Some geopolitical education

When we have a situation like that in Crimea, or as we have had on the Korean peninsula in recent years, I hear a lot of highly uneducated questions. I hesitate to call them ‘dumb’ ones, because after much shaking my head, I came to realize the many Americans’ understanding of geopolitics is as flawed as their understanding of history and geography (and the former is probably a function of the latter two). What is also flawed, and grievously: an understanding of the military science that underlies the military balance that underlies each geopolitical situation.

In short, a bunch of people blop about asking “Can we win a war with Russia?” without realizing how incomplete, oversimplified, and thus nonsensical the question is.

Hear me, please. Here is a question as pointless and incomplete: can the Washington Huskies beat the Washington State Cougars in football next November?

Ah, one might say, but we have some measurables there. It’s in Pullman. We know who’s returning for each team. UW has the historical edge. And I would rejoin: yes, one may speculate very generally, bearing in mind that we do not know how UW’s new coach will do, which key players for either side will be injured or emerge from obscurity, how the other 11-12 games will have gone and what impact they will have had, or even what the weather will be like. And because of all those variables, which we can not quantify, any ‘analysis’ by us is flawed. In the week before the game, when we quantify those variables, it will be less flawed.

And even then, things can go crazy. Mike Leach could get arrested for piracy. Chris Petersen could decide that if having to answer questions responsively is the price of major conference coaching, he’d rather coach at Nevada. College football could unionize. The National Conspiracy Against Athletes could, and probably will, do something stupid and petty that only benefits the money machine. It could snow four feet. A Palouse version of Cliven Bundy could have a militia confrontation.

“Can we win a war with Russia?” is on a par with predicting that football game seven months hence.

Okay, so let us supply some facts in overall reference to geopolitics and military science that might get us closer to an educated assessment.

Most Americans’ grasp of military science seems to cling to World War II thinking. You can tell that any time someone says ‘he had to fight in the front lines.’ Such thinking is outdated. Technology has blurred those front lines tremendously. Drones are flown from US domestic airbases. Cruise missiles deliver artillery from submarines. Heliborne operations and guerrilla warfare mean that much or all of a theater of combat may be a threat zone. ‘Front lines’ do not mean the simplified thing grandpa experienced.

It is impossible for the United States to raise a WWII-size military with remotely modern equipment.

  • For one thing, it’s too expensive, and if you think our defense contractors will sacrifice profit as a noble gesture to defend their beloved country and ease the burden on taxpayers, you need to go to rehab. A WWII Sherman cost about $50K in 1940s dollars, and enabled five guys to wage war. One might guess that to amount to about $700K now…if we proposed to build Shermans. We wouldn’t. We’d be building M1 Abrams, costing about $4.3M a pop. And that’s just one bit of the equipment needed to put that costly weapon into the field and support its mission. Our WWII ground forces went into action on foot or in trucks or halftracks. Infantry of today that has the speed to keep up with the modern battlefield pace rides in armored personnel carriers that run about $3.1M as well, carrying one rifle squad.
  • Some rough math gives me about 600 squads in an infantry division, each needing a $3.1M ride unless it’s meant to walk. It takes roughly 300 of those M1s to equip a armored division. And bear in mind, that does not consider the time it takes to build such complicated equipment, nor potential wartime shortages of key materials. That does not consider rifles, supporting artillery, helicopters, signal equipment, ammunition, everything it takes to equip a modern division of roughly 17,000 men and women.
  • Today I think we have about six active divisions, maybe eight in reserve. In WWII we had something like seventy. Of course, today’s division has far, far more firepower, but it can still only defend so much ground. But I trust I’m getting through to you about the tremendously higher cost.
  • And that doesn’t consider ongoing ammunition costs, much less the cost of combat aircraft, which can exceed $200M for a single multirole fighter. Nor is it all just the cost of a plane; there is the whole logistical tail required to keep that plane fighting.
  • We also have a navy, that lives in the weapon (that hasn’t changed). But its weapons are far more destructive; that has. A single surface-to-surface missile, or torpedo, has potential to sink a $3.3B destroyer. The weapon takes a long time to build. Its crew are highly skilled and take a very long time to train.

Perhaps you now begin to grasp the magnitude of costs involved in a fully national war effort for our lives/freedom/corporate profits/whatever you consider at stake.

For another, we’d need a draft. We’re too fat to draft. In the Vietnam era, guys went to Canada. Today all they’d have to do is eat more McDonalds. The Golden Arches: draft evasion for the new millennium. The military would either have to skip them, or set up fat camps, or develop special fat units that can handle domestic responsibilities without having to meet weight standards. I don’t see the latter two happening.

For yet another, a private soldier’s training today takes much longer. His or her weapons are much more sophisticated (and expensive). His or her death or disablement will cost the military a great deal in terms of lost training value, setting aside considerations of simple tragedy. But modern war tends to happen very quickly. No enemy would fool around for a year or two while we get our full battle rattle on.

I trust you are satisfied that our modern situation is radically different from past wars on which many of us still base assumptions. The hypothetical WWIII, NATO vs. Warsaw Pact with the WTO as aggressor, was expected to last from two weeks to two months–barely enough time to equip and deploy existing reserves to the theater. There will not be another WWII, and it’s foolish to think in those terms.

Now let’s talk about the wars we might fight. We might fight a full-scale nuclear war, for example. Once. It would have the virtue, I suppose, of obviating all need for future defense spending. We might fight a limited nuclear war, if anyone imagines that remotely likely (I don’t). We might fight a brushfire war; say, assisting Ukraine or Finland against a Russian invasion, or helping to defend the Republic of Korea. We might fight a brief conventional war followed by an ongoing and agonizing guerrilla struggle; we have painful recent experience of this, teaching us that in the main, we aren’t equipped for it.

So let’s imagine a brushfire war. Back in the 1930s, a fellow named Seversky published a book on air power. Not everyone fully got what he was saying, but here’s the gist: if you can achieve and hold air superiority in a theater, you win the land war. In conventional warfare, he was right then and he’s even righter now. So when you look at this brushfire war, you must, to be realistic, look at what air power can be deployed to it. That is largely a function of airbases. In Ukraine, the theater is within easy range of the majority of Russian air power, which has always been quite capable. While we might deploy enough air power to match it, it is harder for us to deploy enough to overwhelm it–and to do so, we would have to strike targets in Russian territory. What happens then?

In the Korean War, we could hold air superiority if not air supremacy, mostly because the Chinese air arm couldn’t beat ours–but it could base in China, which we were not eager to strike. Imagine a Second Korean War. If you think about it, all hinges on China, because this isn’t your grandpa’s China. If China intervenes, we lose. If China stays out, we probably win. Last time, China came in when we got too close to its border. We’d have to expect a similar situation this time, and either have to restrain ourselves or prepare to place all our gains at risk–because this time, China would not leave that border irritant as a future threat.

Notice the key factor? Homefield advantage. The farther from US territory we deploy, the more we must rely upon nearby allies and their willingness to participate, if in no other way than permitting overflight. It gets very complicated. To defend Finland, for example, we could likely not overfly Sweden–but the Russians might, and one could expect the Swedes to resist them. Bases would be in Norway or Germany, most likely. How would we land there? Could we get sea transport across the Baltic in wartime? How would Norway play a role, it having a border with both Finland and Russia? None of these questions exist if we are defending, say, Florida. Or invading Cuba, though I’m pretty sure even our leaders are not that stupid.

Then there’s the conventional-followed-by-eternal-guerrilla-warfare version, like Iraq II and Afghanistan. Defense contractors love these, because they chew up a steady flow of spendy equipment and ammunition that must be replaced; for them, it’s like milking a cow. For militaries and taxpayers, it is like being sucked on by dozens of leeches. Fatigue sets in. Everyone gets some combat experience, but the cost of turning a soldier into a survivor changes him or her forever. For the next fifty years, society must reap that result. If we intervened in Syria, it is probable we would face this sort of war: we could crush the Syrian conventional military, most likely, but eventually both sides would agree on wanting us out, and we’d end up fighting the people we just helped. It happened in Afghanistan, when we failed to look at the Soviet experience there.

Okay. So what is really wrong with “Can we win a war with Russia?” Let’s count the ways:

  • It doesn’t specify the intensity of the war. Nuclear? Conventional? Chemical? Might it require full national mobilization, as if that were even plausible today?
  • It doesn’t specify the location of the war, nor how one imagines it might be confined there. A war against Liechtenstein can probably be confined to Liechtenstein. Russia spans something like half the time zones on earth. Sarah Palin can see it from Wasilla.
  • It doesn’t specify the aims of the war, nor how one proposes to hold onto those once achieved, when we live happen to live here and they live there.
  • It probably doesn’t even know the basic geography. Hint: if you can’t name two of Ukraine’s non-Russian neighbors without effort, or refuse to consult a map, your opinion is based on nothing because you don’t even know where the flashpoint is.

Ah, some might say, but all our soldiers are heroes, and ours is the greatest, strongest, toughest, most fantastic military on Earth! The only reason we don’t conquer the world is because we are also the noblest! We can beat anyone!

Okay. You’re not going to like this, but I guess you need to hear it.

  • Some of our soldiers rape each other and torture enemy captives. That’s not heroic. It’s just a function of the evil in mankind that comes out when mankind has power. We are human, and war brings out both nobility and evil.
  • Even imagining ours is a mighty military, there isn’t that much of it. If you think it could conquer China as it is, then you need to go to rehab. We could destroy China, at the cost of our own destruction, but we can’t conquer it.
  • No, the only reason we don’t conquer the world is because not only can we not, it would be stupid of us. If we thought it were advantageous, and we could, we would. It isn’t and we can’t. It’s beyond our interests and capacity.
  • If we can beat anyone, why are we leaving Iraq and Afghanistan with stalemates and propped-up governments that will not long survive the removal of the props? Why didn’t they just fall on their knees and praise Allah that they would now have democracy, which guarantees earthly paradise?

The reality is that our military is not all-powerful, nor always noble. It’s composed of real men and women, led by the same. It can be sent into unrealistic situations by dumb politicians. Its leaders, who do know which countries border Ukraine, can make mistakes. Our military is formidable, but before we commit it to war and put it at risk, we need to understand a given situation and have attainable goals. “Well, we had to do something” is not understanding, nor is it a goal.

So. With that in mind, now that I’ve told you that most of you have no idea what you’re talking about when you contemplate intervention in Ukraine, or what it would mean to just invade North Korea and make Kim get a decent haircut, how do you learn what you’re talking about? How do you educate your opinion?

  • Get a map, and look at some population figures. How big is the population of each country? Population isn’t a perfect guide to strength, but quantity does have a quality all its own.
  • Figure out what most of the people involved probably want. Most Iraqis didn’t want an American puppet government. They would rather have an Iraqi government, even a bad one.
  • Of countries involved, assess their stomach for conflict and how it might affect their interests. How badly do most Ukrainians even want to be independent of Russia? Would Belarus care? Would German troops, or Polish, dare join in, given that it wouldn’t be either’s first time in Russian memory, and the ghosts that would stir? Would either country even consider it? What of Turkey, a NATO ally with two Russian frontiers, one land (in effect…unless you believe Georgia could really stand in the way) and one sea? (Sea is a frontier in modern warfare. Oh, how it is. And the air is the eternal frontier of every theater of war.)
  • Ask what the participants would have to gain. Sometimes it’s popular approval, such as the historic motivation for Russia to feel protective of Serbia. Sometimes it’s resources. Sometimes it’s ‘fight them here now or fight them later on our own ground.’ Sometimes it’s an American bribe, or the fear of American commercial wrath.
  • Get an idea of relative military strengths available to all potential participants. The whole Russian military, which must watch the single longest land border of any nation on earth, can’t go. How much of it can? How quickly could reserves be mobilized?
  • How sane are the leaders? If you’re dealing with Kim, of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, well, is it sane to rattle the nuclear saber every time one wants a little attention? What of leaders who don’t care how many of their own people they lose? Not everyone thinks the way we expect our own leaders to think.

When you examine all those factors, you educate your opinion. About Iran, Ukraine, Finland, Korea, anywhere.

And when you do, you understand that the question is never as simple as “Can we win a war with Russia?”

Asatru: the reality

This post addresses religion as well as a social issue. If religion is not your cup of tea, then it may not be your favorite post on the ‘Lancer. For those who stick around to the end, you will see why I had to write it.

On Sunday, April 13, 2014, a rabid anti-Semite from Missouri named Frazier Glenn Cross allegedly committed lethal violence at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish assisted living home in Kansas City, Kansas. Reminding us that bigots usually aren’t too bright, the killer couldn’t even commit a gutless hate crime against defenseless people according to intentions. So happens that the three murder victims were all Christians.

That’s kind of like if Cliven Bundy had fired on the BLM, but through poor aim, killed a couple of sagebrush and a Steller’s jay.

That was bad enough. Then CNN got into the act, focusing on Cross’s ties to the Ku Klux Klan, the ‘White Patriot Party,’ and Odinism. Odinism might best be described as a subset of Asatru, the modern incarnation of the pre-Christian heathen beliefs of the ancient Germanic peoples (Norse, Goths, Suevii, etc.). I happen to be Asatru, so that randomly flung grenade sent shrapnel my direction, and I didn’t like it. It was careless and ignorant–but I know why it happened. The primary reason, which is that CNN is sloppy, lousy and sensationalistic, is becoming evident enough to most people that I don’t see a need to belabor that.

Some ass was chewed, and CNN presented another viewpoint–without, of course, demonstrating integrity by openly admitting that it had thrown a grenade blindfolded. This piece was by an Asatruar, and it presented an extended version of what I call the Standard Heathen ‘We Aren’t Nazis or Racists’ Disclaimer. You will find it on nearly every webpage associated with Asatru. You even get it from some representatives of some Asatru groups whether you ask about it or not, as one of their first points of description/explanation. When it is presented pre-emptively, one may fairly say they are touchy about it. It seems to anticipate the first question as: “Are you Nazis?”

Maybe that usually is the first question. I don’t know. No one ever asks me if I’m a Nazi.

Why would they be so touchy? Partly because of stuff like this CNN business. You might be touchy too, firing off pre-emptive disclaimers, if verbally incontinent and factually challenged news organizations periodically did stuff like this to your religion.

But its journalistic and ethical bankruptcy is not the only reason CNN conflated Odinism with racism; that simply made it possible. Nor did they do it simply because we are presumed weird, non-mainstream, fair game for such things–true as that may happen to be in a theocratic nation where the theo- in question is not our own.

Partly it was because there’s a grain of truth in there. Not enough to justify the way the article put it, but one that we must address. We cannot say we have addressed it until we confront it. We cannot confront it until we admit it.

Before we talk about what Asatru is not, let’s talk about what–for most of its adherents, including all of those who were paying attention when they read the ancient materials–Asatru is. The term means ‘true to the gods,’ as in, the Aesir (Odin, Thor, etc.). However, it’s not precise that way, because the Vanir (Frey, Freyja, etc.) are also revered by most Asatruar. There are people who self-identify as Vanatru, but that splits a hair. There is nothing fundamentally racist about Odinism, which is not to say an Odinist cannot also be a racist. A few are. Some keep it on the down low. It speaks well for us as a movement that they need to keep it there, but not well enough to satisfy me.

For most of its professing believers, Asatru is not just loyalty to the ancient gods. It also means a code of conduct based upon nine Noble Virtues derived from ancient lore: courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, perseverance. A failure in any of those areas is shameful for any Asatruar (adherent).

Asatruar (it’s also the plural term) greatly esteem the ability to give and keep an oath. Politically, we lean right/libertarian on average, with a high emphasis upon personal responsibility. If an observant Asatruar fairly owes you money, you won’t have to send a collection agent after him or her. S/he will see to it that his or her obligations are met, or stand accountable. We have no salvation from the consequences of wrongs we do, save that granted by those wronged (and it isn’t recompense until the victim or his/her kin say it is). Asatru is not a pacifist belief system; we believe there are times when one must fight, and that one should do so with valor and ferocity. I dislike that I even need to mention that cowardly murders, such as those of innocent people at community centers and old folks’ homes, are diametrically opposed to Asatru values. A more Asatru behavior would have been to guard such places, and gun this murderer down in his tracks at the first sign he demonstrated a threat. And your typical Asatruar would own the firepower and will to do just that. Most Asatruar would have tackled him even unarmed, and if they died doing so, reckoned that an admirable end.

Let’s relate this to the hate criminal in Kansas City. As we reckon it, he was not only an idiot, but a coward, and he deprived innocent people of life. No amount of prayer will do him a damn bit of good. If the world operated according to our values, he would be outlawed, meaning that he could legally be killed as a public service. By anyone. He would owe weregild (compensation) to the kin of his victims, if they would accept it, which they would not need to do. His status is one of odium, not Odinism.

I often wish you, society, would let us do it that way.

Asatru is not an easy path, but it satisfies those of us who follow it, and helps guide us toward right conduct. Such conduct makes us outstanding friends, partners, hosts, guests, neighbors, business contacts, employees and warriors. It is completely egalitarian, recognizing no gender bias. We do not proselytize, so you will never find Asatruar at your door handing out tracts about Thor. I suppose we have some homophobes, but most of us don’t care who you boink.

The Asatru movement has several large, loosely-knit organizations that have zero say in the way local Asatruar handle their business, either individually or in groups. It could not be any other way. We don’t boss around easily, especially when one bears in mind that we don’t turn the other cheek. Many Asatruar are firearms or blade enthusiasts. Military service is an esteemed career among us. If oath-keeping and courage lead us to a grave, we esteem that a worthy way to die. Just as we are good friends, we make bad enemies, and a threat from an Asatruar is good enough reason to make plans to defend oneself. We are a fierce people, without apologies for that.

Asatru and Wicca (a far more numerous neo-pagan belief system, of which more people have heard) differ markedly. Many Asatruar heap scorn upon Wicca, though many also found their way to Asatru through Wicca. As for the greater neo-pagan movement, the best capsule summary of Asatru I’ve ever read is that we are ‘the Klingons of neo-paganism.’ Far nearer the truth than not, even though most Asatruar dislike the label ‘pagan,’ preferring ‘heathen.’ I’m not touchy about it, but most are.

On race, the subject brought to the fore by this event and its perpetrator, we vary. This variance of belief is generally accepted with comfortable mingling. For the most part, that is a good thing, because we don’t have very many real racists, let alone racial supremacists. However, in one area, it exposes a serious problem within Asatru. I’m going to talk candidly about it, and it’s going to offend and/or alienate some people.

Some will be mad because they know I’m right, but am saying the thing we aren’t supposed to say, making public an issue that most prefer to paper over. In my view, Asatruar need to face facts and take a stand themselves, for the sake of honor, truth and courage.

Some will be mad because I will have explicitly taken a stand against them. They need to build a large fire and leap in, because they are the members of the hate groups who call themselves Asatru. I am their enemy. I refuse to make nice, or to pretend comradeship I don’t feel.

We might assign Asatruar ‘wings,’ resembling political divides, for the sake of discussion and understanding. The primary questions that divide us involve views on ancestry and racialism. For purposes of this discussion, please use this definition of racialism: the notion that ethnic heritage is worthy of note, or can ever play a valid role. I would define racism as the notion that ethnic heritage is a grounds for exclusion, discrimination or antipathy in any form. I would define racial supremacism as racism with the added component of assumed superiority.

Far left: essentially Norse Wicca, which is to say, Wicca with Norse overtones. This view rejects racialism. There is minimal consideration of the Eddas and examples from the sagas, or the differences between Nordic and other pre-Christian pagan beliefs. Norse Wicca tends to be near-standard Wicca with Germanic deity names. I won’t go so far as to say they are not Asatru, but I suspect the Norse Wiccans would decline the label. Let’s say that if they adopt the label at all, their version minimally resembles mine, except in the ways that most life-affirming religions resemble each other.

Moderate left: universalism. Universalist Asatruar also reject the notion that race or heritage play any role in being Asatru. So far as I am aware, neither the Eddas nor the historical record say anything directly about race or heritage as they relate to religion, so they are on firm ground. In the first place, the universalists would point out, the Germanic peoples got around a lot; other peoples also got around to them. In the second, deeds and conduct matter far more. In the third, short of a mandatory genealogical study, we can’t really know anyway. (One could have great hilarity compiling and publishing genealogies on known racist leaders, considering that the typical ‘white’ American is probably about 10% nonwhite.) Anyone can get in, and deeds and conduct are all that pertain.

Center: tribalism. Tribalist Asatruar, like myself, consider it fairly natural that Germanic ancestry is a draw to the belief system (as best we understand it today) of one’s ancestors. The best I can describe this, from my own experience, is that it felt like coming home to what and who I was. However, a tribalist does not concern him/herself much, if at all, with whether others profess or possess Germanic roots. Put another way, if someone shows up, and feels truly drawn to Asatru ways, and lives an Asatru lifestyle, we reckon that common ground. If they ain’t blood kin, we can adopt them as such, strengthening us. Just because I feel drawn this direction by my own roots doesn’t mean I can assess anyone else’s commitment, or how they came to it, except in terms of how their actions demonstrate it. This is slightly racialist, but only on a personal level.

Moderate right: folkish. Folkish Asatru teaches as a core tenet that Germanic peoples are descendants of their ancient gods. However, that does not mean that folkish groups make a habit of inquiring into one’s heritage, or that they consider themselves superior to any other culture. The most similar (if not precisely analogous) examples would be some Native American belief systems, or Judaism. Folkish Asatruar respect such beliefs, and do not place themselves above or below any such group. In fact, if you took a poll of folkish Asatruar, you’d probably find that many admire Israel’s warrior spirit and strongly support Native Americans’ right not to have their culture strip-mined by outsiders. The Noble Virtues matter greatly to folkish Asatruar, but they would at least wonder why someone with zero discernible Germanic heritage might be drawn to Asatru. It’s fair to call that racialist. If grounds for exclusion, it is racist.

Far right: basically, Team Adolf. There is an extremist wing calling itself Asatru that is avowedly racist. Such groups are not necessarily violent, but for me, the key breaking point is that their doors are flatly barred to non-whites, and that many are racial supremacists. Many sympathize with Nazism, which means they favor a viewpoint that committed mass murder of many innocent people. Many, probably most, are Holocaust deniers, which means they are idiots concerning the historical record. Team Adolf is an embarrassment to respectable Asatruar at the very least–you can infer that from The Disclaimer. At mainstream gatherings, if Team Adolf shows up, it is usually sensible enough to keep its real beliefs toned down. Put another way, if a bunch of assholes start singing the Horst Wessel Song at a mainstream Althing, they’ll be squelched (I know of one instance where this actually occurred). A lot of Team Adolf is in jail, and/or joined Team Adolf there. That usually results in some symbols.

So let’s talk about symbols. The Nazis misappropriated a number of honorable and venerable Germanic emblems, making them hateful in most people’s eyes. There’s a lot of debate among Asatruar about symbols. I can tell you where I stand: I believe that we must reject and disfellowship racists and hate groups, which begins by calling them out in noisy and vulgar fashion. I believe we must not legitimize such groups in any way. I believe that the Holocaust was the ultimate dishonorable action, and that it is honorable and right for us to show respect for the many innocent people dead, brutally mistreated, robbed, tortured and otherwise subjected to unwarranted cruelty–not so much because we’re Asatru, but because we’re decent human beings with a sense of justice and compassion.

One way to show that respect is to set aside the swastika. We don’t have to concede that a very ancient good luck symbol is now fundamentally evil; I for one will not concede that, not least because it concedes a victory to Nazis, who will get nothing from me that they’d like. We should, however, abjure its display and use in public or private. This serves to nail our colors to the mast, emphasizing our hostility to the Nazi movement and its modern illegitimate spawn. I believe that, while no one has the right to demand this of us, they shouldn’t need to; we should do it for our own reasons and by choice, because it’s the right thing. I also believe that, with this done, we have the moral right to reclaim and use other symbols that were perverted in the name of evil, provided we do so in honorable causes and with consideration and common sense. I think it would be a stupid overreaction to remove the S-rune from the Elder Futhark, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to think it’s cool to tattoo two of them side by side on one’s body. Rights must be balanced with consideration and compassion in their exercise, if that exercise is to be thought honorable.

So. Mainstream modern Asatru is not racist, though some aspects have racialist overtones to one degree or another, not unlike some other groups. The racists are the fringe. But our movement has a problem. And if bringing this up makes some people angry, maybe they should ask themselves why.

Here’s the problem: we don’t always draw the line firmly enough, take the right stand. I have seen a desire to avoid making waves, or a reluctance to exclude, taken too far in many Asatru situations. This can take the form of tolerating the presence of Team Adolf, as long as it behaves (in essence, lies about itself by omission). Part of the logic probably stems from the strong individualism of Asatruar, and our nonjudgmental tendency concerning professed belief (and one that has positive sides, which is how universalist, tribalist and folkish Asatruar can find common spiritual ground). Part of it is just fear of confrontation. There may be other motivations I don’t understand, but I don’t really care what those are. There are no valid excuses.

To me, non-confrontation and tolerance toward evil serve to sweep the problem under the rug, where it is never disposed of. That’s just not good enough. Where it exists, tolerance of Team Adolf harms our movement. It lends a fig leaf of respectability to those who have forfeited all respect. It leads to stuff like this CNN article, which offends me with its ignorance, but we would have a stronger foundation against such ignorance if we did our rightful part by slamming the door in Team Adolf’s face at every turn. Why does the Southern Poverty Law Center keep suggesting that the smoke of racism, that some associate with Asatru, has its source in a small but actual fire? Because the fire does exist. And it exists because we do not hose it down with cold water, as noisily and fiercely as we can arrange. We post The Disclaimer, but we do not all refuse every association with members of Team Adolf.

There’s another reason to be vocal, a personal one. I’m the one who often points out that if other religions do not want to be lumped in with the scum who pollute their belief systems, they need to step forward and be vocal in that opposition. Christians should shun and condemn the late Fred Phelps’ picketing club, for example (and most do). Muslims should not make nice with extremists who murder (and I think most do not). Every group has low-lifes who wave its flag and do wrong. I can’t tell others they ought to take out their own trash unless I’m willing to help haul ours.

Take for example the pedophile priest revelations within the Roman Catholic Church. The pedophiles themselves were disturbing enough; what compounded the issue was that the church hierarchy warehoused pedophiles rather than defrock them and turn them over to the police. If your religion has an internal problem that some of your people aren’t taking seriously enough, and your religion matters to you, you will stand up. And you won’t be intimidated by big-name religious leaders. If a Catholic, for example, you’d make your point to your clergy hierarchy. And if they tried to pressure you to silence, you’d refuse. If they hinted at consequences, you’d tell them to bring it on. You either live by your principles or not. Sometimes leaders need to be clocked on the head and dragged back to their principles.

Was I eager to write a post calling out some Asatruar (whom I would otherwise respect) for lack of action? Of course not. I’m no social activist. Am I glad that this post will stay with me, and make it problematic for me to fit into some Asatru social circles? Surely not–but going-along-to-get-along, refusal to make waves, legitimization through silence, is less bearable to me than solitude. If not a form of outright enablement, at the very least it fails to answer the bell for action.

To the degree that it associates itself with Asatru, Team Adolf makes itself our problem, because the world notices. The Disclaimer is not adequate. We must reject Team Adolf, refuse kinship with it, and cuss it up and down the floor. We must stop looking the other way. The standard disclaimers aren’t good enough.

One of my greatest pet peeves is people who don’t believe their own philosophy. Do I really believe in courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, perseverance?

Either I do or I don’t, and sometimes living our beliefs means we have to fight, or that we may pay a price.

And now you see why I had to do it.

My new Idaho State Song

Idaho’s state song is ‘Here We have Idaho.’ It’s not very stirring, and suffers from a tune best suited to a third grade tonette band, but it’s what we’ve got. Here are the lyrics:

HERE WE HAVE IDAHO

  • You’ve heard of the wonders our land does possess,
  • Its beautiful valleys and hills.
  • The majestic forests where nature abounds,
  • We love every nook and rill

CHORUS

  • And here we have Idaho,
  • Winning her way to fame.
  • Silver and gold in the sunlight blaze,
  • And romance lies in her name.
  • Singing, we’re singing of you,
  • Ah, proudly too. All our lives thru,
  • We’ll go singing, singing of you,
  • Singing of Idaho.

Great. Except that it doesn’t fully capture the practical realities of Idaho life. But happily, Idaho, I’m here for you with my own version. Dear reader, if you would like to sing with me in unison, here is the tune:

STRUGGLING IN IDAHO

  • You’ve heard of call centers our land does possess,
  • Its gigantic pawnshops and bills.
  • The majestic ballfield where football abounds,
  • We used to have sugar mills

CHORUS

  • And here we have Idaho,
  • Hocking her guns to live.
  • Silver and gold shops on every block,
  • But charities nag you to give.
  • Searching, we’re searching for jobs,
  • At minimum wage. Fed minimum wage,
  • I’ll be hungry, but never a jerk,
  • Struggling in Idaho.

Lyrics © 2014 J.K. Kelley

Major Vidkun Quisling

I’m proud to announce a new category for one of my favorite topics: Enigmatic Scumbag Studies.

Vidkun Quisling so betrayed Norway during World War II, from the Norwegian perspective, that a number of things happened:

  • His Nasjonal Samling (NS, meaning ‘National Union’) party had cooties even when it was the only permitted party in the country. Few joined it willingly, and many refused to join no matter the consequences. Put another way, it couldn’t even put the puck into an empty net.
  • Part of that was because it was so clearly identified with the Nazi invaders, though it predated them. In spite of Adolf’s notions of Nordic brotherhood, Norwegians preferred not to be invaded by anybody, much less ordered around by outsiders.
  • Part was just that Quisling was about as popular in Norway as arthritis, even before the war. As you may imagine, his behavior during the war lowered his approval rating to ‘some guy named Sverre from Lokisvik who doesn’t get out a lot.’
  • His very name became nouned and verbed into a synonym for sordid collaboration and treason with a hated enemy invader. It remains so to this day. What a legacy.
  • Not even the Nazis trusted him with any real power, listened much to him, or did anything but string him along and brush him aside when stuff got real.
  • His countrypeople, not known to tend toward brutal judicial punishments, stood him against a wall after the war and shot him.

At which point, given all of the above, his last thoughts may well have been: Ja, ja…det gikk jo til helvete. (Loosely translated: “Well, that definitely sucked.” Thanks to Gjermund Higraff for supplying the suitable Norwegian rendering.)

To understand Quisling, I believe one must understand Norway. It is one of the most rugged countries on Earth, very thin in many places between the Swedish or Finnish border and the North or Norwegian Seas. Its lowest point has a latitude about as far north as Juneau, Alaska, Churchill, Manitoba, or the very northern tip of Scotland. Its mainland’s northernmost point is farther north than about a third of Greenland, well north of Iqaluit (Baffin Island, Nunavut), and nearly as far north as Barrow, Alaska. From a topography standpoint, it bears some resemblance to Chile.

These days they have oil, but in those days, the Norwegians mainly had fishing, some timber. A great percentage of Norwegian travel was by coastal watercraft, still quite common today. Norway is just not that easy to get around. It wasn’t very populous (still isn’t), with a minimal standing army (like now). Building and maintaining roads is challenging enough in good weather, and for part of the year, Norway does not have gentle weather.

Norway became independent of Sweden in 1905, having been owned by Sweden or Denmark for centuries. Consider that: when Adolf invaded it in 1940, Norwegian independent nationalism was a relatively recent phenomenon. Everyone left Norway alone in WWI, but for WWII it was going to be another story. Germany’s main year-round ice-free source of quality iron ore was the mines in northern Sweden near Gällivare, from which it went overland to the Norwegian port of Narvik, then south by sea. Without that iron ore, the German war effort was screwed. Once war broke out, the Allies would be certain to run great risks to interdict this supply, and the Germans would go to great lengths to protect it. Norway was going to find itself caught up in WWII whether it liked the idea or not (and it did not).

This was Quisling’s country, and he was an ardent if badly misguided Norwegian patriot at heart. He was a tall, dour, anti-social sort not given to small talk, one of the world’s worst schmoozers. Probably had Asperger’s–he was great at math. He would have been first one voted off the island in Survivor. His military career might have gone better but for the length of time he spent on missions to the Soviet Union, mostly on humanitarian work. The early Soviet Union found creative ways to starve many of its people despite some of the best farmland in Europe, and this didn’t endear the socialist model to Quisling. One can see why.

He returned to Norway in 1929 with a big art collection he’d bought on the cheap, under somewhat of a cloud. He envisioned a more militarized Norway, hewing toward fundamentalist Lutheran values, very hostile to organized labor and anything that might make Norway lean toward or imitate the USSR. By the standards of his day, he was a rock-ribbed nationalist and socio-political conservative. He authored a rather oddly-founded philosophy called Universism, which as near as I can tell, asserts nothing profound.

Not long after he got home, Quisling left the Royal Norwegian Army to enter politics. It only took him about four years to rise to Minister of Defense, then alienate most of Norway. The population at large rejected not only Quisling, but many of his more extreme ideas. He formed a fringe party, which became the aforementioned NS, with himself as Fører. To mainstream Norway, especially with Hitler’s rise to absolute power in Germany right around that time, the NS looked and sounded a lot like a Norwegian variant of Nazism. It couldn’t get a single candidate elected to the Storting (Parliament), and Quisling remained a fringe character. When he started cozying up to the Nazis, and growing increasingly anti-Jewish in his rhetoric, it looked to Norwegians like they’d been right on the money. By the outbreak of war in 1939, he’d have had trouble getting elected dogcatcher. He was political poison.

One wonders: with so few Jews in Norway, how the hell did Quisling find a reason to become an anti-Semite? Where did he manage to find some Semites to be anti-? Well, turns out that he got ripped off trying to sell some of his art in the US through his brother, and he believed that the people who ripped him off were Jewish (I haven’t verified if they were or not). So it became something of a personal thing, but the issue originated outside Norway–he had to hunt up some Semites elsewhere. Of course, once he got the racist bee in his bonnet, his mind could come up with Jewish/leftist/atheist dangers anywhere it wanted to see them. In my view, the warped aspect of this thinking is that he could somehow conclude that the Nazi outcome had any chance of being better than, say, the rise of a strong left/labor movement.

In 1940, before the British and French could get saddled up to invade Norway, the Germans struck first. The Anglo-Franco-Polish force originally designated to help Finland (but which dawdled all winter until the Finns had to sue for peace), but then was intended for use invading Norway, now showed up to help the Norwegians. They fought bravely, but weren’t much help. Most of Norway’s real help came from its own army, which hadn’t even been mobilized and was taken by surprise in that state, but nonetheless resisted for sixty-two days–something France would not manage, despite more and better tanks than Germany. The Germans paid a price, though, losing the heavy cruiser Blucher to land-based torpedoes in the Oslofjord. They were pissed off, for Germany didn’t have many capital ships.

Early in the invasion, Quisling had an Alexander Haig moment (“I’m in control here…”), got onto the airwaves, and started telling the Norwegian armed forces to go home. He had no authority to do that. He assumed that he would now, as Fører, recondition Norway into the model Nazi ally and regain its domestic independence. He spent the whole war trying to do that, with the Germans promising him more independence and reneging most of the time on the grounds that Quisling couldn’t deliver the goods. He could not inspire Norwegians to accept the end of their multiparty constitutional monarchy and learn to love being good worker bees within the Greater Nazi Area, moving iron ore and catching fish. Several hundred thousand German troops occupied Norway throughout the war, which is extraordinary considering the Norwegian wartime population of about three million. Imagine one German to guard every six Norwegian men, women and children.

While the Germans grudgingly installed Quisling as a puppet leader (setting aside the gradual details leading up to that stage) almost two years after they took charge, the real power remained with Nazi German Reichskommissar Josef Terboven, who preferred to work with more reliable, less scrupulous domestic traitors (notably Jonas Lie). Because, for all his associations and unpopularity, Quisling showed minimal will to brutalize Norwegians, or to extend foreign power over them. His entire concept was to influence Norway to regain its domestic if not foreign policy independence. Treasonous? Uh, hello. You’re saying we should work our way into the status of Axis minor power, and forsake our legitimate government and monarchy for that imposed by our invaders? Your treasoning is flawed.

The Swedish press drove both Quisling and Terboven nuts, because the Swedes were reporting the truth about the occupation/collaboration police state in Norway, and nothing offended Nazis and their sympathizers like accurate portrayal of their deeds. A great many Norwegian refugees fled to Sweden during the war, with stories to tell. Nazis never did like a press they could not control. But there were worse collaborators than Quisling in World War II, notably Pétain, Chautemps, Laval and Darlan of France, Degrelle of Belgium, and Kaminski and Vlasov of the Soviet Union. All those had far bloodier hands than Vidkun Quisling, and in most cases far more sordid motivations.

When the war ended, Norway was one of the last large areas to be liberated. The government returned from exile, and high on the to-do list was the arrest of collaborators. Quisling never seems to have considered flight abroad, which he might have managed with some effort. This is where it starts to get ugly in a different way. Quisling’s confinement was debilitating, and he wasn’t allowed to peruse all the evidence that would be used against him in court. By the time trial came along, he was in questionable condition to defend himself, deprived of the necessary means. Judicial conduct was not to a high standard. All that may or may not have been legal under the Norwegian system–I don’t recall ever being admitted to the Norwegian bar–but it does begin to encroach on the reasonable definition of ‘show trial.’ Not as bad in some ways as the Rosenberg case in my own country, but worse in others. Emotions were high, and when that is the case, jurisprudence bends and breaks.

It’s dumb, though, because Quisling was certain to go down for treason anyway. He’d committed it in front of the entire nation. Might as well make the whole trial squeaky-clean-fair, since it’s not as if he might have been acquitted. His name already the accepted term for ‘traitor’ or ‘collaborationist,’ a Norwegian firing squad shot Quisling to death on 24 October 1945. The Fører claimed to the end that he was innocent, and in his mind, he probably was.

Had Vidkun Quisling reported for duty with the Royal Norwegian Army and become a resistance leader, he might today be a revered Norwegian hero in the mold of Gunnar Sønsteby, Knut Haukelid, Otto Ruge, or King Haakon VII himself.

Then again, in his mind, he’d only wanted the best all along for a country he loved. He just forgot about the part that says: ‘Your country already has a legitimate government, and the electorate has rejected you, and the patriotic act is to accept that.’

He also forgot about the key proviso that says: ‘If a brutal dictatorship invades us, and you side with it, when we catch up with you, good intentions aren’t going to cut it.’

My ant crack dealership

Bugs are so valuable to the ecosystem we live in. Wipe out a vector of that ecosystem, and the damage ripples through the rest of it. If I weren’t married, I would leave yellowjacket nests alone outside my house, and spider webs alone inside it.

Yet even with my wife absent from the home, there’s no way I am going to tolerate ants in the house. No way. None. I generally support environmental protection, but it’s not as if I feel the need to show it off by being as conspicuously crunchy/green/Whole Paycheck/tilth/organic/etc. as possible. And in any case, that’s not going to change my approach to pest control. If you see a few ants, there are more, many more. If I thought it would work best, without harming the interior health environment of the home, I’d have zero compunction about putting down the insect equivalent of heavy nerve gas, strychnine, or whatever.

For millennials, who of late find themselves much maligned by the very generation who raised them and made the rules for them, I have a fun suggestion. Next time a middle-aged person tries to tell you that everything was better back when, that the old ways and old everything are the best, and that everything now officially sucks (including, by implication, your generation), ask them this:

“Okay, sir/ma’am. I’ll play. So, in 1970, when you had ants in your house and wanted to find the best way to kill them, you would not have preferred a five-minute online search? It was better, right, when you had to go to a library, or hunt up some consumer magazine, or ask your neighbor Vern, and do trial and error while the ants multiplied to invade your entire house? Just so I understand you here, sir/ma’am? Or, as an alternative, are you saying you liked ants in your kitchen just fine, and that it was better that way?”

They’ll harrumph. It’s all they can do. Because in reality, they just want a simpler time in the ways they liked, while continuing to use their Keurigs and research their osteoporosis on the Internet. They only want back the old parts everyone liked, such as cheap gasoline and pensions. I’m not even an old person yet and I am already making plans to call my peers out on hypocrisies to my dying day. (It helps to plan ahead.)

As for me, I’d like cheap gas and pensions back too, but I like even more the fact that I can find the answer to a pressing problem in a short time. Is it always correct? No. Is it a higher-percentage shot than spending the afternoon trying to track Vern down, going from store to store, wasting money on stuff that will not work, and ruining my day? Well, you tell me.

In this case, I went on a net.mosey for ant killers. I found lots of granola vegan non-toxic cruelty-free organic hippie home ingredient methods. Some of them may work very well in some situations for some people. I have never had any such method work for me on much of anything, which is why I tune most of those out. In this case, I found a product called Terro, which isn’t quite non-toxic, but isn’t exactly dioxin either.

Of course, it had a number of product reviews.

Of course, any cretin can post on the Internet, thus any given review might be wrong.

Of course, 933 product reviews does represent at least some sort of a sample base.

Of Terro’s 933 reviews, 750 gave it five stars.

Well, again, I’m not much of a fundamental believer in group opinion or the wisdom of the public. In fact, when I find myself in a majority, I’m tempted to ask myself what I might have overlooked. Even so, I started reading the reviews. Most said some variant of: “I put down these traps, and more ants than I had any idea were in my house swarmed all over them. Two days later there was not a single living ant.”

It didn’t take that many of those to get my attention.

 

Terro is some form of sugar glop–ant crack–mixed with borax. The ants hog it down, tell the other ants that the Ant Pizza Buffet is open, and take some samples back to the colony to share with others. One of those others is the queen, who gets waited on by the proletarian ants. Borax fatally injures the ants’ digestive systems (think of it like Taco Bell taken to its logical conclusion). When the queen dies, that’s disastrous for the colony, but in any case, it’s also disastrous for it when most of the regular ants croak.

Shortly after I put down the traps, long lines of little ants came pouring out of tiny openings in the wall, going crazy for the traps. Some died in the glop, like that kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Some died before they got back to the colony, which I hope were taken back to be cannibalized and poison some more. Many, I presume, took ‘food’ back to the colony to poison it on my behalf. Some managed to drag little chunks of dirt into the glop, gods know how or why.

It wasn’t over yet. In fact, the little bastards just about cleaned out some of the traps. A week in, I had put down a second box of traps. More armadas sallied forth to scarf it up. Just when I’d think it was over, a bunch would discover a new trap that others had walked past for a week, and swarm on it.

Three weeks to the day after I first started slinging ant crack, and whatever the fates of individuals, it very much appears as if the colony has gone the fate of Carthage. My ant crackhouse can shut down. I have seen exactly two ants around the traps all day, and neither looked real lively.

Somewhere in the ground near my house is Ant Jonestown.

Terro delivers, if you’re patient. I would recommend Terroism as a potential solution to ant problems in the home. Just follow the rules for the conscientious Terroist:

  • Keep animals and kids out of it, obviously. Wouldn’t kill them, I’m told, but borax is not in the food aisles of your grocery store for a reason, and is not one of the four food groups. If you have cats, they may actually have to endure some temporary freedom restrictions.
  • Put down all the traps (six in my package). I had good luck with stringing them out along the ants’ path, so that even the hardiest who ranged farthest would be able to find some poison.
  • Resist the temptation to mess around with the traps once they’re down. The ants could be frightened off, and you want them pouring out to eat hearty. Think about your placement beforehand, and leave them alone thereafter.
  • Don’t spill the gunk on the floor, as I’m told it’s tough to scrub up. While you’re cutting off the ends to open the traps, I recommend leaning them against something, colored (cut) ends up. Make sure they don’t fall, or tip the wrong way when you’re emplacing them.
  • If you have to, use a second box of traps. I bought two the first time, in case that happened, and it was a wise move. Job ain’t done until there are no living ants in sight for a while.
  • To use these outside, I think you’d need a small, heavy cover to put over each trap. Otherwise, something else would probably get into it. They sell outdoor ones, though, so that’s covered.

Yeah, it took a while, but it beats having someone come and fill the house with tabun, or whatever the pest control people use. It was also much less expensive. I spent $30 and I destroyed a large, persistent ant colony. I bet the Bug Brigade doesn’t come out for $30. Plus, if I have a way to rely on my own sense and observation rather than a contractor, after many, many examples of shoddy work, apathy and arrogance from contractors, I’ll do that every time.

168 Clif bars

I just purchased fourteen boxes of twelve Iced Gingerbread Clif bars to a box.

Hey, it could have been worse. Yesterday I was watching Filipino comic Rex Navarrette talking about balut, which to me looks like the world’s biggest hard-boiled egg fail. He described it as the ‘Pinoy Clif bar.’ That’s one of many reasons I like Rex’s comedy, that and my affection for Filipino cultures, from relatives to friends and beyond.

But no, I didn’t buy 168 baluts.

Self-revelation: I can be the world’s cheapest bastard. I pick up pennies in parking lots. I’m still attempting to use up a lifetime supply of drinking straws (want any?). I have enough saran wrap for several kinky parties. I built most of my garage storage out of junk, including a doghouse made from rejected forklift pallet pieces. I hate going to Costco (which is not to say that I hate Costco, just the experience), and my standard check to the cashier is about $550. I built my wife a holder for odd-shaped art stuff which I call the Nebelwerfer, after the WWII German rocket launcher. It’s five coffee cans canted slightly upward in a cluster on a stand. If I ever handmade you a gift, I probably made it out of garbage.

Not that I mind spending money to take friends out to a nice dinner, or to leave a decent tip, or something else socially productive. Nothing is finer than the opportunity to do a hospitable kindness people will enjoy. I do not mind spending money. But oh, oh, oh, how I hate to waste it. Or anything.

So I always check the grocery store’s bargain baskets and shelves. You never know what in hell they’ll be trying to get rid of. Case of decent wine, $7 a bottle? I’m on it. Ten jars of alfredo sauce, half price? Guess what we’re going to be eating. And the other day, I was at my local Fred Meyer buying ant poison and groceries. Stopped by the bargain corner, and saw boxes and boxes of Clif bars. Pumpkin Something and Iced Gingerbread.

I don’t care for Clif bars. Not that I hate them, just that if I were buying a chiseled-calf hipster-beard overpriced bicycle-advocate vegan granola-based energy bar, I’d pick almost anything else first. They neither look nor taste that appealing to me. And that’s good, because not only am I supposed to eat some form of breakfast, it has to meet my strict criteria:

It must cleanse my mouth of the residual coffee aftertaste, which I hate, and is the sole pleasure benefit of me eating in the morning.

It must require zero effort, because first thing in the morning, I will not make any, and if I have to speak, my first words will be vile.

It must be bearable without being appetizing, providing no temptation to overdo it, because I need to be less fat.

It must be minimalist, because I’m forcing myself to do this for reasons of good health. I really don’t want any food in the morning.

Pumpkin anything can be a weird taste for me, but I figured I’d buy a box of the Iced Gingerbread: twelve 59¢ breakfasts, and reasonably healthy to boot, would fit all my specifications. Paid, took home, tried them, found them bearable, and went back to the store to clean them out. Some days it’s helpful being absolutely indifferent to the looks you get, and believe me, when you have fourteen boxes of Clif bars in your shopping cart, you get some strange looks.

Cashier: “Wow. You must really like Clif bars.”

Me: “Nah, not much.”

Cashier: “Then how come you’re buying this many?”

(Such inquiries would be unthinkable some places, such as Seattle with its privacy bubbles. This is Idaho. In Idaho, people are rarely standoffish toward friendly conversation, and there is no invisible ‘I am the consumer and you must deify me’ bubble. Thus, by Idaho standards, this was not at all intrusive. He was acting like an Idahoan, presuming approachability and friendliness, anticipating only goodwill. Standoffishness would have shocked him, especially from a heavyset bearded guy, thus presumably an Idahoan Character. I find this aspect of Idaho invigorating. Seattle tolerates but ignores characters, not daring to comment, and any wacko buying fourteen cases of Clif bars is a character. Idaho talks to them and treats them like people. I will miss this.)

Me: “Cheap breakfasts, and nothing I’ll be tempted to eat two of. Yogurts cost over a buck, and are more perishable. I just saved myself about $80 over the next few months.”

(That, he understood completely. Idaho has a low minimum wage, vestigial social services, and a lot of very poor people, and the cashier was probably one of them. And his count was perfect: 168 Iced Gingerbread Clif bars.)

Cashier: “Enjoy! Have a great afternoon.”

Me: “I’ll try. You do the same.”

I’m writing this in March. By the time I have to start thinking about breakfast again, the leaves will be starting to turn autumn color. By my logic, the sicker I get of them, the better: less temptation, and more eating them out of obligation to realize value.

I was a terrifying accountant, in a past life.

My quest for SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Helmut Naujocks

Some people are fascinated by serial killers. Some seek out evidence of conspiracies. I’m fascinated by enigmatic scumbags. SS-Sturmbannführer (SS Major) Alfred Naujocks was one such.

In Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer described Naujocks (pronounced ‘NAW-yokes’) as an ‘intellectual SS ruffian.’ I wouldn’t say that the ‘intellectual’ part is well supported by the record. Not that he was an idiot, but Naujocks wasn’t much of an idea guy. He did excel at carrying out dirty deeds when so tasked, and thought very well under pressure. He was daring, clever and ruthless. And of all the old Nazis who needed to answer for crimes, he is one of those who eluded justice. In fact, I still haven’t been able to learn that much about him.

The body of work on Naujocks begins with Shirer’s mentions of some of his deeds. It then proceeds to an affidavit he gave while in U.S. captivity in late 1945, presented at the Nuremberg trials. Naujocks himself escaped custody before he could face the tribunal. His trail went cold until 1960, at which time a journalist named Gunter Peis penned an autobiography called The Man Who Started the War. Here are the tantalizing lines from end of Chapter One, which tells of his surrender to U.S. troops:

He pulled his chair up to the table, sat down and began to think. Soon he was typing slowly, carefully. The story he wrote at length was fascinating, incredible and very detailed. It was also quite untrue.

What follows is the story that in 1945 would have hanged Alfred Naujocks.

Peis knew his storytelling work; that’s a lead that makes one want to believe, and to read on in any case. Here’s the problem: there’s no more reason to take this book at face value than there is to believe his entire Nuremberg affidavit. That’s not to say it’s all lies, just that it’s from a source with plenty of motive to lie. By 1960, as I understand it, Naujocks wasn’t in the best of health (he was born in 1911, so that would make him only 49), hadn’t been much of a success in business, and probably needed money. A lurid tale would sell better, one would think, and not many people were likely to come forward with authoritative knowledge to refute his account. Most of those who could have, one supposes, would have preferred to remain inconspicuous. The book may have been his last special operation, and surely his most self-serving.

In any case, we now know that he died in 1966 in Hamburg, where he had apparently lived unmolested. For years many had assumed he must have escaped to Spain or South America, as did many Nazi fugitives from justice, and there is now reasonable evidence now that he did not. He probably managed to lose himself in the postwar chaos and ocean of damaged or destroyed records that resulted from the bombing, invasion and final collapse of the Third Reich.

There are two other books on Naujocks. One is in German, and a very kind native speaker is reading and digesting it for me. I have an e-copy which I could feed with great effort to an online translator, but I hope that my Austrian friend will be able to point me toward the parts that answer questions. The other is not a book yet, but a manuscript by an English author, for which the agent has evidently not yet found a publisher. I wish he would self-publish it, or at least accept my offer of free and confidential proofreading, but neither seems forthcoming. Not knowing what it says, I have no way to evaluate its research or historiography.

What I have pieced together so far, and feel reasonably certain is true except where I label doubt, is this much:

Born in 1911 in Kiel, perhaps with some Baltic forebears (‘Naujocks’ originates from the Lithuanian surname ‘Naujokitis’), he joined the Nazi party in 1931 after being attacked by a left-wing gang. At that point, Hitler had not yet taken over full power in Germany. It didn’t take Naujocks long to make a name for himself as a thug. In 1934 he joined the SS-SD, the SS and Nazi party intelligence organization. He was involved in special operations in Czechoslovakia prior to its partition and absorption. He claims, unconvincingly, to have propagated the disinformation that triggered Stalin’s purges of his officer corps.

His autobiography’s title refers to the Gleiwitz (Polish: Gliwice) incident, a faked Polish attack on a border radio station just prior to (and meant as a pretext for) Hitler’s declaration of war on Poland in 1939. It is the event most notoriously associated with Naujocks, thus the one you would be most likely to see mishandled on a History Channel special (if they ever get tired of dippy reality shows about pawn shops and storage lockers). Later that year, he carried out the abduction of two British intelligence agents on Dutch soil, spiriting them back to Germany. Peis tells tales of Naujocks counterfeiting British currency and operating an espionage brothel in Berlin, which might be true. Naujocks worked for one of the most powerful and feared Nazis alive, SS-Obergruppenführer (SS General) Reinhard Heydrich, and stories differ as to how he managed to incur Heydrich’s personal wrath. Naujocks’ amusing story is that he made the mistake of listening in when Heydrich himself was using the brothel.

In any case, Heydrich was one of the worst possible people any German could piss off, which meant Naujocks was lucky not to be shot in the neck. Heydrich instead saw Naujocks kicked out of the SS-SD and sent to the Eastern Front with the 1st SS Panzer Division (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler), one of the Waffen SS’ elite divisions. Wounded in action, he was sent back to Germany. In the meantime, a couple of daring Czechs had managed–at the cost of their lives and many others–to assassinate Heydrich, thus removing the practical obstacle to Naujocks’ re-employment with the SS-SD. He is implicated in murder/reprisals against the Belgian and Danish resistances in 1943-1944. With the writing on the wall for Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, Naujocks surrendered or deserted to the Americans, gave the aforementioned affidavit, escaped, did whatever he did for twenty years besides sell his story to Peis, and died in 1966.

And I may soon know more. Or have reason to believe more. Because whatever the truth of Peis’ tale, there is little doubt that it would take minimal amendment to make his lead accurate: if the Allies had learned the full truth in 1945, they would have hanged Alfred Naujocks.

Why it costs what it costs

My line of work involves a lot of sticker shock. I’m sometimes the recipient, as in: I look into a situation, discover that it would require me to work for about $1.75 per hour, and realize that there are people desperate enough to accept that and people ready to exploit that desperation. Other times, I’m the shocker rather than the shockee.

I don’t make public my pricing methodology, but it’s based on the amount of time and effort required to do the job right. That, in turn, is affected most by the size of the job and the depth of attention necessary. Length is always the biggest factor: if someone wants a critical read with suggestions, and the ms is 400 pages long, well, that’s a lot of work. It’s a lot more involved than a 120-page short novel, and will require much more mental juggling to keep track of everything. (That critical read would also be included in an editing job, if that were wanted, as part and parcel. But one must do as one was engaged to do.)

Proofreading is least expensive, because my brain really is not on the storyline, but on catching errors. The author failed to deliver adequate character development? Not my purview. Author made a grammatical error? Fix it and move on. Story is insipid? Not what I was hired to address. Big ton of loose spaces? Fix them. I go over the entire thing at least twice, but that’s simply because I am better at this than other people.

Editing is more expensive, and more variable, because it depends upon what shape the writing is in. Good writing costs less because it may have sentences that can stand without my intervention. Bad writing costs more because I have to make it into good writing. Editing also depends upon length, of course, and on intricacy and complexity. No two are alike, and different mss require different treatments. A one-method-fits-all approach would not help to transform the ms into the best book it can be.

This can mean that I send a ms back to the author with strong suggestions and observations, and suggest some reworking before we get into editing. What I am really saying there is: “This has some flaws I consider lethal. If I fix them for you, in the first place, it will be very expensive. In the second, it will be me supplying the creativity, because a rewrite has no boundaries. I think it’s better if the creativity and flow of ideas are yours; it’s your book. Consult me any time as you go, but I hope you’ll rework this.” If the author can’t or won’t do that, and still wants me to edit it, that’s a problem because I’m not comfortable sending out a fatally flawed book. That means…

…rewriting. I undertake this with great reluctance, but if someone insists and accepts the greatly inflated cost, I may decide to take it. Rewriting happens when either the writing or the story have such severe flaws that plain editing won’t suffice. It’s also rare, because in my experience the worse the writing, the more certain is the author of that writing’s perfection and brilliance. Distilled to the result, the combination of sticker shock and the notion of complete change of even the basic style (which can have no other meaning but “this isn’t good at all”) usually end up sparing me rewriting jobs. And that’s fine, because they are arduous. I would so much rather offer feedback and guidance so that I can simply edit a much-improved ms.

Composition or ghostwriting is the next level up. This happens when I don’t have a ms to work with, just notes or guidelines. Creating that ms is my task. I have done a great deal of it as a contributing author, and I like it well enough, but it’s even more work to do well, and costs even more. It can entail travel, interviewing, purchasing of books, library trips, transcription, and every other manner of research available to me.

Thus, if you’re hoping to keep the price within reason, keep the length within reason. Big book = big project.

New release: _Rock ‘n Roll Heaven_, by Shawn Inmon

Rock ‘n Roll Heaven has been released. This is a medium-length novel focused on the life and times of a fictitious small-time rocker, and in a broader sense the evolution of rock and roll. I was substantive editor.

Its genesis goes back two decades in Shawn’s life, a story he tells in the Author’s Notes. If memory serves, my involvement began about the time he was considering the sequel to his very successful Feels Like The First Time. The opening conversation was inauspicious. Paraphrased:

S: “I want to write a novel about a musician who ends up interacting with all his idols in the afterlife.”

J: “Are you kidding? That’s the loopiest idea I’ve ever heard. It has zero commercial potential. You’re out of your mind.” (I’ve left out the bad words.)

S: “Maybe, but I want to write it anyway. If I do it, will you edit it?”

J: “Of course. If I can’t talk you out of it, I’ll gladly help you make it the best it can be.”

We talked about it for a while, with me not warming to the idea at all. Shawn planned to write about what he loves second only to his wife and children: rock and roll and its history. To me, the whole notion seemed masturbatory, and I told him so. Then what should I do to make it work? Shawn has a gift for asking the right questions. I said that it had better include a story, and a good one.

Shawn is sort of a Veeckian character, a puckish soul with laughing eyes who knows how to let an experience unfold. He’s a great pleasure to work with, because he can take the highest caliber of frankness for which my literary fieldpiece is chambered.

Think about what I did. This is a paying client. I told him the idea was loopy. Then I told him, in cruder terms, that it was self-indulgent, and had no chance to make any money. That’s not what you say when you want the work. At that point, most authors are looking for an editor who believes in the book concept, which means that an editor who doesn’t is Not On Board.

That’s why some authors fail: they focus mainly on people who tell them what they want to hear. They are brilliant, this is the Next Big Thing, etc. They are looking for reassurance and strokes, independent validation of the gushing they got from their spouses and Aunt Sandy. They aren’t looking for someone to tell them they need to improve. Any editor can–and many do–make a living telling novice authors they are brilliant, because it’s what they crave.

Aspiring editors can milk this. Many aspiring writers consider their prose a perfected work of art. Anyone who Fails To Adore simply has no taste, doesn’t get their genius. The less that you say needs to change about their writing, the more credible you are in their eyes. The easy route to good money is to do less work and more sucking up. I’ll even supply the Magic Bullshit (since I’m not using it anyway): “Honestly, I think this is very well written. I can suggest some minor changes, and check for errors, but I love the story.” Just say that. It will mark you as a Believer, and you’ll be hired. Over and over.

Since you won’t do much actual work, you will have quick turnarounds and an airtight explanation: “There wasn’t that much that needed fixing.” Excited would-be authors will preen in delight, seeing that a Real Editor recognizes their genius. The product will be garbage, because the client sought and received sycophancy rather than critique and valuable ideas, but you got paid and your client loved ‘working with’ you. Right?

True confession: I wasn’t completely candid with Shawn. I left out one thing: I was fascinated to see what in hell he would come up with. The man has a Churchillian zigzag lightning streak through his mind, and only a fool would underestimate him. (I no longer do, and am relieved to be less a fool.) Along came the ms, and while I was blunter than usual about some of its issues, it also threw me some invigorating surprises. His research and portrayals of rock legends rang thorough, creative and difficult to predict. Not only did he wrap it around a creditable story, making that story the focal point rather than the rock-and-roll musings, but he redid the opening and hit it off the scoreboard. My work was to keep the strings from showing; let’s hope that readers feel I succeeded at it.

I did one thing differently this time. I normally work in silence broken only by the periodic comments of Alex, my white-eyed conure (a little parrot, bright green). Since the book centered on rock and roll, I felt it irresponsible to edit without background music. It was odd how sometimes the song that played seemed pertinent to my current focus in the narrative.

The creepiest aspect was the author’s notes at the end. I haven’t been asked to edit those before, thank the gods. In this case, for the first time since I’ve worked with Shawn, I found myself perusing his laudatory comments about my work and what it means to his creative process. You tell me: how the hell do you edit someone else’s nice words about yourself? What if you were getting a medal, and were asked to edit the citation that would be read at the ceremony? I prefer ‘as minimally as possible and let’s get the hell out of here,’ and that’s what I did. Or didn’t, one might say. But in spite of my intense embarrassment from the process, Shawn, thanks. Awful kind of you.

R&RH will surprise the reader on several levels. One of Shawn’s last serious questions was the proper Amazon category. Contemporary fantasy? Metaphysical fiction? The truth is a mixture of the two. It contains strong texture and depth on the subject of music and how it is made, but also tells a profound self-discovery story. If you are sick of cloned books, and want something original, I doubt you’ve ever read anything quite like it.

How (and how not) to solicit book reviews

The book industry has changed, in case you weren’t paying attention, and the downfall of the New York model has gone hand in hand with the changes in the game’s admission rules. The bar has dropped from ‘has to make the publisher money’ to ‘author has to be willing to shell out a little money or become a DIY publisher him/herself.’ If you don’t hire any editing, proofreading, typesetting, cover art or printing, there’s no noteworthy cost. It’s guaranteed to be lousy on some level, because just about no one who writes well does all the rest of that well, but congrats: you’re published.

In short, the ticket price has dropped to a sliding scale, but there is no parking or mass transit, and traffic is horrible.

If you self-publish, of course, you’re also the marketing department. (Even under other forms of publishing, you are still the marketing department, though it’s more comforting to pretend that you are not.) That means trying to get some book reviews up on Amazon, which probably has 90% of the market share, or on blogs or other bookselling sites. Most people will read at least a few book reviews before buying a book. A book with no reviews appears to be a book that has generated zero interest, and inspires like in the shopper.

Where this leads: if you’re written any Amazon reviews of any note at all, there are a lot more people seeking reviews than there once were. Naughty secret: for whatever it was worth, under the old Amazon review system where someone named Harriet Klausner ranked as #1 for years by writing about three book reports a day, my highest ranking (out of about 150,000 reviewers) was #73. In 2000, that got me about 1-2 review requests per month.

Today, under the new ranking system (in which my body of work is unremarkable) and having written about ten reviews in the last ten years, I get 1-2 review requests per week. It has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the exponential increase in self-marketers. Self-publishers, even those who hire professional assistance and produce quality work, are of necessity self-marketers. The self-publisher who is not also a self-marketer is either disinterested in making money, or disinterested in facing reality.

Some of those seeking reviews are doing it right, and some are doing it wrong. Here is how to do it right.

  • The approach must be personal and by name. ‘Dear Reviewer’ is of minimal worth; that tells me it’s spam, and should be deleted.
  • The approach must indicate why I was selected. A generalist approach (“as you have reviewed many books on Amazon…”) is a failure, because that tells me it’s spam.
  • The why must be credible and sensible. At the least, it should refer to a genre of material I have read, and better that it include specific titles. I’m not saying that someone needs to butter me up, just that it needs not to look like spam.
  • The offer must include a print copy of the book. Of course, this is not true for many reviewers, and is not possible for many books. To me, an author serious enough about wanting a review is serious enough to mail me a copy. Therefore, this one’s optional, as I have specific conditions that don’t apply to everyone else.
  • The offer must not involve a pre-publication version, a.k.a. a galley. Galleys may be rarer today, but I remember a number of approaches where someone wanted me to review a .pdf of the galley. I don’t think too many reviewers are interested in pre-publication galleys–they want to review the book after it’s gone gold.
  • The offer must include contact information beyond an e-mail address. This is business. We are real people. If you are an author, you’re a public figure on some level. Providing your contact information highlights your authenticity and encourages me to take you seriously. If you write under a pen name, you should provide your real name, or if not, explain candidly to me why you can’t (your ex-husband is a complete psycho, you are living under an assumed name in Ecuador, etc.).
  • The offer must not put me on a mailing list of people to spam later. I will generally remember who has written to me before, so if you send out a second round hoping for better results, you won’t get those results from me. I realize that this sounds implausible; who would do such a stupid thing? Please believe me when I say that some people are so desperate for publicity, they will do exactly this. When I see it again, I get very grouchy. I had to report one author to her ISP.
  • The offer must be phrased in your best writing. Because if you can’t write well when you step into my spotlight (and presumably are presenting yourself at your very best), that tells me that your book may be badly written. If I suspect that it is, I won’t proceed further.

Why?

Because my time is finite, and I don’t want to accept a commitment to read a book that will be torture to my brain. Especially when good practice demands that I drop whatever else I am reading and fulfill my commitment to read it.

Because I will then be expected to review it (and professional ethics demand that I do so in a timely manner), and I have zero fundamental desire to impale a book in public. The idea of harming an aspiring author’s prospects is completely counter to my line of work, my thought process and level of enthusiasm–it feels like a police officer ordered to slap around a nice elderly lady. Most would refuse.

Three, because I get nothing from this. I don’t have tremendous motivation to write book reviews, as anyone who looks at my body of work at Amazon (seven serious book reviews in the last four years) can tell. When I write a book review, I am donating my time almost for free, and to make it worse, Amazon is going to whore my review out to anyone it wishes (a major reason not to donate them free content).

Even if you do everything right, I may not end up accepting a review copy, and the reasons may have nothing to do with anything you said or did. I could just be too busy to do it right and on time. But if you do everything right, someone else will.

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