Power, Corruption & Lies

Despite the fact that this is one of my favorite album titles of all time, and I've always been a fan of the band, I never picked up Power, Corruption & Lies until last month. I figured since I'm going to see New Order tomorrow night for the first time, I should finally pull the trigger and get it. To my mild surprise, it's now among my favorite records of all time.
New Order, like its band predecessor Joy Division, has a kind of weird album/singles release history. Joy Division often would release it's marquee singles (e.g., "Love Will Tear Us Apart") separate from and exclusive from the studio albums; the only way you can get some songs is to buy the "Substance" compilations. Likewise with New Order, many of its best known 1980's songs - "Blue Monday" and "True Faith", e.g., are available only on its "Substance" compilation.

I didn't get into album-format until I had gotten a lot older, and I didn't have a lot of money back in the day. What this translates to is that I was very content to just get the "Best Of" collections and assume that I had everything essential. Only when I started buying albums more did I realize that invariably my favorite songs wouldn't be the songs you heard on the radio (back in the day) or released as singles. Anyway, these factors contributed to my reluctance to buy any actual New Order albums prior to Substance.

Two years ago I picked up New Order's newest Music Complete, which I thought was amazing, and that led me to being very interested in seeing the band live when they came around. While looking around for set lists of the band, I noticed a lot of the songs they played were not the "hits" per se, so I figured it might be time to check out their other works.

Power, Corruption & Lies in original release form doesn't contain even one song that I would consider to be in what I'd consider to be familiar to the average listener; there aren't any easily recognizable tunes. What it does contain is probably no less than four of my all-time favorite New Order songs now. That's including such classics as "Bizarre Love Triangle" and "Temptation". Of the latter, I'd put "The Village" up there with an instantly singable, danceable love track. "Age of Consent" sounds as fresh today as it may have 35 years ago. "Your Silent Face"'s beat I could put on an endless loop track to zone out to. And the album finishes with the languishing sad but fast beating "Leave Me Alone". It's crazy-listenable.

Of note, some of the later releases of the album decided to include singles "Blue Monday" and "Thieves Like Us" -- but released around the era of the album -- to pad it and no doubt make it more marketable. I wouldn't include these powerhouse songs, personally; the album stands so strongly on its own without them. That's how good it is.


MI: Fallout

Okay, I've come to terms with being a Tom Cruise fan. My wife teases me any time I pause and watch one of his films on TV when browsing the channels, but the Mission Impossible series is incredibly rewatchable.

I went in to Mission Impossible: Fallout (number 6 in the series) with high expectations, and can honestly say I was not let down. There are several action sequences -- well I can't think of one that wasn't, actually -- that took my breath away and I laughed from the way they blew me away.

The last few MI's have featured showcase action pieces --  the Dubai tower scaling and the airplane ride from the last two -- and Fallout's is ostensibly the HALO (High Altitude Low Open) jump, where Tom himself does the work. Apparently they took 120+ takes to get the full jump.

It comes fairly early in the picture and is a lot more thrilling than the trailers lead you to believe. Shot in one single camera motion (or so it appears) from jump to landing, it's nothing short of heart-stopping.

Fallout doesn't have just one set piece, though -- it has several amazing sequences. The bathroom fight scene with Henry Cavill and Lian Yang is just jaw-dropping. The chase/breakout of Ethan Hunt's nemesis is amazing, and the helicopter scene is already legendary.

Can we talk about how Tom Cruise has become this country's Jackie Chan? No one does what Tom Cruise does. He throws himself into the work and puts his life on the line and it *works*. It's so engaging to know it's really him doing these crazy (and they are crazy) stunts -- while being impressive beyond words. This guy is freaking 56 years old. Damn.

The supporting cast is also spot-on. Ving Rhames, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg and Alec Baldwin all bring it. (Baldwin has some of the best lines, truly.) Sean Harris might be the creepiest villain in the entire series. And I think I have a thing now for Vanessa Kirby, who is just stunning and mesmerizing and pitch-perfect in a callback to the first MI.

Christopher McQuarrie has come a long way from his roots in writing the Usual Suspects to be a premier director who has his hands firmly on the pulse of the MI series.

I don't know how long Tom can keep this up, or if he'll die making MI 7, but I'll be on board for that one for sure.


The Great Train Robbery

I've been a longtime Michael Crichton fan, but I've managed to put off reading The Great Train Robbery for years for one reason or another. I've been on a MC kick of recent, rereading some of my old favorites, and decided to give this 40 year old novel another go.

I feel like such a fool. This work of historical fiction, loosely based on real events, was tough to put down. Filled with technical details involving a brilliant heist from over 150 years ago, it hums along and builds to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. I'd daresay it's amongst my favorite Crichton novels.



One of Michael Crichton's earliest entries -- from 1980 -- Congo is the book where the author cemented a formula for all subsequent thrillers. The scientist with book knowledge but not a lot of practical experience, the energetic corporate climber who will stop at nothing to achieve the goal, the wisened older Crichton surrogate to guide the younger upstarts, and of course the talking ape. The what? Yes, Amy, an ape that not only understands human speech, but is adept at using sign language to convey her thoughts and feelings.

How do all these elements come together? An company expedition to the depths of remote Congo ends in tragedy when all its members are killed. Fortunately for the home base team thousands of miles away in Houston, they had a grainy remote video running at the time of the incident. And it looks like they were all killed by gorillas.

Whatever they were looking for is lucrative enough to create a sudden high-stakes, no rules race between corporate hawks to get back to the site first. Sabotage, bribery, and murder are all in play in this breakneck novel.

This is my third reading of the book, the first in about 20 years. To my (mild) surprise, it aged quite well. I would have expected some of the trademark “cutting edge” technology to seem dated but it never felt that way. What did surprise me is how much of a page-turner this book was for me, and some parts of the book, while familiar, inspired the same sense of thrill that I got years ago. Definitely one of my favorite Crichton entries.


Dune (Extended Cut)

Had I not purchased the extended cut and actually sat down to watch it again (well, watched it through several Metro commutes on my iPhone), Dune might have enjoyed a sentimental place in my memories:  A film that was far from perfect, but was engaging science-fiction.  A lot of time has passed since I last watched the film in its entirety. and I've never seen the full "Alan Smithee" (i.e., David Lynch didn't like it) cut until now.  It turns out there was good reason for Lynch to distance himself from the long (it feels longer than 3 hours) version, but a truncated version doesn't save the film's serious flaws.

There is no getting around it: the film suffers greatly from pacing problems.  The extended version, using matte painting and a voice-over backstory, actually sets a compelling stage for the story.  Right off the bat, the first scene has the Spicing Guild telling the Emperor, offhandedly or pointedly (depending on how you interpret them beating around the bush to get to it) that a person of little interest to the Emperor should be killed.  That suggestion sets about the chain of events for the story, but after that first scene, the film grinds to a halt.  We spend the next 40 (!) minutes showing life for the this house Atreides, the Baron Harkonnen hamming it up like a mad dog, Sting preening like no one else, and foreshadowing aplenty.  If you stay awake, it's mildly interesting, but aside from the Gom Jabbar test (which is excellent), there's very little that actually happens.

After the arrival on Arrakis (aka, Dune), the film speeds up.  In fact, all remaining sequences speed up, as if a producer looked at the film to the point and said we can't afford to spend another hour in setup.  So, the Atreides' "getting to know you/inevitable countdown to betrayal" time is only 30 minutes.  Then we have lots of explosions and the death of Duncan Idaho -- Richard Jordan we hardly got to hear you chew scenery (luckily, Patrick Stewart fills in on that not nicely -- almost a characature of himself).

After the escape of Paul and his mother, in what feels like a hot second, they go from strangers in the Fremen (aka chosen people) camp to revered members.  This is a variant of the pacing problem from the other end -- a little more time and exposition would have been nice so that it doesn't feel incredibly forced that the Fremen ("who don't give their loyalty easily" as Duncan Idaho intones earlier) embrace the foreigners in a few seconds.

Pacing problems aside, the way the religious jihad angle / super-being / prophet from God tale is handled comes off as very fantastical and hasn't aged well.  Given the state of affairs on our planet these days, when the hero of the story warns that anyone who stands against them is standing against God, it's chilling and not very empathetic.  "And his word carries death eternal... to those who stand against the righteous."  Sting's famous, incredulous reply "The righteous??!" sounds a lot like what I'd say against such a person.  The way the prophet's rise is handled comes all too close to too many false ones on our own planet, promising eternal suffering for those who stand against them.  Fear is a staple of most religions, and it is distasteful in every case.  Makes me wish Sting had not just been boasting when he said "I will kill him."



There is a stereotypical male response to a female that possesses intelligence and good looks, expressed, for example as surprise: “Wow – brains and beauty.”  It’s meant to be a compliment, but really is a sexist statement implying that it is rare that a woman has intelligence at all.

Sadly, if Skyfall were a woman, it would long to hear such a sexist statement, for it is breathtakingly beautiful, but dumb as a box of hammers – to the point where one might question getting into bed with it in the first place or thinking it was all that to begin with.

It’s not that the clues aren’t present upon a first viewing of Skyfall, but its cinematography and pacing are so entertaining that one is seduced by the superficial grace at which it dances before you.  The pre-credits 13-minute chase is stunning and riveting (and the best action sequence of the film).  The Shanghai sequence in its entirety should be framed and put up on a wall, the assassination from the glassy high-rise luxurious to the eye.  Silva’s island [SPOILERS, did I mention spoilers will follow?  There will be SPOILERS from here on.] execution another impeccably framed and directed sequence.  And so on.  But the film reminds me of an interchange between Craig Sheffer (Frank) and Eric Stoltz (Joseph) talking about Craig’s former flame, from the 1994 indie film “Sleep With Me”:

Joseph: “She was so hot.  What happened?”
Frank: “When I ran out of ways to tell her she was beautiful, the relationship kinda fizzled.”
Joseph: “That’s too bad.”
Frank: (smiling, reminiscing) “But she was beautiful.”

The script and plot problems of Skyfall are numerous, and become apparent quickly in a second viewing.  Why is such a critical macguffin in a laptop in the field, with one guy watching it?  (Think about how many hoops Ethan Hunt famously had to go through to get the same list in Mission Impossible.)  Why are Bond and Eve there in the first place?  What was with that assassination in Shanghai – Bond let it happen and there was no explanation as to why it went down that way.  Why didn’t Bond just take the next elevator?  Why did Silva not even frisk Bond for his radio?  It is not like it was hidden in his shoe.  What happened to the all-important NOC list?  How could Bond not know Moneypenny’s last name?  Why did Silva need to be captured in the first place?  There are so many problems with the writing it distracts from the work.

Speaking of work, Daniel Craig’s Bond is superlative, but Javier Bardem steals the picture with every scene.  It makes you wish the writers were better to allow them more sparring.  And in the end, that’s how Skyfall leaves me, wishing there was a brain inside that gorgeous body.  I’ll sleep with it, but I won’t ever love it.


Analysis of the Special Investigative Counsel Report and the Crimes of Gerald A. Sandusky & Education Guide to the Identification and Prevention of Child Sexual Victimization

I have a vested interest in Penn State.  I attended University (main) from 1989-1994, where I received my Bachelors of Science in Industrial Engineering (which I still occasionally get to use today!).  Some of the best times of my life were spent at that University, and as anyone can tell you, I’m an ardent PSU sports fan.
So, when the events of November 2011 took place and Gerald Sandusky first was catapulted into the spotlight, I was as shocked as anyone.  And, when July rolled around and the Freeh report was released, I was stunned at the sanctions levied.  The media was united in its condemnation of the University.  The problem I had stemmed from my training in engineering – I read the fucking manual.  To wit, I, like many others (and many, many not in the media) actually read the Freeh report and found its conclusions did not match the evidence presented. 

It became an easy exercise to figure out which of the talking media heads had read the report or had not.  Even at the release of the counter-reports – the ones commissions by Paterno’s family – those same media heads could clearly be exposed for being ignorant.  Just watching Mike & Mike on February 11, my wife and I were sitting there, shaking our heads, incredulous that these public figures could talk so seriously about the scandal without clearly haven’t done any reading for themselves.  And that’s just how easy it is to separate the knowledgeable people from those who are too lazy to know, don’t care (but want to have their opinions heard), or just hate.  The more you read about the facts, the less you are inclined to acknowledge the weakness of the amateur pundits out there.

I, for one, wasn’t going to have an uninformed opinion.  So, I started with the James T. Clemente report on the Freeh Report and Gerald Sandusky.  His credentials are substantially better than anyone you’ll see on Sportscenter:

My analysis is based on my review of the SIC report, grand jury testimony, preliminary hearing testimony, the Sandusky trial transcripts, as well as articles, books, investigative reports, interviews, documents, and my education, training, experience, and expertise in the field of child sexual victimization. That expertise was developed over three decades of work and study in the field; first as a prosecutor for the New York City Law Department in the Bronx Family Court, then as a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent on the Joint FBI/NYPD Sexual Exploitation of Children Task Force, then on the MPD Cold Case and Major Crimes Task Force, followed by more than a decade as a Supervisory Special Agent on the Behavioral Analysis Unit, Crimes Against Children section in the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis for Violent Crime (NCAVC), and as an expert witness in the field of child sexual victimization.

I heartily encourage all of you to take the time to read Clemente’s incredibly eye-opening and insightful report on what really happened at Penn State.  Do it to find the truth, do it to be informed about your condemning opinion, but do it to do what the Freeh Report failed to do: understate how sexual predators, victims, and witnesses really behave. 

I admit that I stated to read the report form a perspective of gaining knowledge to right the wrongs of the Freeh Report, but I came away from it moved and saddened.  Not for the University, but for the feeling of helplessness as Clemente describes the operating behaviors of sexual “nice-guy” predators, and how it is the societal rule rather than the exception to not recognize the signs.  The children were the victims, but the whole Penn State community was a victim of Sandusky’s predatory and sinister behavior.  Clemente paints a disturbing picture that fits and explains all the pervading questions regarding the case, and clearly demonstrates that if you think that people should have known or conspired to protect Sandusky, you are perpetuating the myth of the moustache-twirling bad guy and enabling the other Sanduskys out there to keep doing what they are doing.

I have included several key passages that were particularly impactful and informative to me – the report is full of revelations about the case and predators that I was previously ignorant of.  It is an amazing read, and even incredibly compelling passages are somewhat diluted by being taken out of context.

I realize that summarizing a report for you instead of having you read the whole thing is exactly how many of you out there got into trouble in the first place – by relying on media pundits to summarize what “really happened” at Penn State, instead of you taking the time to get an informed opinion.  However, I wanted to have a record of key passages myself, for reference.  I’m just letting you in on my notes.  (Yes, I take scrupulous notes when I read something I want to remember.  I have a 160 page document of just notes about a [1000-page] reference manual a recently read.)

As with the Freeh Report, Conclusions first!

Based on my decades of experience with these exact type cases and offenders as skilled as Sandusky, it is completely understandable, and in no way blameworthy or immoral, that Paterno did not recognize Sandusky for what he truly was and do more. Years of anecdotal evidence tells us that nearly anyone in his position, even those held in the highest moral regard like Paterno, without an understanding of acquaintance child sexual victimization, would have acted in the same way. What Paterno did and didn’t do in this case is very different from what has been revealed and litigated in the past in organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, and the Catholic Church, where there was a knowing and deliberate plan to conceal the explicitly documented sex crimes of multiple offenders to preserve the name of the organization.

Given my 30 years of education, training and experience working, evaluating and assessing child sex crimes investigations around the world, it is my expert opinion that Paterno did not know, or even believe in the possibility, that Sandusky was capable of sexually assaulting boys. At worst, he believed that Sandusky was a touchy-feely guy who had boundary issues. This fact is clear from his repeated statements before he died. He did what he believed was reasonable and necessary to address the situation based on his understanding of the facts, and his position at the time. Paterno did what most people who cared about children would have done in the same situation. More than a decade later, and in hindsight, Paterno showed his concern for the victims when he stated he, “wished [he] had done more.” He also said, “If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers.”

In the end, it was the perfect storm of events that created the circumstances under which Paterno reasonably failed to recognize the severity of what McQueary was trying to suggest to him and consequently did not do more to address the issue. McQueary was overwhelmed with confusion and disbelief at what he briefly witnessed in the shower in 2001 and did not effectively communicate what he saw to Paterno. McQueary knew nothing about “nice-guy” acquaintance offenders, so he was completely thrown-off by what he saw Sandusky doing to that boy. And he knew nothing of “compliant victimization,” and therefore was further confused by the counter-intuitive way in which the boy acted when they made eye contact during the incident. Consequently, McQueary didn’t know what to do at first. He then went to his father and Dr. Dranov for advice and was directed to inform Paterno. Unfortunately, McQueary failed to use graphic sexual terms with Paterno, whom he looked up to and respected. Instead, McQueary gave a watered-down version with implied sexual behavior to Paterno who reasonably inferred borderline/non-sexual behavior from McQueary’s words.  Paterno, like everyone else who knew Sandusky, simply fell victim to effective “grooming.” As an expert behavioral analyst and based on my review of the evidence, Paterno did not believe that the information he received from McQueary amounted to Sandusky being a predatory child sex offender.

The fact that Sandusky molested a number of boys over the course of several decades has nothing to do with Penn State football or Joe Paterno. It could have happened under any head coach, of any sport, in any school or university. If the public continues to convince itself of that misperception, then they are unwittingly enabling other “nice-guy” offenders who are out there right now. In doing so, they will cancel out everything learned about acquaintance child sexual victimization during the past several decades. They will not get us closer to understanding these cases and preventing or limiting them in the future. And we, as a society, are doomed to seeing this happen over and over again, at other schools and in other settings. Unfortunately, this is the mistake that the SIC report made. There is no other way to say it: on the most critical aspects of the Sandusky investigation, the SIC report is a failure. It does a tremendous disservice to Penn State, Joe Paterno, and the victims of Jerry Sandusky.

From the Introduction:

The SIC report makes a number of errors and draws incorrect conclusions, but above all, the report ignores everything we know about how acquaintance child molestation cases differ from child abuse, and stranger and abduction-related child sex crimes. This case, therefore, is not just about Penn State football, or State College, Pennsylvania, or Joe Paterno; this case is about preferential, nice-guy, acquaintance child sex offenders and how they groom, deceive, and defraud all of us right under our noses. This case is about compliant victimization and the shame, embarrassment, and guilt that drive victim behavior. It also is about the exacerbating circumstances involved in male on male acquaintance child sex crimes.

From Section I. The SIC Mandate and Conclusions:

This report will do two things. First, it will explain in detail why each one of these [the Freeh Report’s] conclusions is wrong due to a failure to consider the behavior, facts and circumstances within the context of acquaintance child sexual victimization, a lack of evidence, a failure to consider additional evidence, and/or direct contradiction by the evidence contained in the SIC report itself. Second, it will give the reader enough background to understand what really happened, and how we can all work toward discovering other similar situations that are occurring right now in communities across this country, and preventing still others from happening in the future. 

Before going any further it is critical to note that Freeh based his report on “reasonable” conclusions. This is not a standard of proof in any legal proceeding. It is tantamount to saying that it “could” have happened that way. It is not anywhere near the standard of proof in criminal cases, which is beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not sufficient proof to meet the minimum standard necessary to win a civil lawsuit, preponderance of the evidence. It is not even based on the weakest level of proof necessary to qualify for a search or arrest warrant, probable cause, which means that it is more likely to have occurred than not. Conclusions can be “reasonable” and at the very same time they can be 100 percent wrong. This is the case in many of the most important conclusions drawn in the SIC report. In many instances, the conclusions that are drawn are not even “reasonable” in light of the evidence. 

From Section II. How the SIC Got It Wrong

Indeed, without understanding these behavioral dynamics, we will repeatedly discover other offenders, like Sandusky, who got away with it for decades, and no amount of compliance monitoring and NCAA sanctions will make a difference. That’s what the SIC report does: it ignores decades worth of research and analysis we have done trying to understand the unique behavioral dynamics of these cases. The SIC treated this case as if it were investigating a “stranger danger” or “monster predator” offender, instead of the very different and insidious “nice-guy” acquaintance offender. Simply put, in addition to the limitations of SIC’s mandate and the dearth of available facts, the SIC got it wrong because they investigated the case in the wrong way. It is a common mistake to think that all child sex offenders operate in the same way and present as horrible, evil people, but that is absolutely not true and it caused the SIC to draw erroneous conclusions.

From Section IIIB. “Nice-Guy” Acquaintance Offenders

The above passages underscore the fact that even when it comes to trained law enforcement officers, it is very difficult to determine whether a person, who everyone in the community knows and respects, is a child sex offender. Sandusky is a textbook preferential child sex offender, as well as being a textbook example of a “nice-guy” offender. However, I would put him in the top one percent of effective groomers in this country. This is based on the fact that he was so bold in his high-profile “altruistic” public persona, he founded a youth serving organization, and he was caught in the act — though cleared at the time — of what turned out to be grooming and sexually assaulting children in the showers in 1998, yet he still did the same thing in the same place again in 2001.  Sandusky was able to deceive his way out of it. He built his reputation both professionally and interpersonally over many years of hard work and sacrifice. Drive, determination, selflessness, and altruism were his calling cards. He motivated others to give millions to needy children at The Second Mile. Sandusky was lauded and celebrated for his work. He effectively groomed most of the people who came in contact with him, including child care experts, psychologists, professionals, celebrities, athletes, coaches, friends, and family. And most notably, he was approved numerous times over thirty years as both a foster parent and an adoptive parent by child care professionals.

From Section IIID. Compliant Victimization

One of the most counter-intuitive aspects of child sexual victimization investigations is embodied in the concept of compliant victimization. Children who are groomed into sexual victimization typically do not call out to be rescued or disclose when questioned about possible victimization because of a complex set of social and psychological factors, including the fact that they don’t want anyone to know what has been done to them or what acts they had to do with the offender. For some, this is because they have finally found someone (the offender) who treats them well or tells them they are special; someone who grants them entrĂ©e into a world they never had a hope of entering before. Typically, this creates a feeling of intense ambivalence on the part of the victims. On one hand, they love the offender for the things he has done for them. On the other hand, they hate the offender for the things he has done to them. That’s why the boy in the shower in 2001 kept silent even though McQueary witnessed him being groomed and assaulted by Sandusky. That’s why the nine other victims who testified, or were testified about in Sandusky’s trial, never made an immediate outcry. Even when investigators first came to some of these boys and asked them direct questions, most of them remained silent or denied anything sexual occurred. They claimed that they had not been victimized, when in fact they had. Eventually, most of them made partial or incremental disclosures, and then over time gave a full account of their victimization. It’s called the “conspiracy of silence” that surrounds child sexual victimization. It is the opposite of an “active agreement to conceal.”

From Section IIIF. How Offenders Use These Complicated Dynamics to Their Advantage

The combination of nice-guy acquaintance offending, coupled with the “conspiracy of silence” by victims and “compliant victimization,” is why Paterno did not know that Sandusky was really a child molester. It is why the entire State College community did not know. One astute mother, however, saw a behavioral change in her son and recognized it as a possible sign of victimization and reported Sandusky in 1998. She might have initially bought into Sandusky’s grooming, giving him access to her child hoping the relationship would help her son have a better life. But the behavioral changes her son exhibited after spending an evening with Sandusky triggered her intuition and she fought for her son’s protection. She is a hero. Unfortunately, the system failed her, and her son. We all want to search for the culprit who caused the system to fail. In my professional opinion, the culprit is ignorance of “nice-guy” offending.

On the 1998 incident:

One psychologist, trained in the art of deciphering offender behavior, Alycia Chambers, evaluated the boy, saw and recognized all the red flags presented by Sandusky’s behavior, but her report apparently did not receive the attention it deserved. Centre County Children and Youth Services (CYS) referred the case to counselor John Seasock, who, without reading Chamber’s report, evaluated the boy for one hour and then wrote a report concluding nothing improper took place.
That is why no one at Penn State did anything to sanction Sandusky. The University Police Department, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), and the District Attorney all closed their cases based in large part on Seasock’s report. For those who worked closely with Sandusky and knew about the 1998 incident, the closing of this investigation as unfounded was confirmation of Sandusky’s outstanding reputation and their belief that he was a devoted advocate for children. 
Though a trained child sex crimes investigator should have known to keep a close watch on Sandusky from that point forward, civilians generally revert back to the thousands of positive interactions they have had with him and validate the belief in their own minds that they knew Sandusky couldn’t have been a “monster predator.” If he had been, they tell themselves, they would have known. They would have been able to tell the difference between that kind of evil person and the affable Sandusky they knew, whom they viewed as a dedicated husband and father, who fostered and adopted dozens of children, an altruist, who founded a children’s charity, and a professional, who worked for decades as assistant football coach of one of the most successful college teams in the country.

And the notion that Paterno could have or should have known in 1998 or seen “red flags”:

Following the closing of this [1998] investigation, UPD Detective Schreffler instructed Sandusky not to shower again with any child.   This explicit advice coming from the law enforcement body responsible for policing Penn State — and not simply the head coach — should have put Sandusky on notice that his actions were being scrutinized and dissuaded him from showering with any more boys at Penn State or anywhere else. UPD apparently did nothing else with respect to Sandusky beyond issuing this “advice.” Curiously, while admonishing Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier for not doing anything after the 1998 incident, for not limiting Sandusky’s access to Penn State facilities, and for failing to protect children from sexual victimization on campus, the SIC report makes no mention at all of the UPD never following up on whether Sandusky was adhering to Detective Schreffler’s admonition not to shower again with any child, never warning the community, never warning The Second Mile, and never doing anything to monitor or limit his access to children. 
Certainly, the members of this approximately 50-man police department were better trained in the area of sex crimes and investigations than Paterno. Certainly UPD had the ultimate responsibility to police and secure all facilities on Penn State’s campus. And certainly, UPD had the ultimate responsibility to protect all persons, including children who were guests on campus. Paterno is blamed by the SIC for not instituting his own prevention program, when the very police agency that was charged with conducting, and actually conducted, the 1998 investigation, did absolutely nothing to investigate Sandusky further, to prevent him from bringing children into the showers, or to inform university staff and students about the allegations against Sandusky. That’s because Sandusky was cleared. 

Paterno didn’t know about or have access to the 98-page report that the UPD had compiled on the 1998 incident. Paterno didn’t have a team of detectives who presumably were trained to recognize sex offender behavior. Paterno’s profession had nothing at all to do with children, or sex offenders, or investigations, or recognizing the red flags of child sexual victimization. It is incorrect to assert that Paterno, even as head coach and football icon, was in a better position to keep an investigative eye on Sandusky and prevent him from offending on campus than was the UPD.

Additionally, there is no mention in the SIC report of why DPW or CYS didn’t warn The Second Mile about the 1998 allegations and investigation at the time. Nor did either of these public agencies, whose mandates include the protection of children from sexual victimization, make any effort to limit Sandusky’s access to children or to re-evaluate Sandusky’s status as a foster or adoptive parent. There is no doubt that the government agencies charged with investigating and protecting children from child sexual victimization are in a better position to decide whether to implement these types of protective measures than a football coach. Finally, the SIC report did not mention why the District Attorney’s office, which declined prosecution of Sandusky, did not direct its investigators to take any of the steps that Paterno is accused of not taking to prevent Sandusky from victimizing children. The SIC report cannot have it both ways: either the UPD, DPW, CYS, and the DA’s office also should be accused of “callous and shocking” “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims,”or the accusations against Paterno related to the 1998 incident are biased and wrong.

On McQueary’s actual testimony and conveyance to Paterno:

McQueary also testified to what he did not see or hear. He did not see the front of Sandusky or the boy until the two of them were standing three to five feet apart and were facing him. He did not see any genitalia, erection, or insertion. He did not see any fondling. He did not see any sex act. He did not hear any “protests or any verbiage.”

…However, when McQueary finally testified, he admitted that he never actually saw anal penetration, intercourse, or any other type of sexual act. And McQueary has consistently testified that he did not tell Paterno any graphic details, so it is highly probable that McQueary did not tell Paterno anything that would have led Paterno to believe that Sandusky was sexually assaulting the boy in the shower.

…Though this was out of respect, McQueary could not have done Paterno more of a disservice. In fact, the reason McQueary didn’t want to use sexual terms with Paterno was the very reason why he needed to. Paterno was known as a prude who was uncomfortable talking about sex. Implying a sex act was not enough to undermine Paterno’s years of interactions with Sandusky and Sandusky’s image as a pillar of the community. McQueary needed to be direct, explicit, and comprehensive in his description. If McQueary had simply said to Paterno, “I saw Sandusky having sex with a boy,” then at least Paterno would have known what McQueary meant. Paterno may still have had trouble believing McQueary, but he would at least have been aware of what McQueary was saying. Instead, McQueary used general terms about the rough positioning of Sandusky and the boy, using implications, which were easily misinterpreted.  McQueary, at various times testified that when communicating to Paterno he used the phrases “extremely sexual,” “sexual in nature”and “way over the line.” These are examples of the kind of specific language that should not be taken as exact when recounted a decade later.

Nonetheless, even if McQueary did use phrases like, “extremely sexual,” “sexual in nature,” and “way over the line,” or some other variation on this theme, the inclusion of these phrases, while at first may appear to raise the severity of the allegation, actually detract from the probability that McQueary had effectively communicated what he believed he saw. That is, Sandusky having sex with a boy. These phrases would be unnecessary if McQueary had said or even effectively insinuated that Sandusky was having sex with the boy. If you tell someone you witnessed sex, you do not need to add that sex is “extremely sexual” or “sexual in nature.” If you tell someone you witnessed a 57-year-old man having sex with a 12-year-old boy, there is no reason to add that it was “way over the line.”

On McQueary’s reaction:

Possibly hearing the noise of the locker, when McQueary looked back into the shower, Sandusky and the boy had separated and both were looking directly at McQueary. McQueary claims that he never saw any genitalia or erections. Even if you believe his later account that he slammed his locker shut, and that is what separated Sandusky and the boy, McQueary did nothing more. He ran away.  This is a remarkable admission by McQueary; and, it is one of the facts that gives us the most insight into McQueary’s behavior and his subsequent actions and inactions. Consider for a moment what we know about McQueary. 

In 1997, less than four years prior, Mike McQueary started as quarterback in all 12 games for Penn State. He was a team captain. In Penn State’s six home games, McQueary played in front of an average crowd of 96,000 while hundreds of thousands more watched the games on national television. As a quarterback, McQueary was responsible for not only knowing his own assignments and his different options, but the assignments and options of his ten other teammates. Furthermore, during every play, McQueary had to read and anticipate the movements of all eleven defenders, many of whom were McQueary’s size or larger and some were faster and stronger. Most of the time these defenders were trying to confuse McQueary and force him into mistakes or crush him. In the two to four seconds between the snap of the ball and the need for decisive action, McQueary had to assess the positions of all other players and avoid the rush of the defenders determined to take McQueary to the turf. McQueary repeated this exercise thousands of times in practice and games throughout his high school and college career.

So, what would cause a 26-year-old man, who was 6’4”, over two hundred pounds, and had excelled in one of the most pressurized, scrutinized, action-oriented positions on the field to not act? Some believe that he wanted to save the name of Penn State football and so he decided to forget what he saw and walk away rather than to act to save the boy or restrain Sandusky. However, if this were true, he would not have attempted to tell five other people about what he saw and he would not have been so upset while he was trying to do so. 

In my experience the reasonable conclusion is that he was so overwhelmed by what he saw that he was paralyzed with confusion and disbelief. He did not understand how a man he knew and respected could possibly be doing something like that to a boy. He could not understand why the boy was not screaming out in pain or protest, or fighting to free himself. He could not understand why, when faced with a potential rescuer (McQueary), the boy did not even ask for help. He could not understand how Sandusky could just stare at him with a blank expression only seconds after he was apparently sexually assaulting a boy. And he did not understand how any of this could have happened in his own football locker room. Quite simply, in McQueary’s mind, it did not compute.

On the reaction of the “conspirators” to McQueary’s information:

What we do know from Paterno’s recounting of events and his later shock and surprise when he finally read McQueary’s statements in the presentment the week of November 7, 2011, was that Paterno did not have any idea that McQueary was trying to tell him that Sandusky was sodomizing the boy or even sexually assaulting the boy. When asked by an investigator if McQueary said there was a sexual act, Paterno responded, “He never said that.”When Paterno finally read the presentment, he asked his son what the word “sodomy” meant.  After his son explained it to him, Paterno asked, “Can a man even do that to a boy?”  Nonetheless, as Paterno explained, if he had been told that Sandusky was raping a boy, or having sex with a boy in the shower, he “would have gone to the police right then and there, no questions asked.”

Is it reasonable to believe that five responsible adult men to whom McQueary reported the 2001 Sandusky shower incident, understood what McQueary was implying, and still did not feel the need to call the police? Is it reasonable to believe that they all turned a blind eye to the sexual victimization of a child? In my opinion, based on investigating, consulting on, and studying thousands of similar cases, it is more reasonable to conclude that these five men did not understand the true nature of Sandusky’s actions because McQueary did not convey what he thought he had conveyed to them. That’s because McQueary relied on implication, and deliberately did not use explicit or graphic terms in describing what he thought he witnessed in the shower. 

The fact that none of the people to whom McQueary reported his observations took any steps to notify the police, is a strong behavioral indicator that none of them believed at the time that such action was called for based on what McQueary had told them. All of them also knew that McQueary himself did not call the police. McQueary did not convey to John McQueary, Dr. Dranov, Paterno, Curley, or Schultz what he thought he had conveyed. Hence, the people to whom he reported the incident responded to what they gleaned from his disclosure, not to what was hidden in his mind. The fact that the accounts of all of these men are fairly consistent with each other on the non-sexual nature of what McQueary actually reported to them, is strong corroboration for the accuracy of their accounts and that assessment.

On the mistaken belief that someone had to know:

Most people in the general public believe that close colleagues, nice guys, altruistic people, dedicated professionals, good fathers, child advocates, people who love children, cannot at the same time be child sex offenders. But this belief is not true at all. A large percentage of child sex crimes victims are victimized by teachers, priests, boy scout leaders, mechanics, trainers, psychologists, doctors, reporters, actors, anchormen, camp counselors, coaches, police officers, and even FBI agents who are well thought of in the community. They are “good people” who work hard, pay their taxes, raise families, go to church, act normal, but they all hide very dark secrets. 

There also is a common misperception in the public that someone had to have known what Sandusky was up to all of those years: The coaches and others at Penn State must have known and covered for him. After all, molesters are different from the rest of us. Because they have such evil thoughts on the inside, they must be weird, quirky, or “off” on the outside. We assume that people close to the offender probably knew something was wrong and suspected something but chose to ignore it. People must have seen the red flags but kept quiet because he was Jerry Sandusky. This could not be further from the truth.

On the belief that people can immediately and quickly identify red flags of “nice guy” perpetrators:

The false belief that those who knew Sandusky understood and covered up his offending is rebutted by more than just the experiences and testimony of his friends and former colleagues. Consider the testimony of Joe Miller. At the time of Sandusky’s trial, Miller worked for the Chambers Environmental Group in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and on the side he coached wrestling at an elementary school. But he was well aware of Sandusky’s reputation in the community. Miller testified for the prosecution at Sandusky’s trial to corroborate the testimony of Victim 1. According to Miller, in 2006 or 2007, Miller was driving home from school after practice. His son had left his wrestling gear at school, so Miller went back to get it. When Miller returned, he noticed that a light was on in the weight room. Here is Miller’s description of what happened next: 

[S]o I went in there to turn the light off. And the light switch was to my right, and I heard something when I went to turn the light off. And before I turned the light off, I turned to my left and I saw Jerry and [Victim 1] all the way in the back far corner beneath the rock-climbing wall on a small, little exercise mat, and they were laying there fact-to-face, side-to-side — or face-to-face on their sides. And by the time I turned and looked, Jerry propped himself up on one arm and looked at me and said, “Hey, Coach, [Victim 1] and I are just working on some wrestling moves.” 

And I didn’t think really a whole lot of it because I’ve seen Jerry with him a number of times and I looked at Jerry as, you know, sort of a father figure to [Victim 1]. So I said, “Okay, Jerry, no problem. Just make sure you turn the light off and secure the door before you leave.”

On the ride home, Miller started to think about it. He thought it was kind of “peculiar” that Sandusky would be working on wrestling moves late in the evening on a small mat in the back corner of the weight room when there was a whole wrestling room right next door. The wrestling move Sandusky was supposedly showing Victim 1 was unlike any wrestling move Miller was familiar with. Moreover, to Miller’s knowledge, Sandusky did not know anything about wrestling. As these thoughts passed through his mind, he reached this conclusion: 

“Well, it’s Jerry, Jerry Sandusky. He’s a saint, you know. What he’s doing with these kids, it’s fantastic, you know.” I didn’t think anything of it. 

Joe Miller has a son the same age as Victim 1 and who was in the same grade at the same school. He also has a son two years younger than Victim 1. Miller is a responsible, concerned father who cares about his own sons, as well as the other young boys he coaches in wrestling. Miller witnessed Sandusky in the process of grooming, and the beginning of a sexual assault as Victim 1 later testified. Yet, Miller, like everyone else, looked right past it. He missed it not because of the culture of football, or fear of bad press, or indifference to the safety of children, but because of ignorance regarding “nice-guy” acquaintance offenders.

On what Paterno did what he did and no more:

As an expert in the field of child sexual victimization, I firmly believe that there is another far more reasonable explanation for Joe Paterno’s behavior than the one proffered by the SIC report: (1) McQueary did not convey to Paterno that he thought Sandusky was having sex with the boy, and (2) Paterno could not make the huge leap from the watered-down, sketchy description and superficial information McQueary told him to the realization that Sandusky was actually a child sex offender. 
Paterno simply could not reconcile what he knew of Jerry Sandusky with the thought that Sandusky was a huge fraud and a child sex offender. The man Paterno thought he knew through thousands of interactions over decades working with him as a brilliant defensive coach, a loving husband and father, a devoutly religious man, a mentor to disadvantaged kids, an altruist, a teetotaler who looked down on those who drank alcohol, a selfless advocate for disenfranchised youth, a long time colleague, a compassionate advocate for players, and a “goofy” prankster, could not possibly be a “monster predator.” This man could not possibly have pulled the wool over Paterno’s eyes for decades. He could not have fooled so many coaches, athletes, administrators, contributors, social services workers, psychologists, children, friends, and family. After all, if Sandusky had actually been victimizing children, where were all the victims that he took advantage of? Why hadn’t any of them come forward? In fact, in all the years that Sandusky was molesting boys, not one of them came forward to make an allegation of sexual assault against Sandusky until Victim 1 did at the prodding of his mother and counselor in 2008. To Paterno, what McQueary was ineptly suggesting must have all seemed like a huge misunderstanding. Nonetheless, McQueary seemed very upset about what he’d seen. So, in spite of all his reasonable doubts, Paterno reported what he learned up the chain of command in hopes that those more qualified than him would know how to handle the situation and “get to the bottom of it.”

Paterno then stepped out of the decision-making process and may or may not have been kept abreast of how the administration handled the situation. However, according to McQueary, in the few months after McQueary’s report, Paterno checked up on McQueary a couple of times asking him if he was “okay.” In other words, Paterno presented McQueary at least two opportunities over the next few months — after time had passed and McQueary’s emotions had subsided — to tell Paterno the explicit details of what he had seen or express displeasure with how the matter was being handled. Despite these opportunities, McQueary remained silent.

On Paterno Not Part Of Any “Active Agreement To Conceal”:

In this case, there are no emails or other electronic communications written by Joe Paterno to any conspirators. There are no emails or other electronic communications written by any conspirators to Joe Paterno. There are no documents that purport to lay out any instructions by Paterno in furtherance of any conspiracy. There are no audio or video recordings of Paterno engaging in any conversations about, or acts in furtherance of, any conspiracy. There are no witnesses who report that Paterno was actively involved in a conspiracy. And, there are no coconspirators who claim that they conspired together with Paterno. In short, there is absolutely no evidence at all that Paterno actively participated in an agreement to conceal… Without such evidence, it is simply wrong to accuse a person of such a criminal act.

All available evidence also suggests that Paterno did not (1) dissuade McQueary from believing what he saw Sandusky doing in the locker room, (2) persuade McQueary to forget what he saw, (3) ask McQueary who else he had told, (4) tell McQueary to keep what he saw a secret, (5) filter, shape, or edit what McQueary told the Penn State administration about what he saw, (6) attend the administration’s interview of McQueary, (7) debrief McQueary about what he had recounted to the administration, (8) participate in the administration’s investigation of the events that McQueary reported, (9) dissuade the administration from thoroughly investigating what McQueary reported, (10) make any attempt to hide what the administration found during their investigation of what McQueary reported, (11) make any attempt to prevent the administration from acting as it deemed appropriate as a result of their investigation into what McQueary reported, or (12) limit or shape what the administration reported to The Second Mile.

In the United States we enjoy the presumption of innocence. If an investigation finds no evidence to prove a crime, you must not make leaps of faith and jump to conclusions to find participation in that “crime.” For all the above stated reasons, it is erroneous to attempt to tie Paterno, using innuendo and conjecture, into any agreement to conceal as the SIC claims. 

On the actions of Curley, Spanier, Schultz:

Curley then goes on to lay out in great detail a scripted version of what he planned to say to Sandusky when he met with him. Included in that version is a detailed discussion of under which circumstances he will notify The Second Mile and maybe notify DPW [Department of Public Welfare] and under which circumstances he will notify both. Therefore, the notifications of DPW plans devised on 2/12/01 were the same as those recounted in the 2/27/01 email. Hence, there was no change in plans instigated by Paterno. He was not an intervening cause in any change of plans because the evidence shows there was no change of plans with regard to conditionally notifying the DPW. Therefore, there was no conspiracy or any agreement to conceal.

At the time, everyone still believed that Sandusky was a respected member of the community. This is why Schultz called this plan “more humane and upfront.” It wasn’t because he was indifferent to child victims; it was because he had no idea that there were any child victims. It was humane because it contemplated not going behind Sandusky’s back with embarrassing information, and it was upfront because it contemplated telling Sandusky the whole truth. Apparently, their earlier discussions, which were only briefly summarized by Schultz in the 2/25 note and the 2/26 email, must have contemplated only talking to Sandusky about the appropriate use of the facilities.

…They never even contemplated that Sandusky might have been committing sex crimes against boys, which is why they never even discussed the issue or discussed going to the police. 
Either way, informing The Second Mile is clearly not keeping the information in-house or concealing information. The Second Mile was an independent child care agency/charity founded by Sandusky but run by a board and a CEO. It is also the most likely place where Sandusky obtained access to the child in question. Accordingly, The Second Mile is precisely the organization that was in the best position to identify that child. And, because its CEO, Jack Raykovitz, was a licensed psychologist, he was a mandated reporter of any sexual victimization allegations regarding any children within his professional or institutional care. 

…It is clear from the notes and emails beginning on 2/12/01 through 2/28/01 that Curley, Schultz, and Spanier are trying to develop and execute a plan to make their former colleague understand and accept that he has a problem, which they naively believed professional help would resolve. There is no indication in any of these documents or in their behavior that these men had any idea of the actual nature and extent of Sandusky’s “problem” or that he had long ago progressed to being a child sex offender.

Other errors and erroneous conclusions of the Freeh Report:

The SIC concludes that there was “[a] culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.  It is only because the SIC report lacks an understanding of the dynamics of acquaintance child sexual victimization that it has misconstrued the behavior of the individuals involved and blamed Sandusky’s ability to hide and continue his offending on the “culture of reverence for the football program.” If the writers of the SIC report had fully understood those dynamics, they would not have been searching for reasons why Paterno and others did not recognize Sandusky’s offending behavior for what it was.

According to the SIC, “At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building.” This is a baseless suggestion. Paterno would have made himself vulnerable to a defamation lawsuit or other action if he had spread rumors about Sandusky after he was cleared of wrongdoing in this matter. Those at Penn State who knew about the 1998 investigation would have had no reason to suspect that this was not an isolated incident that would never be repeated because Sandusky had been admonished not to shower again with any child by the UPD.

According to the SIC, Paterno’s “failure to protect the February 9, 2001 child victim or make attempts to identify him, created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him.”  Paterno had no way of knowing that Sandusky had any victims. Sandusky had been cleared in 1998 and he did not know McQueary was trying to tell him that he thought Sandusky was actually having sex with the boy in the shower in 2001.  Additionally, with respect to making attempts at identifying the victim in 2001, the plans that Curley may have talked over with Paterno included notifying the chair of The Second Mile. Paterno had known and worked with Sandusky for over 30 years by this time and he was well aware that Sandusky often brought The Second Mile children to Penn State and elsewhere. Had Paterno been told any details of Curley’s plans, Paterno would have had every reason to believe that by informing The Second Mile of what Sandusky was seen doing with a boy in the shower, The Second Mile would easily be able to identify that child and investigate what if anything happened to him that day. To say that he did nothing to identify that child or protect him or other boys from victimization is simply inaccurate.


The Avengers

First reactions aren’t always the most reliable.  About half-way through The Avengers, I felt like it was a serviceable action film, but I got stuck being disappointed with the plot.  Yes, it is a ‘superhero’ film, but recent entries into that genre have raised the bar.  I think my expectations were a little higher, given my familiarity with Joss Whedon’s work.  I kept waiting to be impressed.  I’m still waiting.

The Avengers was a fun film, almost breezy if it were not for the death of a significant character (more on that below), with several notable laugh-out-loud moments interspersed with tons of action.  The dialogue is really a high point in the movie, which is no real surprise given the script was written by the director.  That dialogue was constructed around a comics-simple plot.  It’s a film that is appropriate and unchallenging for its target audience: children.

So, how do I feel about The Avengers?  Perhaps I’ve become spoiled by superhero films with more depth, but I found The Avengers to be a very entertaining movie, but nothing I’d hold up as an example of excellent cinema.  The Dark Knight, Iron Man (1), and The Incredible Hulk are superior examples of what happens when you add story and gravitas to characters running around in suits.

Now on to *spoiler* elements…

I was impressed by the use of the Black Widow.  Not normally associated with the higher ranks of costumed heroes, the Widow carries her own and then some.  I didn’t clock it, but I’d suspect she has as much screen time as Iron Man or Captain America.  She definitely made the biggest impression, and might have had one of the few development arcs allowed in this film.

The Hulk was the scene-stealer of the film, certainly in the last third.  His trashing of Loki and arbitrary left on Thor were moments of genuine brilliance.  I think the film was worth it just for those two scenes.

But in that same brilliance was the arbitrary trashing of New York City.  The Avengers was epically epic, fighting to save the world, etc., etc., but where do you even go from there?  I’m not so concerned about the sequel, which I might imagine could be a more intimate film since it will be tough to top the destruction in this film.  And do you want to even top it?  Explosions, billions of dollars of damage, the US economy will not recover too quickly from the bill paid against an intergalactic foe.

Of course, when you have a SHIELD helicarrier, I guess you have some adequate financing.  I still can’t quite wrap my head around the plot that Loki “hatched”.  The characters come to the conclusion (after the Black Widow “tricks” him into revealing his motive for being captured) that he is there to induce the Hulk into a rampage and trash all his enemies while his Barton-led team sabotages the helicarrier.  Well, why does Loki need to be there to make this all happen in the first place?  Couldn’t he have done that remotely?  I’m probably overthinking it, but as I’ve said, I’m accustomed to having plots make sense.

Loki was probably there in order to execute the death of Agent Coulson, which in the Whedon world, is a necessary element into forging a team.  I genuinely did not want Coulson to die.  (You could sacrifice Nick Fury in a heartbeat.  Sam Jackson kinda mailed this one in.)  He was portrayed as a likeable, dry everyman by Clark Gregg, and I think the series and the Marvel universe will miss him badly for it.  He had a great exit, though, have to admit it.  And this is the comics universe – characters don’t stay dead for long.
So, what to think of it?  I will have to watch it on repeated viewings to really assess.  The two kids next to me (6-8 years old) fell asleep half way through, so I don’t think I’m way off here if that’s any indication.  Solid B or B+ on a grading scale.


All-Star Superman

With a mythic weight to it that feels epic, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman exceeded expectations.  I didn't know if I was going to be a fan of the artwork, but I've subsequently picked up other comics of Quitely's.  His art careens somewhere between sculpted beauty and the grotesque.

The series opens up with a space mission to the sun that goes awry (thanks to uber-villain Lex Luthor).  Superman, naturally, saves the day, but not before absorbing lethal amounts of solar energy.  It makes him stronger and more powerful than ever, and it will kill him.

Superman, his mortality virtually assured, proceeds to make a living will and resolve some of the things he's put off for so long.  From his engagements with Lois and Jimmy, to final confrontation with Luthor and Bizarro, the story feels urgent.  What it is to be Superman is translated directly for several of the characters, and the results are at times charming and grounding.

I haven't checked out the animated film, but that might be on my list.  The graphic novel series, however, is moving and a keeper in my collection.

(Kindle Fire version -- always handy!)