Why “Skeptics” Defending Jerry Sandusky Is Ludicrous

This is a first for me on this blog.  While I always write about books this is the first time I am writing about a book I have not read and don’t intend to read.  That book is called The Most Hated Man In America by Mark Pendergast.  Now under normal circumstances I would consider it bad form to write on something you haven’t actually read, and there is a good chance that Mr. Pendergast will show up on this very blog to tell me so and demand that everybody actually read his book.   However, I have already read a blog post by Jerry Coyne, in which he seems to think having read somebody else’s article about the book is enough for him to write a blog post promoting its main thesis, so holding myself to Jerry Coyne’s standards I think that is good enough for me to call it utter and complete bullshit.

So here is the background.  Mark Pendergast wrote a book about how he thinks Jerry Sandusky, a man convicted of over 40 counts of sexual abuse of young boys is innocent, despite overwhelming evidence against him.  Then Skeptic Magazine published an article by Frederick Crews that summarizes the argument made in the book.  This has of course been picked up by other “New Atheisttypes.  if you are not familiar what a “New Atheist” is, they are just like a regular atheist, except in addition to not believing in God they are morally despicable.  Even Daniel Dennett, a philosopher associated with New Atheism who is usually considered an exception to the rule, fell for it.

As detailed in Crews’s article the main argument is that the ten alleged victims of Sandusky all have recovered memory techniques used before they testified. I’ll get to that later, but let me say here in the beginning that like Crews, Coyne and Dennett I find the idea of recovered memories highly dubious, and especially if hypnosis is involved. However, there have been allegations of recovered memories being a part of the prosecution of many pedophile priests, such as this case, and I don’t see these “skeptics”  fighting the good fight to protect innocent priests from being railroaded by the justice system.   Come to think of it I haven’t seen any of these guys that concerned about the 70% of the wrongly convicted who are people of color either.    Funny how that works isn’t it?

So here is a rundown of the case against Jerry Sandusky before we even get to the case of recovered memory.

First, in 1998 Sandusky was investigated after a parent of a young boy complained about him showering with her son.  A psychologist who was consulted on the investigation told the police that Sandusky’s behavior was consistent with the behavior of a pedophile.  No evidence sexual abuse occurred was found, though this could be seen as typical “grooming” behavior from a pedophile, and Sandusky promised not to shower with boys in the future.   Crews never mentions this in his article, nor Coyne in his blog, despite the fact that it shows that Sandusky continued to shower with boys even after being told that it was inappropriate by law enforcement and promising not to do it again.

Second, in 2000 James Calhoun, a janitor, witnesses Jerry Sandusky engaged in sexual activity with an underage boy and reports this to his supervisor and co-workers.  Both Crews and Coyne misrepresent this evidence in how it was presented in court, either intentionally or unintentionally.  By the time the trial began Calhoun was unable to testify because he suffered from dementia.  The judge allowed hearsay testimony from another janitor because of this.  Crews mentions that the janitor was mentally impaired, but doesn’t specify that this impairment happened well after having witnessed Sandusky molesting the boy.  Basically, he invites the reader to imagine Calhoun as mentally disabled and an unreliable witness.  Writes Coyne:  ” The judge admitted 12-year-old hearsay testimony.”  Coyne, like a number of “skeptics” has a history of pretending to be an expert in fields he knows nothing about  Hearsay testimony is commonly allowed in court cases where the person is testifying on behalf of a person who is mentally impaired, deceased, or otherwise unable to testify.

Third, in 2002 assistant coach Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky molesting a boy in the shower, reported it, and they did nothing.  The account by Crews in the article contends that McQueary initially just said he had seen Sandusky with the boy in the shower and was concerned about it, but saw no molestation.  The argument put forth was that McQueary changed his story later when the scandal heated up due to pressure from law enforcement.  The problem with this is that McQueary already won a defamation law suit against Penn State because school officials claimed he had not told them initially that Sandusky was molesting the boy.  Crews also make a big deal of McQueary not remembering the exact date of the incident, because most of us can easily remember the exact dates of any major incident in our lives even years after the fact, apparently.   Let’s keep in mind that this is the second time a witness had seen Sandusky molesting a boy and years after he promised police to stop showering with underage boys.

This is all the case against Sandusky before you even get to the recovered memories.  The investigation on Sandusky officially began when he was accused by a boy and his parents of sexual abuse.  There was no recovered memory involved in this case at that point.  Even if no further accusers stepped forward this is a pretty damning case against Sandusky.  I just want to point this out before I continue.

Crews, in his article, shows a deep ignorance of sexual abuse and how victims typically behave.  If this is any indication of what you can expect from Pendergast’s book then there is no need to read it.  He attacks the victims for initially denying the abuse and continuing to have a relationship with Sandusky even though this is typical behavior for victims of sexual abuse.   At one point Crews even attacks one of the victim’s mothers, saying she was out drinking at bars while her son was with Sandusky and even includes a picture.   He writes that Allan Myers,  who claims to be the boy who McQuery saw Sandusky in the shower with, vehemently denied the allegations and defended Sandusky.  He forgets to mention that McQuery claims the boy he saw was about ten while Myers would have been fourteen at the time, leading prosecutors to doubt whether he was telling the truth.   He also forgets to mention that Myers later testified against Sandusky when he attempted to get a retrial.  The defense claimed that Myers changed his story because he got a settlement from Penn State even though he was THEIR witness.

In addition to this the article cites two “independent investigations”, one by a “conservative talk show host”, who we all know are known for their honesty.  Basically, in order to believe that Sandusky is innocent you have to believe that his showering with underage boys was just “innocent fun” and that over a dozen people are lying for various reasons, but mostly because they want money and don’t care about sending an innocent person to jail.  Oh yeah, and then there is the recovered memory business. Jerry Sandusky already had an appeal for a retrial and recovered memory was a big part part of the appeal.

Contrary to the claims of Pendergast, Crews, and Coyne,   both alleged victims and therapists of the alleged victims claimed that no recovered memory therapy was used including hypnotism.  The defense brought in an expert psychologist and her testimony was eviscerated by the prosecution.



Best Fiction I Read In 2017

I read 125 books in 2017.  A lot of those books are fiction.  Of those fiction books I gave these sixteen “five stars” on Goodreads.  What follows is a rundown of the best fiction I read in 2017.

Music In A Foreign Language by Andrew Crumey 

Crumey is a physicist turned novelist and his fiction is concerned with alternate realities and history, usually inspired by the confusing nature of quantum mechanics.    I loved his book Mobius Dick and so I picked up this, his first novel.  The novel is a metanarrative about the writing of a novel but the story within the story is about the friendship between a physicist and historian living under a dystopian dictatorship.   This book deals with the idea that the version of our lives that we live is one of infinite possible versions and we live the one we live at the expense of all the other paths that are stolen from us.

Die A Little by Megan Abbott

This is another established author’s first novel, and as such is in danger of being overlooked, but Abbott got it right the first time.  This is a twisty little pulp crime novel, set in the 50s, with feminist overtones.  Had it been written in the 50s it would have fit right in with pulp fiction at the time and its exploration of gender roles would have only been discussed later.  Having read Abbott’s later works of “feminist noir” this one feels more natural and less academic than any of them.

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee 

I already wrote a post about this book about a month ago.  However, there are some spoilers for the first half of the book in that one.  For somebody who wants to go in fresh, this brilliant book by South African novelist Coetzee details the downward spiral of a college professor who has an ill-advised affair with his teenage student.  The book is an exploration of white male privilege and its protagonist is a real jerk, but that’s largely the point.

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle  by Haruki Murakami 

The great Japanese novelist writes three kinds of novels.  The first kind are in the fantasy and science fiction genre and usually involve two or more storylines converging on each other.  (Examples:  The Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore)  The others are realist novels about loneliness, grief and loss.  (Examples:  Norwegian Wood, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, South of the Border, West of the Sun)   The third kind were the ones that I found the least appealing.  These were Kafkaesque mysteries that never get resolved and involve absurdist humor, magical realism and existential dread.  Murakami started writing with this kind of novel and his “Rat trilogy” and later Dance, Dance, Dance, which seems to be a follow up to that trilogy of novels but parts of it contradict the earlier books.  This year I became a Murakami completest in terms of his novels and short stories and I finally got what he was going for with this kind of book.  Many consider this to be Murakami’s masterpiece and he may have decided that with the fifth attempt he finally got this book right because he has never returned to this kind of book again. Anyway, its an over six hundred page novel about an unemployed man whose life spirals out of control when his cat goes missing.  You should read it!

Replay by Ken Grimwood

Technically, this is a time travel novel but it is far from conventional.  The protagonist dies of a heart attack at the age of 43 and finds himself back in college at the age of 18 with the chance to do it all over again.  He ends up caught in an endless cycle, each time dying on the same day at the age of 43 no matter what he does.  When I started this book I knew it was a huge bestseller when it was first released in the 80s and still had impassioned admirers to this day, but I figured the premise was bound to go stale by the time I reached 400 pages.  I was wrong.  Grimwood introduces a twist about a third of the way through the novel that completely reinvigorates the premise and he wrings every last bit of drama and philosophical contemplation one can get from this premise before he is through.

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin

Elgin was a linguist and had a theory that patriarchal attitudes were embedded in language, so she created Láadan, a feminist language for women.  In order to introduce her language into popular culture she write this novel, which takes place in a dystopian society that has regressed back to the idea as women as legal property of their fathers and husbands.  Did I mention there are aliens in it?  The book is odd, witty and surprisingly fun for how bleak its subject matter is.  The language never caught on but the book is still a fine work of feminist science fiction.

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

Its hard to describe this Japanese author’s “feminist noir,”  which is technically about murder but also so much more.   With four unreliable narrators and sharp satire of both Japanese capitalism and the cut throat Japanese education system, Kirino gives her account of how Japanese society turns women into “monsters.”

Girl In Landscape by Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem is a writer of great talent but he has an annoying writing tic.  When he is being clever or “hip” he feels the need to call attention to it and self-consciously remind his readers how clever and hip he is.  This has always gotten in the way of me fully enjoying his work but this is his most genuine and least self-conscious novel, a sci-fi western about homesteaders on an alien planet.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

About her novel, Kindred, Octavia Butler said that slavery was such a monstrous institution that portraying it to a modern audience realistically is too much. She suggested that the only way that you could really do it is have some kind of device like she did, in that case time travel. Whitehead takes a similar approach and he makes it work for him on the same level that it worked for Butler. His characters all feel like real people but the world they exist in is one that is fueled by metaphor to give a true since of the scars of slavery on the country.   America is about myth making and Whitehead delivers his own myth about slavery here, that nonetheless gets at a great truth.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

In October I read nothing but horror all month.  The first book I tired was this H. G. Wells classic that many consider to be his best.  They ain’t wrong.

The Troop by Nick Cutter

Despite that fact that this book has a lot of hype, I think it might actually be underrated. I think some people are afraid to give a book this sick and fucked up as high a rating as I am. This is a great example of body horror, but it also is a poignant tale of the loss of innocence, much like one of its obvious inspirations “Lord of the Flies.” I also love how it is structured with transcripts and news stories about the events, inspired by Stephen King’s Carrie.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

This book has been controversial for years.  Based on real events that occurred in Indiana in the 1950s, it is an unflinching portrayal of a teenage girl sent to live with a woman who subjects her to horrible abuse.  Many detractors of this novel label it “pornographic” but there are few graphic descriptions of violence, relying instead on implication and careful study of human psychology.  Few books have batter portrayed how human beings can rationalize the most unspeakable acts.

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

James M. Cain is known for his crime novels but his masterpiece is this book, about a divorced woman in depression era America trying to build a new life for herself.  The novel is a dark satire of American capitalism disguised as a lurid melodrama. Its also one of the few books of its time to deal with the difficulties of divorced women.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

This is William Faulkner’s most difficult novel.  It has multiple narrators, stream of consciousness, non-linear narrative and brutal Southern racism.  If you can get past all of that it is one of the most beautifully written books in the English language.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

What this book is “about” seems rather simple.  Clarissa Dalloway is a fifty year old woman throwing a party for old friends.  What Virginia Woolf delivers is a deeply philosophical meditation on the choices we make in life and how we make them.

Jane Erye by Charlotte Bronte

Some of the books on this list are already recognized classics and this is probably the most famous one of all.  Still, I never got around to reading it until this year.  As far as its story goes this is a rather simple Gothic romance, but Bronte really elevated her material with stunning writing and weighty themes.