillery put up several barrels of “new spirit” into used, distressed, charred oak Bourbon barrels from Tennessee.  This month, 35 years later, a remnant of that high school class met a few miles from the school which helped form them. They had experienced the fire of life, yes, but were stronger and better in most cases. They had mellowed, were more interesting, and their essential “bouquet” was more unique and pleasing than ever.  Also this month, in the Scotland Highlands, the casks put up in 1976 were finally unsealed and poured into cut-crystal decanters, aged and distressed perfectly. The rare 35 year old Scotch went on the market for more than $500 per bottle. If these bottles are as mellow and full of character as the Buffalo Grove class of the same year, Glenglassaugh will be proud. In Scotland, as in Buffalo Grove, the exquisite result of aging and fire is recognized as having unusual value.

In the very near future, I plan to have a single shot of the finest single-malt Scotch my wallet will allow. And I will sip it straight, slowly enjoying its myriad of flavors, and contemplate the things that created those flavors. And I will think of my classmates who have aged so wonderfully, and contemplate the lives and the fires that created their wonderful character. Finally, I will drink to our classes’ ‘Angel’s Share;’ the ones we’ve lost in the process. With any luck, I will be remembering my classmates with that 1976 Glenglassaugh masterpiece, which they have appropriately named;

"The Chosen Few."

Saturday, November 12, 2011


(Note: In this country, every person is innocent until proven guilty. From a legal standpoint, Jerry Sandusky is an innocent man at this moment. Even as I write this, I am conscious that Sandusky has not been proven to be guilty, regardless of what appears to be strong, even devastating eye-witness testimony, anecdotal indications, and three previous allegations that all seem to tie together logically. But the evidence was enough to convince a grand jury to indict Sandusky, and Penn State University to fire the most beloved coach in their history. It therefore seems that the evidence is strong enough to use as a springboard for discussion, as changes must be made immediately if the allegations are true.)

It isn't over in State College, PA. And it shouldn’t be. Unless I am grossly in error, it's just starting.

It may be that anybody who was coaching or in upper management for Penn State in 2002 will soon be gone; fired, resigned or indicted. It's a lesson that should ring in the ears of every university administrator who has ever even thought of hiding a difficult truth for the sake of the school's reputation. Nothing hidden will reliably remain hidden. The best thing for any university is and always has been "Do the right thing, even if it hurts."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. best expressed this concept when he said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

I truly feel for every Penn State alum, every football player and coach who knew nothing of this travesty, every faculty and staff member who put their sweat equity and their love into the university, every fan of the Nittany Lions, and every student who didn't take part in the riots the other night. It's not enough that the university officials shamed the school, but then a group of idiot students went out and threw gasoline on the flames--quite literally in some cases. I do know that the vast majority of Penn State students weren't responsible for the sickos rioting to protest the firing of a man who allegedly abetted child rape.

However, while what we have seen so far might seem to be more than just the tip of the iceberg, much still floats just below the surface. In an article on April 3, 2011, Mark Madden of “The Beaver County Times,” wrote in an article cleverly entitled, “SANDUSKY A STATE SECRET,” that, "Allegations of improper conduct with an underage male first surfaced in 1998, while Sandusky was still employed by Penn State. That incident allegedly occurred in a shower at Penn State's on-campus football facility. No charges were filed." That article was written six months ago! The circulation of “The Beaver County Times” is nearly 50,000 copies. This could not escape the notice of Penn State officials or trustees. Obviously, while most of the U.S. was oblivious, the sexual assault allegations against former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky were known to tens of thousands, at least in the last year to two years. But before even that, it was known to the university and others.


The inescapable question is this; if the story about the grand jury investigation of Sandusky broke 6 months ago, why didn't Penn State trustees do anything about it then?! Why wait until a press conference was called by the district attorney? Sandusky had an office on campus when he, by all indications, used almost daily from the day the story broke in April until his recent indictment. Wouldn't you want him off campus just IN CASE the allegations might be true? Why did they not start their own internal investigation? Are they saying that given the situation, if no indictment had been handed down that Athletic Director Tim Curley, Senior Vice President of Finance Gary Schultz, President Graham Spanier and Joe Paterno would still have their jobs?! Is child rape not a problem to them if the grand jury doesn’t decide to indict? If it’s not illegal, it’s not immoral? If it is the case that absent an indictment, Paterno, Schultz, Spanier and Curry would still have their jobs, then it is obvious that they were removed not to protect children, but to protect the university.

Frankly, while I think the trustees did nothing illegal, their inaction from the time the story broke until now (at least six months) is highly suspicious. Why would they not act? Here’s some food for thought: The current Chairman of the Board of Trustees is Stephen Garban, who was on the board of trustees in 1998. He happened to be Gary Schultz’s predecessor as the Senior Vice President of Financial Operations for Penn State. He was also captain of the Penn State football team at one time. Conflict of interest? Perhaps.  In fact, of the approximately 27 current acting members of the Penn State Board of Trustees, 21 are Penn State alumni and five have been on the football team, two playing for coach Paterno.

I understand the necessity of having regents and/or trustees familiar with and enthusiastic for the school for which they have such great responsibility, but at what point do the loyalties to the university and its football team begin to create a conflict?

Another possible conflict is that the University's General Counsel to whom the 1998 report against Sandusky was provided for a decision on actions to be taken was then, and remains, the Legal Counsel for "The Second Mile," Sandusky's organization. Conflict of Interest? Ya think?

The board of trustees (to a person, impressive pillars of the community) need to explain exactly why they failed to act for six months after the story became public. They have a competent police department, and even if they suspected complicity or conflict of interest among the department, a private firm could have investigated this situation very effectively. I understand that a concurrent investigation can sometimes interfere with the grand jury process. But how about a simple public statement to that effect? How about something that acknowledges the situation and promises decisive action? When your senior executives are under a grand jury investigation, you might want to consider at least a paid leave. Without a satisfactory explanation, it would seem that chairman Stephen Garban’s failure to act, combined with his apparent sympathies, might impact on his past and future abilities to do the right thing in a difficult situation. 

Analyst Mike May of ESPN spoke passionately and eloquently about this issue this week on College Football Live. “For McQueary to still be on the sidelines for another game, much less another minute I think that strikes a signal that this board of trustees and this coaching staff still doesn’t get the point. This is much bigger than football. This is much bigger than sport. This is much bigger than Joe Paterno. This is about the integrity of our youngsters and your university….get rid of the entire coaching staff.”

Yesterday, the board of trustees announced the creation of a Special Investigative Committee to determine the facts surrounding the case, the causes and the perpetrators. It is a good thing. It is needed. It is 6 months late.


Anybody who has ever been on a team of any kind, especially one where you and your teammates are bonded as strongly as a top-flight college football team, know that the team becomes your life. It is routinely considered to be your family. The Nittany Lions (nearby Mt. Nittany is the home of mountain lions, hence the name) football team has repeatedly referred to themselves as a family in the wake of the recent scandal.  If you've been on one of these types of teams, you know that any rumor, story, speculative tidbit, especially one which involves actions detrimental to the entire team spreads like a windblown brush-fire.

To anyone who knows this reality, the thought that Defensive Assistant Mike McQueary's horrible discovery in the showers in 1998 was kept a complete secret is an absurdity. There is no question in any knowing person's mind that a great many people knew about Sandusky's crime.

Again, Madden writes very astutely for the “Beaver County Times” that the timeline of the discovery and Sandusky's "retirement" from Penn State gives rise to credible speculation as to the reason for his departure. He was by all accounts an ambitious man whose biggest ambition was to be the head coach at Penn State. At the time of his retirement only 55 years old, he was second in command at Penn State football and the obvious successor to Paterno, who was 70. Rumors were that Paterno was considering retirement. There could be no more inexplicable time for Sandusky to quit.

Sandusky had been voted the top assistant coach in 1986 and 1999, which would make him a lock-tight cinch to be offered a head-coaching job at a major college football powerhouse. And indications are that before 1998 he was courted several times by big-name schools.  But then, at the peak of his career, with his goal in sight, he retired without a convincing explanation. Even then, maybe especially then, football schools should be wearing out the front door of (a newly available) Sandusky's house carrying wads of cash. But nobody did.  Hmmmmmm.  Assistant Coach of the year, heir apparent to the legendary Joe Paterno, and at 55, a relatively young age for a head coach, a pillar of the community with his own charitable organization, but nobody was interested in his services. Maybe they didn't like white hair?

Could it be that the rumors went well beyond State College? You're intelligent people, what do you think? If it was possible to track the spider-web of this rumor, how far would it go? Something (or someone) was warning off other schools. There can be no doubt of that. I doubt that many (if any) were told bluntly of his crimes, but they were certainly warned of something.

The people that bear the responsibility for this moral and ethical failure are those that knew the whole story and did nothing. Every single one. The buck can’t be allowed to stop prematurely. Anybody who could have stopped the serial rape of children at that point is responsible for not doing so.

I personally believe that the school believed McQueary's 1998 allegation to be true, especially in light of the Sandusky "showering" allegations of several years prior. I also believe that news of McQueary's discovery likely spread through the team as the years went on. When their assistant coach abruptly retires the next year, you're telling me that nobody on the football team had any idea of why? Paterno didn't seem to protest. Forcing Sandusky to retire at the pinnacle of his career could not have been done without Joe Paterno's approval. And Joe would not have given it without knowing why.


In December, 1999, Sandusky brought victim #4 to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. This is verified by photos in Sports Illustrated. According to testimony from #4, when he at first refused further sexual advances from Sandusky, he was threatened with being flown home.

If the above is true, Sandusky has violated U.S. Code, Title 18, Chapter 117, § 2421, informally known as the “Mann Act” which is the federal crime of transporting any person across state lines to engage in sexual activity for which a person can be charged with a criminal offense (such as sex with a minor). This is a 10 year felony investigated by the FBI. And the sex doesn’t even need to occur. If the attempt is made, the crime has occurred. It’s like a bank robbery. If you point a gun and ask for money and don’t get anything, the crime has still occurred.

Concealing any federal crime (such as violation of the Mann Act) is in itself the crime of “Misprision of a Felony” which is a 3 year federal felony. Additionally Penn State receives federal money. It must be determined whether any of that money was utilized in the concealment of the crime.

If the head coach and the university president conspired to conceal a felony to protect a member of the team, what does the NCAA do? Teams get huge penalties for simply paying their players under the table. What if a one coach is raping children in the shower and another is conspiring to hide the crime?

As a former FBI agent, I worked large cases and conspiracy cases. Two things I know from this: First, the prosecutor will not give up all of his charges and evidence in the Grand Jury. Why? Because that's just the first round. I would give the defense lawyers more time to review it, and it spells out the prosecution game plan. Sandusky and Paterno know what that's about. No, the prosecutor gives the Grand Jury the minimum they believe is required to obtain an indictment and an arrest. Certainly, because of the notoriety of the case and the persons involved, more had to be given to this Grand Jury to obtain indictments, but much was held back. This could not be a close call, because close calls always go to the Nittany Lions in State College, Pennsylvania.

Also, attempting to get Joe Paterno indicted on the first run past the Grand Jury would be extremely difficult. But what is the difference between what Curley and Schultz did and what Paterno did (or didn't do?) There are 9 victims (so far) and 40 counts against Sandusky. We know of just two. I'm afraid of what the other 38 counts will contain. No, this case has just started, and likely the indictments have just started.

The final point comes in the form of a question from May at ESPN, asking why McQueary didn’t physically stop Sandusky. I wonder also. McQueary was 28, a former Penn State player, and a big guy. Would he have stopped him if the crime happened in the bushes and the victim was a screaming female? Did he think it was consensual? There is no legal consensual sex between a 10 year old boy and a 55 year old man. It does not exist. Sadly, this was a shortfall of honor. This was a shortfall of decency. This was a shortfall of manhood all around.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Penn State Flagged for Illegal Procedure

In what I can only describe as one of the most egregious, disgusting acts (and non-acts) I have seen a university commit; overt, unambiguous child sex abuse was condoned and hidden by executives of The Pennsylvania State University (“Penn State”) nearly 10 years ago.  A credible eyewitness  reported an act of sodomy between Jerry Sandusky and an approximately 11 year old boy in the Penn State showers and the university apparently did nothing except to warn the alleged abuser that he had been seen, which allowed an unknown number of unsuspecting boys to be molested and raped by Jerry Sandusky.  Boys who would never have suffered this crime had the university acted appropriately. Make no mistake, this not passive behavior on the part of Penn State executives, they acted. This was a decision to allow a serial rapist/pedophile to continue operating.

One hardly knows where to begin.  What is football worth? What is a university worth if its own wellbeing is more important than the wellbeing of the very people it exists to protect and value? What happens when a university trades the lives of young boys for its reputation? Make no mistake, that is the transaction that occurred.  The very lives of the victims are in play. For the rest of their lives, they will deal with the acts perpetrated on them by Jerry Sandusky in the locker rooms of Penn State. The future lives, intimate relations with their spouses, and the self-worth of the victims have all been horribly assaulted and damaged. How much nobody knows.

During Coach Joe Paterno’s reign, the honorable and decent football players that made Penn State proud celebrated 37 bowl game appearances and 3 national championships in and around that locker room and shower. And Jerry Sandusky allegedly performed oral sex on 8 - 11 year old boys in that same shower, bringing equal shame on the university. But it’s not that shame that motivates this article, it is the greater shame: That Penn State intentionally hid these acts in order to protect itself. One can understand (at some level, at least) that a man can have a sickness that could cause this type of repulsive, destructive and sociopathic behavior. But from what sickness(es) did the university executives suffer? Common ones: Greed and self-interest. These are harder to excuse.


As sad as it makes me to say this, even Coach Paterno gets no pass on this. Sure, he told his superiors. Good start. But every day as a top-flight coach, Paterno does something that ensures his continued success:  He follows up. He doesn’t just assume that his coaches have a great game plan for Saturday, he checks as the week goes by, he prepares, and he takes nothing for granted. That’s what’s made him one of the winningest coaches in college history.

The fact that nothing happened to Sandusky didn’t “escape his notice.” Sandusky was one of his best friends. He himself had been told by an eye witness that Sandusky was sodomizing a 10 year old boy in the shower. Not, “in a compromising situation,” not “sitting too close,” not “acting inappropriately,” not even “showering with,” but sodomizing him. Yes, Paterno told his supervisors. But Paterno had culpable knowledge, and if none of his higher-ups did the right thing, it was his responsibility to do it. Of course that’s going to be difficult, even agonizing. It would take strength, it would take character, it would require overcoming pain, and it would take courage. These are the very things Coach Paterno required of his players for the last 46 years, and they have the right to expect the same thing from him. In the end, he was asking from his players what he himself was not prepared to give. It’s one thing to be brave on a football field, it’s another thing to be brave in the real world. Coach Paterno apparently didn’t have the right stuff.

So far, the list of unnamed minors who were allegedly assaulted by Sandusky has reached 9. “#7” is the first known victim, allegedly meeting Sandusky through “Second Mile,” an organization that Sandusky founded to help disadvantaged children “…who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact.”  The wording, one hopes, is unintentionally ironic. And at this point I want to point out that almost certainly the majority of people involved in Second Mile are caring, giving people who knew nothing about Sandusky’s alleged activities prior to this incident. But some did. I also want to point out that this is not an indictment against the vast majority of the fine people who work at Penn State. Obviously, two men at “the top” wagered the university’s good name against a scandal and couldn’t cover the bet.

It’s alleged that the first known victim to be “taken to the showers” by Sandusky was an 8 year old boy in 1994. According to ESPN; in the fall of 2000, A janitor named James Calhoun observes Sandusky in the showers of the Lasch Football Building with a young boy, known as Victim 8, pinned up against the wall, performing oral sex on the boy. He tells other janitorial staff immediately.

The janitor reports the incident to his supervisor who tells no one.

ESPN continues; March 1, 2002 A Penn State graduate assistant enters the locker room at the Lasch Football Building. In the showers, he sees a naked boy, known as Victim 2, whose age he estimates to be 10 years old, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant tells his father immediately.

This time, the graduate assistant reports the sighting to Paterno personally—at Paterno’s house the next morning. Paterno reports the incident to Athletic Director Tim Curley. Later in the month, the graduate assistant is called before Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business (note the job title) Gary Schultz, where he tells them in detail what he had seen. They now know everything—and they knew they were responsible for what they did with that information.

The University took swift, decisive action: They took away Sandusky’s locker room keys.  The implicit but unavoidable implication of that action was that the concern was not that little boys were being raped by Sandusky, but that the rapes were happening on the Penn State campus.

Oh, and for good measure, they reported the incident to Second Chance, Sandusky’s own organization. In a manner of speaking, they simply warned an alleged pedophile that he had been reported. Unconscionable.  No police organization followed up with the graduate assistant. One might argue that they thought he was innocent or wrongly accused. If so, why did they take away his locker room key?  No, their actions indicate that they believed the report.

But it gets worse. Way back in 1998, a mother of one of the victims reported Sandusky to the university police for alleged improprieties in the shower with her pre-teen boy. The campus police “investigated.” Along with local police, they questioned Sandusky and he apologized for showering with the boy, and stated, “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness.…I wish I were dead.” Quite a reaction for simply showering with a boy. If the information on this incident was not passed on to university executives by campus police, yet another investigation must be started. But regardless of whether or not it was passed up the chain, the university did nothing.

If the allegations against Sandusky and the reports of the graduate assistant are true; the university executives share responsibility for whatever happened to every single defenseless boy at the hands of Sandusky after the graduate assistant reported the incident. They share it as much as if they had been in the shower with Sandusky holding the boys down, for they are the ones that made those rapes possible.

It’s been reported that universities are insular places and appear to “circle the wagons” in self-protection with greater gusto than any police “blue code of silence.”  Universities depend upon donors for money, reputation for students and sports to attract both. The circular reasoning of some is obviously that if the university is healthy, well-funded and well-populated, then more young people will benefit.  In a way, it’s a little like idol worship; “The university above all.” It’s just that success might require sacrificing a few virgins in the showers.

Where have we come to when universities all over the country are putting expedience before honor, wrong before right, and self-interest above altruism? Don’t universities believe that they have some type of corner on that market? Campus security professionals have told me of their great frustration with universities that minimize and hide bad behavior and criminality among its students, staff and faculty to avoid trouble and keep the donations and the applications coming in. Scandals are expensive.

The problem is exacerbated by the “yes men” (and women) that universities sometimes appoint as their regents. Think about it—they choose their own watchdogs. The regents get benefits, and almost to a person, they are boosters of the school.  Also, it is not unheard of (and incredibly easy) for regents to be kept in the dark by university administrators. I would be surprised if any Penn State regent had any idea of the Sandusky allegations before they heard them on ESPN.

Michael Jackson is dead today because he surrounded himself with people who would say yes to his every whim, never challenge him or disagree with him, and never tell him “no.” Universities can fall victim to the same pitfall. Many corporate executives consider a backbone to be a birth defect.  This is almost certainly true in academia, too, as evidenced by Penn State. Sadly, the home to the brave  Nittany Lions football team has become the academic equivalent of Michael Jackson, and while Penn may not die, it’s going to be very sick for a long, long time.

Universities must have more accountability. They’re not going to get it from parental groups, because the members (once again) are chosen by the university executives, frequently on their ability to provide financial resources and contacts, not on the hopes that they will “change things.” (The fox watching the hen house, in other words.) And there is much to lose for a parent “advisor” if they openly criticize a university their child is attending.

What strikes me most now is the blood-bath which is occurring at Penn State. Sandusky, of course is long gone. But now Paterno is gone. Curley and Schultz are gone. It appears that the President of the University will be ousted before the week is out. Who knows how many will follow? In a way, this is the greatest indictment yet of Penn State. Within days, the university ended the careers of some of its most senior executives and its most famous and beloved coach to protect its reputation.

How many careers was Penn State willing to end to protect the lives of 10 year old boys?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

JONAS SALK (and other insensitive bastards)

During the four year fight for justice for Amanda Knox, a question was repeatedly put to me and others (by people who mistakenly thought Amanda guilty): “Why are you defending Amanda Knox? Why not somebody else?” “Why defend (as it was recently put to me specifically) a middle-class white girl?”  The unavoidable, undeniable insinuation being, of course, that there are more “worthy” people to defend than the middle class, whites, and women.  It’s frankly a question which belies a certain bias, a certain hatred and a certain ugliness.

By the logic of that question, Emergency Operators should always answer the line with, “9-1-1, what is your emergency…..race, and social status?” In actual fact, many of these questioners put even more of a fine-point on the question, noting that Amanda was “American” and “attractive.” Certainly, I’m not arguing that Americans are worthy of justice, that’s simply absurd. But “attractive” has me stumped. Again, should calls for help be accompanied by headshots? (“My GOD that girl is ugly, roll the fire trucks!” Or, “I don’t know, the green eyes work just too well with the auburn hair, there’s really nothing we can do.”)

The question as to why anybody would come to the defense of a young white woman whom society considers attractive, is itself is so biased, so race-based, so economically prejudiced, so ignorant that one despairs for society.

The question says more than it asks. It says that the worth of a person is still judged by their race, color, social status and nationality.

Aren’t we yet as a people so far beyond this (at least philosophically) that such hate speech can be recognized for what it is? Do intelligent people really believe that people not “of color” or poor are less deserving of care, love, rescue, freedom? The concept is simply the 1960’s Selma, Alabama sickness – reversed.

I understand, maybe as much as anybody who has not experienced it directly, that there has been—and continues to be--terrible injustices based simply on the fact that a person is black, or brown or poor. As a young FBI Agent, I surveilled and attempted to infiltrate the Aryan Nations white supremacist organization in Idaho in the mid 1980’s when they were at their peak strength. As a white man, I saw an opportunity—and a responsibility—to do what I could to stamp out this type of hatred. I witnessed cross-burnings, I investigated race- and religiously-based murders, and I heard the seething, irrational hatred of bigots. After my identity as an FBI Agent was discovered, I was very nearly killed. But I helped put dozens of white men away (most for life without parole) for hideous crimes against people simply because they were Jews or non-whites. I spent two years investigating and prosecuting a man who machine-gunned day-care children because they were Jewish, and who shot a dark-skinned Filipino postal worker twice in the head because he was "non-white." (He got 600 years, but is eligible for parole in 540 years.) I’ve been there; I’ve seen it. I've examined the lifeless, bloody corpses of the victims and watched their relatives weep.

But even in the midst of my disgust and anger at the acts, I can tell you one thing; reverse bias is not the answer. The question as to whether a white woman is equally worthy of rescue from injustice is almost as obscene as the question as to whether black woman should be allowed to sit in the front of the bus.

Of course, the response of the questioners might simply be that they were not questioning Amanda’s worthiness, but the motives and bias of those working in her favor. (This question is easily refuted by the fact that they never questioned why we would help Amanda’s Italian male co-defendant.) But even the inference of bias among her supporters is grossly na├»ve and in itself bigoted. One might just as well ask why Amanda’s parents came to her aid. One might also ask why Dr. Martin Luther King chose to help blacks in America instead of blacks in South Africa. Was it self-serving? Did he care less about African blacks? Was he simply provincial?  I don’t think so. I think he saw a need close to him and was called to something he saw with his own eyes.  John F. Kennedy popularized a phrase that applies: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” One may argue convincingly that Dr. King’s efforts sped the end of apartheid. The nearness and familiarity with the victim(s) is also the reason that most initially came to Amanda’s aid. The movement consisted of friends, relatives, parents of school friends, family friends, and other Seattleites who viewed Amanda as “one of their own.” Others had either experienced similar injustices, or had careers, experience or interests which intersected with the case.

I would point out that many of those involved in Amanda’s defense were also involved in other cases, many of which involved people of color. As an example, I am currently involved in the case of the wrongful imprisonment of a man of Indian descent, and others were involved in the unsuccessful attempt to prevent the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.

Dr. King, a man I deeply admire, wrote in 1963 from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King would not wonder if Amanda was equally worthy of rescue. Nor would he question the motives of people who were seeking justice in any arena.

Bias against a victim because they aren’t poor or “of color” is not a correction of a problem, it is not “balancing the scales,” it is simply revenge. If Martin Luther King’s vision of a society of complete equality was a great “dream” for which to strive, then revenge is simply the nightmare of a society far from that goal. It undoes everything the man stood for and stands in stark opposition to his dream. It amounts to no more than reversing the polarity of the bigotry. Sound waves are one of the few entities, philosophies or bits of matter in this world that can be eliminated by simple reversal. Bose has made a successful business selling “noise-cancelling” headphones. These devices sense a sound wave, reverse it, broadcast it, and thereby cancel it out. The only people who have ever made a living by continuous reversals of prejudice are coroners on the West Bank and arms dealers. Those who would deny justice to a person because they weren’t “of color” or "poor" are just as depraved as those who would deny justice to someone because they were.

To say the least, it is ironic that almost to a person, the people who ask this question are always the very same people who decry the fact that in the Kercher murder, a “black man” was being “blamed.” It really isn’t the Amanda Knox supporters who are “blaming” a black man, it is science. The DNA of African Rudy Guede was inside the sexually assaulted victim. The appeals court confirmed scientific findings that his bloody footprint was found on a bathmat, and his bloody handprints were on the victim's purse, which obviously have deluded some people into thinking that a person of color is capable of murder. Remember, nobody knew that the fingerprints and the DNA belonged to a black man when they were collected or tested.

The question; “Why a middle-class white girl?” might simply imply that persons should be helped in order of need; that no person should be helped until all who are “less fortunate” than they are first helped.  If a car flipped in front of you and caught fire, would you first check to make sure no more serious accidents were happening nearby, or that the people in a similar accident were less socially disadvantaged than “your” victims? Another vexing question would be whether someone could be helped with her 26 year sentence until everyone with 27 year or longer sentences had already been helped.  To do otherwise would be gross insensitivity.

One of the greatest examples of this type of self-serving, short-sighted insensitivity was, of course, that selfish bastard Jonas Salk. A polio vaccine?! Are you kidding me? A vaccine for (rich) people who don’t even HAVE the disease? He could have used his genius, his time, and the money he spent on polio to find a cure for cancer! Cancer! People already had cancer and were dying by the thousands. Even if you got polio, there were ‘Iron Lungs’ so you didn’t have to die. But if you got pancreatic cancer, it was over. You could not find, and still cannot find, an ‘Iron Pancreas.’ So while Salk selfishly worked on his vaccine, tens of thousands of people died of a disease more deadly than polio. What a waste. Why, Jonas? Why did you work on polio and not on something more important?

And what about that ‘Iron Pancreas?’ In 1959, at a time when the world desperately needed (and still needs) an ‘Iron Pancreas,’ a device was created which did nothing except regulate the beats of a working heart; and it was called the “pacemaker.” What’s ironic is that pacemakers already existed, but they were bulky machines. This one was simply an internal, portable pacemaker so that the wearer could enjoy a better quality of life, and it was invented by one Dr. Wilson Greatbatch, who apparently didn’t care about people with cancer either. No one knows how much money was spent on this device which couldn't cure cancer or serve as an artificial pancreas. Cancer vs. better quality of life for people who eat too much cholesterol so they can go golfing? Really?

Don’t get me started on Dr. Greatbatch.