The scourge of silent wingmen

After I wrote the post below, this excellent commentary by award-winning sportswriter Rick Reilly was published. He says it all.



The trial of Jerry Sandusky is in the works–he’s the former Penn State football coach charged with more than 50 counts of abusing boys and young men over a decade.

The testimony is graphic.  (I’m not linking to it. It is not hard to find.) And, now a 30-something man who was adopted and grew up in the Sandusky home has come forward to allege abuse. This is going to get worse.

Sandusky is innocent until proven otherwise, and I firmly believe that witch hunts do happen. But it is an impossible stretch to believe there is no truth to the charges. Before one word of testimony, and on his very best day, Sandusky was a man with boundaries made of air who made it his life’s mission to be around vulnerable kids.

People working with kids who are molested know all about the societal structures and pressures that protect serial abusers. But as one more helpless observer, not a professional, I continue to be shocked.

I do know that priests, coaches and the like have been able to get away with this stuff because of the respect and love (and sometimes fear) they are afforded by kids and parents. Way back in the 1960s, before “inappropriate touching” was a term known to first graders, I had a mother who was crystal clear when explaining to me what adults were not supposed to do to kids. Even she let me go to church and synagogue events unsupervised. Later, living at boarding school, I would have walked off a cliff (or worse) for a beloved teacher or coach. But I was one of the lucky ones; my authority figures were the good guys.

But what is more striking to me now as I read the Sandusky coverage is the elaborate protection systems that grow up around serial abusers. Some powerful factions in the Roman Catholic Church got so good at circling the wagons that the collateral damage will never be sorted out. Sandusky’s world is quite skilled at playing hide-the-villain too. I find myself being ever more appalled by those who stood by, burying their suspicions or even actual knowledge.

I don’t know what combination of genes, environment and inexplicable evil it takes to create a sexual predator within an institution meant to teach and protect young people. I do know that it takes some gutless wingmen to allow it to keep happening.



All the News That Fits. In this blog, anyway.

The Sunday New York Times today (June 10, 2012) has some rich rewards within its pages.

A very well-written feature on a group of elderly women in a public-housing apartment building in New York City. They’ve become friends, rallying around one who lost her daughter to a stabbing attack. What could have been a brief or shallow look at a bunch of old gals who bring each other coffee is instead a thoughtful and evocative essay on late-in-life friendship. Reporter John Leland should be proud…as should the headline writer who came up with “The Neighbors Who Don’t Knock.”

–The kindness in that piece may be counteracted by the one headlined “Forced to Early Social Security, Unemployed Pay a Steep Price.” I’m saving that one to read later. No need to ruin the mood immediately. (Plus, I know several people who are taking their Social Security early, so I can predict some of the findings.)

The centerpiece on A-1, “Risky Rise of the Good Grade Pill,” about kids snorting their way to longer attention spans is a major (pardon the pun) downer. The problem is enormous. Adderall, Ritalin and other drugs  prescribed to treat ADHD and other conditions are swallowed or crushed and snorted by students from all walks of life to allow for high energy and “tunnel” concentration that is perfect for taking college boards and other tests. With abuse, the resulting damage to health (of both body and mind) is invariably serious. Most sobering is the observation that many kids taking the drugs are unaware that the pills are amphetamines, and that sharing them with others can be the same as selling them, which is a felony. The story is well reported and well written. Reporter Alan Schwartz did a ton of legwork for this one. Among the take-aways for me: (1) There is no mystery as to why so few sources would let their names be used, but watch as Big Pharma manufacturers use the lack of conventional attribution as they refute the size of the problem. (2) I would have been popping these things with both hands if they’d been available when I was in high school.

–The impressive Sunday magazine cover story by Amos Kamil on abuse in the prestigious Horace Mann School in New York is also very well done. But, for God’s sake — I’m beginning to wonder how any kids manage to escape such predators.  I was raised to keep a weather eye out for dangerous guys (they were always “guys”) presumably prison escapees who waited in the bushes on the route home from school. What do you tell a kid now? Watch our for priests, teachers, coaches, babysitters, doctors, Scout leaders and camp counselors? No wonder so many kids are snorting their ‘scripts. You need energy and powerful focus to dodge all these dirtbags.

Finally, there’s the Q&A with author John Irving in the Book Review. When asked which famous author he’d like to meet, he replies that he prefers reading writers to meeting them. Excellent answer.




Review: “In The Kingdom of Men” by Kim Barnes

This is a very good novel just out by Kim Barnes. The top of my review in The Seattle Times:

In the 1960s, the Arabian American Oil Company, the big boy in the international oil business, created gated compounds for its American workers in Saudi Arabia, or more accurately, for the workers’ wives and families whose husbands went off to work on oil rigs.

A portrait of life inside the gates in 1967, drawn with skill and filled with evocative period detail by novelist Kim Barnes, depicts a sort of Saudi Barbie Dream House. The narrator is young bride Virginia “Gin” McPhee, a transplanted Okie and heroine in the enticing tradition of plucky outsiders who find themselves in a new society with complex social rules and secrets.

For the rest, click here.

…and there never was a horse like the Tennesse Stud…

The death of folk and bluegrass great Doc Watson has prompted everyone from NPR to small-club musicians to play some of the man’s wonderful songs. His version of “Tennessee Stud” is often the chosen gem. I keep waiting, but so far I’ve not heard or read anyone mentioning the author of that song–Jimmy Driftwood.

Not to take anything away from Watson, but Jimmy Driftwood (1907-98) and his 6,000-plus songs gave more to American folk music than pretty much anyone else. (Yup, that’s right: 6,000 songs written.) His real name was James Corbitt Morris, according to the excellent entry about him in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

Jimmy Driftwood (fans always called him by both names)  was a poet and a teacher by trade, and teach us he did. In preserving folk songs of the Ozark Mountains region by performing the ones passed from generation to generation, and writing more in the same vein, he set important history of early America in amber.

I grew up listening to his albums, and on long car trips, I still sing the one that starts this way:

I’m just a Damyankee way down in the South
I love to kiss Southern belles in the mouth
I laugh when they say all Damyankees are bad
For nobody knows I’m a Damyankee Lad.

And after several verses,  it closes out with:

When I get so old that I’m ready to die
I’ll put on my uniform blue as the sky
They’ll march ’round my coffin and won’t they get mad
When they learn that I was a DamnYankee Lad.


My voice isn’t pretty, but neither was his.




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