Category Archives: Scumbag studies

Scumbag studies: SS-Oberführer Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger

When you go rooting around in the scumbag files, WWII Nazi Germany is fertile ground. Therefore, to achieve historical notice as one of the most loathsome officers to serve the Third Reich, that person must be abnormally messed up. While he lacked the level of authority to match crime for crime with the likes of Adolf Eichmann, or Rudolf Höss, Dirlewanger was a war criminal of a different sort. He commanded an anti-partisan unit held in low esteem by many even in the Waffen-SS: what began as SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger, and ended as the 36th Waffen-Grenadier Division-SS “Dirlewanger,” carrying out his own personal Holocaust in command of some of the worst cutthroats ever to wear the uniform of any German army in history.

At least on paper, the Waffen-SS eventually fielded thirty-eight divisions. Some were elite, some were failures. Some have no record of atrocities; some existed only to commit atrocities. Many weren’t even German. But of them all, what became the 36th Division has few rivals for the title of worst of the worst.

The histories of Dirlewanger himself and his signature military unit are not quite the same, and this is about the man, so let us dispose of the Dirlewanger Brigade and its successors. Nazi Germany had a partisan problem in its occupied Soviet and Polish territory. Simply put, the locals had decided against accepting consignment to the status of ‘Slavic subhumans,’ and were resenting this designation in arms. The Nazis, always eager to wring maximum value from human resources, had decided to release enough convicted poachers to form a military unit. It soon expanded to incorporate SS men convicted of crimes not quite vile enough to warrant the gallows.

The Dirlewanger Brigade soon became the Waffen-SS penal unit. It made the French Foreign Legion look like a Mormon Boy Scout troop. In time, a fair number of recruits came from concentration camps. The unit spent much of the war hunting partisans and committing atrocities in eastern Europe. In May 1945, a flood of Soviet flame and steel wiped out Dirlewanger’s unit.

Thanks, Premier Stalin. That nullifies at least a small portion of the other things you did in life.

As for Dirlewanger, one might best describe him as a harmonic convergence of awful. Born in 1895 in Würzburg, he served with distinction in World War I. Rising from the enlisted ranks to Leutnant, Dirlewanger suffered six battle wounds on the way to the Iron Cross 1st Class. That’s the only good part. By then, he was already an alcoholic, a predatory sexual brute with a taste for minors, and a sadist with a tendency to run amok. Even then, twenty-five years before his WWII infamy, one may very reasonably suppose that atrocities were done under his leadership.

War changes most who see it, and especially those who fight in it. In Dirlewanger’s case, war made a bad mind worse. He spent the 1920s and early 1930s fighting in nationalist/fascist militias while embezzling from his employer and, somehow, obtaining a Ph.D in political science. When a court convicted him in 1934 of raping a fourteen-year-old girl, the Nazi party kicked him out. He even spent time in a concentration camp. What saved him then, and would save him later, were connections. His old army buddy Gottlob Berger had since risen to high rank in the SS, and sprang Dirlewanger from confinement. Finding the Spanish Civil War most convenient, Dirlewanger volunteered for the Spanish Foreign Legion. When Germany intervened, Berger got Dirlewanger transferred to the ground component of the Condor Legion. Cowardice was never one of Dirlewanger’s many deficiencies. His performance in combat gave Berger the necessary ammunition to reinstate Dirlewanger in the Nazi party.

Then came the outbreak of war, and in 1940, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler assigned Dirlewanger to the battalion of paroled poachers that represented the beginnings of the Dirlewanger Brigade. What we learn from his conduct at the helm of this unit, or at least what I take away from it, is what can occur when a man with a perverted code of morality receives absolute power in a situation where nothing he can do in the enemy’s general direction will earn him reproof. Dirlewanger spent the remainder of the war leading the most loathsome unit in the German armed forces with ferocious bravery, and committing rape, arson, torture, and murder with equal ferocity.

There is no evidence Dirlewanger ever asked a trooper to do a thing Dirlewanger would not do himself. What would normally be a commendable military leadership virtue, in this case, becomes one of the few ways to make a bad record worse. As bad as some of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian SS police were–and if you do not know how bad, you have no idea how much currency Premier Putin’s accusations against modern Ukraine carry in the minds of those who know anything about eastern Europe–Dirlewanger’s polyglot force of condemned criminals, failed officers, and conscripted POWs was worse than any. The unit spent minimal time in frontline combat until very late in the war. It made war upon partisans and defenseless civilians in the occupied western USSR and Poland. All that they did, they did under the orders of SS-Obf. Oskar Dirlewanger.

After the German military collapsed, and his eponymous unit fell to broken bits, Dirlewanger tried to hide out. Acting on a tip, French occupation authorities detained him. Considering that the French knew exactly who they had, and considering that the detention camp had Polish guards, and considering that the French are not fundamentally naïve, I find it asking too much for us to believe that the French ever intended Dirlewanger to face a trial. While some of the details are murky and disputed, there seems no reasonable doubt that sometime around 5 June 1945, Polish guards beat Dirlewanger to death.

Merci. Dziękuję.

Naturally, it didn’t take long for rumors to begin that Dirlewanger had escaped beyond justice. A 1960 exhumation put those to rest in most evidence-oriented minds. Fifty-five years on, and seventy after his death, the modern mind often forgets Dirlewanger. At least, until one sees a photo of his gaunt, high-cheekboned face, with deep-socketed eyes that gaze out at the viewer to warn: if you’re soul-searching, don’t bother looking here. If you found one, you’d wish you hadn’t.

Every time someone does something truly awful–a school massacre, for example, or a day in the life of ISIS/ISIL–a number of wonderful, kind-hearted, truly decent folk will lament: “How can people DO that? WHY?” I understand that they do not understand. Their inability to see the world from the perspective of a Dirlewanger, or a Joseph Kony, or their like, is an enviable virtue. I hope they preserve it. One suspects that you rarely hear such a question from, for example, a Supermax guard, because they work in surroundings saturated by evil. As for me, I have never seen evil on that scale, but I’ve seen and felt enough of the real deal to answer the innocent lamentation. The answer’s simple:

“You wouldn’t understand. Rejoice in that. I wish I didn’t.”

Hosing off after automobile shopping

It will take a high-pressure nozzle. After dealing with most of the auto sales outfits in my wife’s area, it may take that to denude us of the ick.

My wife’s work requires her to drive moderate distances on a regular basis, which means that when her vehicle ceases to feel reliable, she isn’t the only one uncomfortable with that. Call me a sexist pig to your heart’s content: I view it as my personal undelegateable husbandly duty to make sure that my wife has a safe, reliable vehicle. I’m still driving my 1990 Toyota pickup, and with luck, I may drive it for another twenty-four years. She goes through cars in six to eight years. When it’s time to go shopping, I do most of the research, because I have more time to do it.

I have a number of friends, however, who know many things I do not. One goes back with me to third grade: my man Russell Deason, a fellow veteran of Heritage Child Abuse Christian School in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado. Among Russell’s virtues is a mean streak when it comes to those who prey upon others, and with his sales background, that’s terrible news for car dealerships.

Before I get on with the story, with Russell’s kind permission, I quote here most of the advice he gave me. I took as much of it as possible, and kept some of the remainder in the quiver in case I needed it. I would like to share it with the world.

RD: “Look and show interest early in the month but walk on all offers. Return the last week of the month when they are desperate to make sales and fulfill their quotas. Continue to string the salesman along all month with teaser contacts (usually less painful over the phone than in person). Beware of the “tie down” questions. Those are designed to get you to answer yes, nod your head and other affirmative actions which in theory make it psychologically easier for them to ask you for the purchase. Drive the salesman nuts by constantly answering those questions ambiguously or negatively. Create a very long objections list to each vehicle you are considering. Dig through every consumer report on each and compile every petty complaint. Salesmen are taught to “answer objections” in ways that allow them to turn the objection in a “tie down.” If you beat them at this game they will become frustrated, their egos get bruised and they get desperate to land your sale because they cannot stand to be beaten at their own game. Finally, beware the “manager.” This person is their most well trained “closer.” They are the party best at the “tie down” and high pressure tactics. Do everything possible to avoid that person until you are actually ready to make the deal. When you do reach that point, insist on changing the chair position in the office. They will seat you back to the door. Turn the chair sideways so you can see the door. This unnerves them as this is a key point in their tactics. Tell the actual salesman to either not stand behind you or leave the room. Make that statement an order. They use that tactic to create an uncomfortable environment. Insist on time alone in the room to read the contracts in their entirety and hold out the possibility you may ask your lawyer to review them before finalizing the purchase. These are all things I was taught in sales training. Use them to your advantage with my full blessing. Please make the salesmen squirm so I can hear about it afterward.”

And I did. Russell, I know this is the best way to thank you.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t practical for us to time it that well. We needed to get Deb a new car, my window of time to help her was July 4, and that was that. But we were well prepared for their psychological warfare, and when they cut loose with it, we made sure it backfired.

RD: “I very much like David’s [another helpful commenter, David Lee] idea of a list the salesman is not allowed to see. They will find that most unnerving. I agree it’s also a very good idea to withhold job, family, downpayment amount or any other personal info back until you are ready to negotiation in earnest. Simply tell them that information isn’t relevant until “you are ready to be closed.” They hate customers who know what the close is and know how to avoid it. Also tell them upfront that you “will tell them when you’re ready to be closed. Please don’t try before that time as I find it offensive and more likely to go to your competitor if you do.” The more you take control of the entire situation the better. Their entire sales system is predicated on isolating the customer, controlling the conversation and narrative, creating a conversation full of the “tie down” (yes it does work on most people), and in hyping the emotional interest you show. Be dryly analytical about your interest in the vehicles. They play on emotion. They prefer the customer who is impressed by horsepower, options, fancy colors and street presence. If you display nothing but a dry analysis which allows no room for emotional manipulation you’ll be better off.”

I steeled myself. I think the points on my ears actually become more pronounced.

RD: “One more thing … the salesman is trained to exhibit positive body language especially when using “tie down” statements. They will nod their heads affirmatively vigorously, touch the vehicle fondly, pat you on the back or any other thing they can think of to reaffirm their desire for you to respond positively. They are also taught to watch for your compliance. So be VERY conscious of this and any time they are nodding yes, nod no. Respond to every question designed to get an affirmative answer (even if you answer affirmatively) with a negative head shake or other action like turning your back on the vehicle or salesman, scrunched face or a fart for that matter. This also confuses the salesman because they aren’t getting their desired reaction.”

We did not really get into this part as much, since we made looking at vehicles the last step, and did so only at the dealership where we had already negotiated what I think was a reasonable price. However, it does apply to most people.

RD: “If you are mindful in person, and force yourself to be cold it’s a great advantage. Go in person only when you are already in a bad mood and have negativity on your mind. Do anything that will put you in that frame of mind before meeting them. It helps.”

That was easy. After a month of emailing with dealer sales representatives, being put on spam lists, having my questions ignored and getting answers to many questions I never asked, the hard part was not being cold. The hard part was not betraying any emotion at all, especially the dominant ones of a) quivering with revulsion, or b) visceral loathing that burned with a sickly greenish-yellow flame.

RD: “Another good help with the in-person contact is to be in a hurry. Tell the salesman you have fifteen minutes and nothing more. Carry a stopwatch or set your phone for one if necessary. Control the situation by announcing the time left every 5 minutes and every minute after the halfway point. This was a tactic actually taught to me in a seminar by a 5 star salesman who used it to put off car salesman when he made his own purchases. He announced upfront, “I’ve done all the research. I know what I want. I’m in a hurry I only have 15 minutes. After that I’ll go somewhere else if you don’t give me a satisfactory deal.” Salesman use fatigue as a tactic. They drag out the sale and the close to wear people down. Thus the “let me go ask my manager” gag done several times before the manager finally comes in to do the close. By then you’re worn down and already beaten down by tie-downs. Don’t give them any time. Always be in a hurry.”

We did this right, though it only factored in on our trade-in evaluation visits. And oh, how they hated it.

RD: “I keep thinking of things. A technique is taught to turn objections into tie downs. The classic example is a price objection. Salesmen are taught to say “so what you’re telling me is that if I could get you this car for x$ you would buy this car today?” They attempt to put the affirmation in your head. The correct response is ALWAYS to say no and to reiterate your objection saying “I was only seeking an answer to the specific question. It does not infer anything further than a desire for information.” This also flummoxes the salesman because they know then you are onto the technique being used.”

We didn’t even let them get that far. They tried.

RD: “They use the same for options or features … “so what you’re telling me is if I had this car in hot pink with power windows and a V6, you’d buy it today?” The kicker is always “buy it today.” It’s a form of psychological warfare. The best defense for this is the hurry. I’ve only got 15 minutes and I have a LONG list of objections and questions. I’m NOT prepared to buy today, I’m only info gathering. If the salesman decides to blow you off because you’re holding your ground then you have the impetus to later to call the sales manager and complain. In turn the sales manager will force the salesman to call you repeatedly to try to make amends. It can be quite an amusing scenario. Always try to appear nonplussed and even a little pissed off with their performance or offerings when leaving. Also, always ask to use the restroom and complain about it’s cleanliness. This usually results in the salesman cleaning the restroom or being forced to do so when he’s being interrogated by the SM about why his contact with you didn’t result in a sale that day. Using the restroom is a good diversionary tactic if you are feeling overwhelmed by tiedowns and other high pressure gimmicks and it gives you an open opportunity to criticize. Also complain any car you sit in or test drive isn’t very clean and doesn’t have that “new car smell” you love so much. Ask if it’s been on the lot a long time, or has been used as a loaner by the service department and if it has been smoked in. This makes them manic.”

We used the hurry very effectively. And when some of their managers follow up, they will not like what they will hear.

RD: “…their system was researched and designed by psychologists. One must be very diligent and aware. Even those like myself who are aware of all these techniques can fall prey to a skilled operator. The best advice is to be obstreperous, hurried and constantly shake one’s head no. The very act of shaking your head no helps to allay the psychological pressures being brought against you.”

And it’s true. If you don’t realize that the whole tactical goal of what they do is to cause you to purchase something whether you want it or not, you can get maneuvered. You can’t play any game well unless you know its rules.

So. With that, our story.

A month beforehand, I wrote to about eight Toyota dealerships in the Portland, Oregon area requesting quotations on specific new vehicles, plus trade-in estimates. In my mail program, I coded their names with an abbreviation for the dealership and a number representing the order in which they responded, so that I could hold tardiness against the tardy. Thus, there was James RMT0, Julian RTT6, and so on. The result informed me that I wasn’t going to like the process.

Some took days to get back to me, and a couple never did at all. Some had communal e-mails, so you never really knew who you were dealing with. Some sent quotes from addresses one could not reply to. Many were semi-literate. Two put me on spam lists, and one actually failed to take me off their list upon the first request. No matter; I got a price spread, a rough idea of trade-in values, and a feel for which dealerships were pushiest, which were stupidest, and so on. All, of course, wanted me to phone them. Not a chance. The vast majority of the responses I got were garbage, irrelevant to what I’d asked.

The trip to Portland approached, and with the necessary funds on accessible deposit, it was time for us all to get serious. I explained our timeframe and the models that interested us, requesting quotes on three models, a quote on an option, a rough trade-in estimate subject to examination, and their work schedule for the upcoming weekend. Four responses came in, of which three were close to fully responsive: let’s call them Theater, Royal Baby, Mr. Wilson, and Witch Trial. (Samira, the rep at Theater, was perfectly responsive–strong props for a businesslike reply. Mr. Wilson’s rep refused to give even a range for the trade-in based on our very liberal parameters, immediately marking that dealership as a trouble spot. Royal Baby’s rep only remembered late in the game, just as I was leaving for the airport, that he wouldn’t be there on July 4, and sent me a colleague’s name. I didn’t bother to record it or ask for him. Let’s call him Walmart.)

Since we were doing the initial visits on July 4, Witch Trial wasn’t open that day, and it was out of the running unless all the rest failed, in which case we’d have to resort to Plan B–going in without some numbers beforehand. Had we found that necessary, we’d have had occasion to use far more of Russell’s good advice. Even so, it was of great value. In retrospect, where we didn’t do it his way, it was because the method we had chosen insulated us from the need to worry about that.

Before I left, I printed out all the quotation e-mails, and organized all the prices into a spreadsheet. The biggest remaining variable was trade-in value. Normally we’d sell the car ourselves, but I didn’t want my wife having to mess with that. Also, frankly, there were a few things about it that could stand to be serviced, and I felt more comfortable putting it into the used auto sausage machine than dealing with an individual coming back to complain that the gas mileage was lower than usual (normal on older vehicles of this model), or that a couple of the indicator lights wouldn’t shut off.

Thus, my logic: go to the three available dealerships and simply obtain a firm trade-in value. Nothing else. And see how they reacted to ‘nothing else’ as a concept.

First, off to Theater, where we met with Samira. She did precisely as we asked: obtained a firm trade-in value, and otherwise did not hassle us. Bear in mind that we already had her pricing, and in order to know what her cars would cost us, we needed only a firm trade-in. We advised her that we were in a hurry, and within twenty minutes we had what we’d come for. Overall, her pricing was second best not considering the trade-in.

We haled south to Mr. Wilson, which was an astonishing experience. Since the individual we’d spoken with was not present, we figured we were starting fresh (albeit with some reality check quotes to consider). Mr. Wilson was a shark tank, with plastic smiles converging on us before we got inside the front door. We asked to obtain a firm trade-in value for our vehicle, and were routed to the ‘sales manager.’ He began to deliver an oration on the dealership’s virtues and methods. I interrupted him, explaining that we didn’t need to hear any of that right now. Amazingly, he attempted to insist: “No, you do need to hear this.” I stood my ground. “No. We are not here for that. We are not going to buy on this visit. If you would like to be considered, we have fifteen minutes for you to evaluate our trade-in.” A frustrated, resentful employee finally undertook this task. While he did that, in a move that creeped us both out, the dealership looked us up in some database, presumably from our previous purchase, asking about us living at an address that was now obsolete.

While we sat in the lounge chairs, we watched another customer being strung along by another salesman as he waited, and he was blissfully vocal: “Goddamnit, I’ve been here three hours. If you guys don’t get it together, I’m leaving!” We enjoyed commiserating with him about the general suckage of car dealerships. I’d just about decided that Mr. Wilson would be at the bottom of our totem pole anyway, because their prices had been least competitive to begin with. The trade-in was reasonable, but not enough to overcome the poor pricing and ick factor overall.

As I was walking around the outside trying to find Deb, yet another salesman accosted me–let’s call him Potato. He’d seen the Idaho tags and wanted to talk, so we talked about Idaho and other meaningless things while I tried to spot my wife. He then switched to asking questions about our purchase. I explained that we were there for a trade-in value only. He persisted, asking rapid-fire questions about what we wanted to buy, and demanded to know why we did not buy today. I politely changed the subject. “You haven’t answered my question!” Potato said, polymer grin masking frustration. I said something else irrelevant. “You’re not even going to answer my question?” he demanded. Yes, demanded–and incredulously. I spotted Deb, said we needed to get going, and walked away. My last memory of Potato was his voice complaining: “I’ve never been treated this way before!”

So, I guess, in his universe, I was required to submit to any and all forms of inquiry, and if I declined politely, I was just a jerk. Nice job, Mr. Wilson.

Next it was off to Royal Baby, where Walmart had offered the best prices and most promising trade-in range. However, Walmart wasn’t working, so I figured I was on my own. I didn’t think that mattered much; surely they would price competitively, and if it was the best deal, we’d seriously consider it. That began with getting a firm trade-in value, and they didn’t give us too much grief about that. Their offer was very respectable, and we retired to Taco Time to eat lunch and consult. Over lunch, we decided to go back to Royal Baby and take the next step. Little did we know how much we were about to learn about the retail auto sales business, and that if we’d thought Mr. Wilson was a bag of foreskins, we hadn’t seen anything yet.

We sat down with a young salesman whom let’s call Julio, and began to talk about what we wanted–we had pretty well chosen one of the three original possibilities. Immediately another salesman let’s call Insurance Beard, supposedly a sales manager, sat down with him. The desk was by the front window, so I promptly turned my chair to put my back against that window. I looked askance at him: “Do you also have a role in this transaction?” Insurance Beard said something vague, which I interpreted to mean: ‘This is Julio’s first day and he doesn’t know beer from urine.’ We explained what we wanted and asked for a quotation. Julio and Insurance Beard left and came back with the list price minus the trade-in–which was much lower than the earlier value given, $1000 lower, in fact.

I kid you not.

I explained that I was very, very surprised, and that I’d expected a competitive quote. I gather that this caused them to think of Walmart, whom I hadn’t mentioned (why should I?). That set off some sort of alarm in Insurance Beard’s mind. He went in the back and dug through some emails, then came out with a look of patient disapproval on his face. “Did you get some quotations from Walmart?” Yes, I had, I said, but I figured he wasn’t here, so I had to start over. Insurance Beard went back, then came out with a hardcase let’s call Elijah. Elijah remonstrated with us for not telling them about Walmart in the first place. He talked over me, and I could tell he was mad as hell. Elijah began to lecture me about how Internet sales and floor sales were totally separate things, that good floor guys sold maybe twelve cars a month, but good Internet guys sold forty.

(As an aside: think about the implications of that. That means that they get a ton of online inquiries, and that those people get much better prices. Salespeople are evaluated on the profit they earn for the firm. That tells you that if you walk into the lot cold, you are getting the very worst pricing. The only way to buy new cars for a decent price is to contact them online, where you can keep a boundary between yourself and the ick.)

Next, Elijah accused me of trying to pit the departments against each other. When I tried to explain that I had no idea how his sales department worked, and didn’t care, he kept talking over me. He finished by presenting Wal-Mart’s original offer plus a couple hundred in movement on the trade–a very good offer, and one we would have accepted if presented by a non-jerk. “This offer is good right now only. If you want to do business, fine. If not, it’s been nice meeting you,” he said, in a tone that contradicted his words.

I wasn’t going to be bullied; I said we’d have to reconsider. I reached to take the paper with the offer. “You don’t get to keep that. That’s my property!” he snarled. At that point, Deb had had enough. My beautiful bride stood up and walked out, instructing Elijah to fuck himself. Brimming with marital pride, I followed her, commenting to Julio (who seemed very disappointed) that I’d never dealt with such an asshole before in my life, and that I was sorry he had to work for someone like that. We’d been told by locals that Royal Baby was a dump, and now we know just how truly awful it was. As we drove away, we marveled at the sort of stupidity that had a sale and destroyed it with bad attitude.

We also now had to think on our next move. While we’d made people uncomfortable at two dealerships, about which I felt zero guilt, we didn’t yet have forward movement on a purchase. I’m a believer that better people should get the business. I’m also a believer that once one identifies the better people, when it comes down to the firm process of making a deal, being forthright can get you places. Thus, I got on the phone to Samira. I explained that we’d just come out of two other dealerships and that we wanted to scrub ourselves off with brillo. I told her we’d like to stop by, if she’d still be there, even though she was a bit higher than the lowest competition. How much? asked she. I do poorly talking or calculating on cell phones while riding in the passenger seat, so I guessed at a gap of $1800 including trade-in, making very clear that it was just a guess. I suggested that if she could meet us in the middle, that would work. She called me back in a few minutes and told me she could come down $500, so that we wouldn’t be surprised when we got there. We still decided to proceed.

When we came in, I did the math in front of Samira. I labeled one column Samira and one Jerk, then put down honest figures as they stood at the moment. That got a laugh out of her. My estimate had been wide of the mark: they were $1261 apart, not $1800. “Samira, half the difference is $630, discounting the buck. Meet me there, and we’ll have a deal.” She checked, and did, as I was pretty sure she would. It was too late to go to the bank for a cashier’s check, so we picked out the specific vehicle and arranged to handle the transaction the next day.

Could we have beaten her up a little more on price? Perhaps, but I gave consideration to Samira’s overall presentation. She was the only one who had done only what we requested and neither pushed for more nor asked unwanted questions. She had done the best job by far. In fact, she was the only one who had done an acceptable job.

How’d we do on pricing? Per KBB, the fair market price is $25,916 out the door. We paid, let’s see: about $23,500. Not bad. However, if we’d been able to time it better, we could have improved that. It surely would have improved in another month. Unfortunately, greater considerations impacted us. I think we didn’t do too badly.

We learned a lot, though, especially about the difference between pre-shopping online and just bombulating into the front door. Let’s distill what we learned:

  1. If you just walk in the front door, you are a sheep awaiting shearing.
  2. Advance research and price comparison are crucial.
  3. Expect a good percentage of the dealerships you contact online to ignore everything you asked them, and to ‘follow up’ with you or put you on spam lists.
  4. They really do hate when you keep control of the sale, which is primarily accomplished by refusing to let them put you into their patented sales process.
  5. If they don’t get their way, they get borderline loutish. They may believe they are entitled to demand answers of you.
  6. They expect to hold all the information cards, and for you to hold and play none. When you play one, that’s cheating. When they play one, that’s smart business.
  7. You can’t trust Yelp or other online site reviews of any business. There are ‘reputation management’ companies out there busily creating spurious reviews loaded with bologna. In fact, my experience is you should go the opposite direction. Any business with massive amounts of loving reviews, especially with the same ‘customer service manager’ graciously returning all the oral sex in the comments, has quite probably bought them to swamp glaring deficiencies or simply render negative reviews harder to find.
  8. If you get a variety of offers online, you can use the best one to beat up (that’s sales jargon for negotiating aggressively) the floor salespeople anywhere but the dealership that gave you the online quote. Just don’t go to that same dealership’s floor people, that’s all.
  9. Trade-ins can vary widely–our lowest and highest offers were $2900 and $4500. You should learn in advance what is the acceptable range.
  10. Trade-ins are a shell game, and a silly one. Who cares whether they knock $1000 off the price, or give you $1000 more for the trade? It’s all the same unless sales tax is involved (which in Oregon it is not).
  11. Even if you don’t plan to trade your car in, you can still have them evaluate it, and see how they respond to your insistence that they do no more than that, and ask you no further questions.

It’s still as slimy a business as it has ever been. It has not gotten better at all. The more the dealership brags about how ‘different’ it is than the others, the more you should guard your wallet. You are still dealing with a fundamentally deceptive, dishonest business, and as such, you do not owe it honesty or candor unless someone earns these of you. And after studying Russell’s advice–which fortified us greatly, and in gratitude for which we can’t wait to buy him a decent dinner if life ever brings him our direction–I suggest that when shopping for cars, you consider the words of Anton LaVey (the carny who became a Satanist to shock people, then decided he liked it). I think he cribbed it from an Eastern proverb:

Lie to a liar for lies are his coin;

Steal from a thief, ’tis easy you’ll find;

Trick a trickster and win the first time —

But beware of the man who has no axe to grind.

Never as true as when dealing with auto dealerships.

Scumbag studies: Major Vidkun Quisling

I’m proud to announce a new category for one of my favorite topics: 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 shunned it 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 one notch under ‘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.
  • 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 for 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 narrow 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 and form standpoint, it bears some resemblance to Chile. At one spot, a Norwegian Sea fjord extends inland to within two miles of the Swedish border.

These days they have oil, but in the 1940s, 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. War 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. The easiest mode of transport was for the Swedes to ship the ore 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. Whether Norwegians like it or not–and they did not–Norway was going to find itself caught up in WWII.

This was Quisling’s country, and he was at heart an ardent if deluded Norwegian patriot. He was a tall, dour, anti-social man not given to small talk; he was great at math, and may perhaps have had Asperger’s. 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 under somewhat of a cloud, bringing a big art collection he’d bought on the cheap. 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 odd philosophy called Universism, which as near as I can tell, asserted nothing profound. (In more recent times, a group of freethinkers seems to have gotten this title on sale at a thrift store, and is now using it to describe a philosophy they can’t seem to summarize with any brevity.)

Not long after he got home, Quisling left the 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, Norwegians figured they’d read Quisling correctly. 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 whether they were). 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. The Allied troops fought bravely, but did not change the ultimate outcome very much. 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. That pissed the Germans off, as 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). 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. (Today they would be on Twitter wailing about “Fake news!”) 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 having ever been admitted to the Norwegian bar–but it does brush against 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 the entire nation had seen Quisling commit treason. Might as well make the whole trial squeaky-clean-fair, since it’s not as if he had much chance of acquittal. 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 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 are not going to cut it.’

Scumbag studies: 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.

SS: Roll of Infamy by Christopher Ailsby

I’ve had this encylopedic/coffee table book for a while. The subject alternately interests and repels me.

Some people may need some background. In Nazi Germany, the Schutzstaffel–the dreaded SS, emblemized by the twin S-runes that looked like lightning bolts–was nothing less than a state within the state. The Waffen-SS, or armed SS, was the military formation. Its units ranged from ferociously brave and competent to mutinous and cowardly, and from decently fierce to culpability in some of the most loathsome atrocities of the modern era. Quite a few were hanged or shot after the war, the vast majority of whom had it coming. What is less known about them can be summarized neatly:

  1. The SS was much more than an armed force. It was an industrial conglomerate, which one might also call a greed machine. It generated many billions of fiat money Reichsmarks that would become worthless upon the defeat of Nazi Germany, whose war lasted about as long as it takes most people to get a BA and MA. And yes, a great percentage of that wealth was gotten from means such as slave labor, robbing the murdered, blackmail, ransom and so on.
  2. For all its Teutonocentrism, it found excuses to include a lot of non-Germans and even non-Aryans. There was a British Free Corps, the only SS unit with a cuffband in English. It had a Turkestani unit. There were whole divisions of Bosnians, Croatians, Galicians, Latvians, Estonians, Frenchmen, Russians and more. Performance varied from valiant to awful, from honorable to the very worst of the German military (and in World War II, that worst was the type of thing decent people have a hard time imagining). You had the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen,” for example, a capable formation not implicated in any atrocities. At the other end, units as despicable as what became the 36th SS-Waffen-Grenadier Division “Dirlewanger,” the SS penal unit commanded by an alcoholic child rapist and guilty in numerous appalling deeds.
  3. The SS were not the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), although the SS-SD intelligence service was surely as terrifying as the Gestapo. This confusion is common.

Ailsby treats noteworthy SS personalities in encyclopedic format, which makes lookups easy. In many cases he has located worthwhile minutiae, such as most entries’ Party and SS numbers (it was hardly rare for an SS soldier to be a member of the Nazi party), and for winners of very selective decorations, the number of the award. What I don’t grasp is the number of entries for highly decorated individuals implicated in no vile deeds. The author can’t cheat with his title. An SS corporal who died earning the Knight’s Cross, for example, was indeed part of a force that has earned infamy for may good reasons, but that’s not enough reason to list him in a book whose title suggests that it’s full of cutthroats. Odilo Globocnik, Alfred Naujocks and Joachim Peiper belong here, among quite a few others. A few highly decorated enlisted men with no record of atrocities really do not.

I also find some of his research sloppy, seemingly hasty. There are a few SS personalities I have researched as extensively as my resources would allow, and I used them somewhat as benchmarks. Terms are misspelled; details are at times glossed or inaccurate. I don’t lack empathy for the effort involved in the book, and the shortcuts it might require. Shortcuts will mean missed details, errors and such; I have made some myself in my own historical writing, not that I pardon myself for them. I see this book as someone who might have written it: hundreds of individuals to include, with a limited amount of time to spend on each, and without the resources to do academic-quality work.

That, friends, is the reality of historical writing. Academic-grade work involves the kind of research that the book’s proceeds cannot possibly recoup, and that’s why the books cost a lot, and why they are credible as sources. Mass-market-grade work is profitable, but will vary in quality. In the historical writing I have done, I’ve prided myself on coming within perhaps 90% of the credibility of academic grade, without the travel costs and months of focus needed for the latter. But I’m no expert on WWII, and to write the book, Ailsby must fundamentally purport to be such. If he is, it follows that I should not catch him in many, if any mistakes. I do. That leaves me no choice but to find this fault.

In the end, Ailsby has produced an okay book, but no better, even allowing for the research practicalities. He has collected a fair bit of good information, gotten some wrong, and misnamed the book with a misleadingly lurid title.

Myths and facts not commonly known about the Black Sox Scandal

Eight of the 1919 Chicago White Sox gained infamy for involvement in throwing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, who were the underdogs. Their names were “Chick” Gandil, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, “Buck” Weaver, “Happy” Felsch, “Lefty” Williams, Eddie Cicotte and “Swede” Risberg.

However, it didn’t go down the way many assume.

Facts:

There were only supposed to be seven players involved. Fred McMullin, a substitute infielder who fielded well and hit meh, overheard the talk and threatened to rat if he wasn’t cut in. He only got to bat twice, both times pinch hitting, with one base hit for a .500 average.

Most were stars. McMullin was the only scrub involved. Gandil was a fine-fielding, good-hitting first baseman. Jackson’s hitting is a thing of fable and fame, and he wasn’t bad with the leather either. Weaver could hit and field third base very well. Felsch was a great hitter, especially in the clutch, but as a center fielder he was lockdown with a rifle arm. Williams was one of the league’s best pitchers. At his best, Cicotte’s array of pitches could give the league’s best hitters fits. Risberg was a decent-hitting young shortstop with good range, a future star.

The overall effect of the ban seems to have been to allow the public to believe what it wanted: that the rot was all excised, that the grand old game (which, remember, wasn’t that old) was ‘clean.’ This might explain why, in the late 1920s, Commissioner Landis wasn’t eager to have another scandal involving Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Imagine the damage that would have done–including making Landis look less effective.

It’s unlikely there’d have been a fix if ‘Commy’ hadn’t been the worst cheapskate in baseball. Sox owner Charles Comiskey (yes, the ballpark’s namesake) had some of baseball’s best players and paid them very poorly, knowing that the reserve clause prevented them from becoming free agents. It may be a myth that Comiskey rigged matters to keep Cicotte from winning thirty games and getting a big bonus in 1918, but the problem here is that even if it’s not true, anyone who knows much about Comiskey would believe him capable of such.

The real injustice is not that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and his .3558 lifetime batting average (behind only Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby) aren’t in the Hall of Fame. The real injustice is that Comiskey, who had good evidence the fix was in and covered it up, is in the Hall–and was never banned. Then as now, if you were rich enough, you could get away with anything. Puta la madre, puta la hija.

Comiskey would have preferred to win the Series, but he had greater concerns. A long series meant a bigger gate. An aggressive investigation from the start would have cost him a lot of money at the gate, wrecked much of the equity in his franchise, and done no favors for the value of other teams. It would have been the right thing to do, of course, but would you really expect a major businessman to do the right thing even when it would damage his financial interests? Here, I’ll hold the ball, and you run up and kick it.

Myths:

Landis’s draconian action largely ended gamblers’ involvement with ballplayers. It is safer to say that the bans made game-throwing far more circumspect. By the 1940s, even being seen with a gambler or organized crime figure could get a player in trouble (as Leo Durocher’s ghost would tell you).

The eight Sox were the only ones banned. Joe Gedeon, a Browns middle infielder with a very promising future, got a lifetime ban just for having known about the fix and not speaking up.

The eight Sox were convicted in court. In fact, they were acquitted. Then banned anyway, as Landis answered to no court.

Before Landis, there was no commissioner’s function. Oh, there was; it just wasn’t very effective. It was a triumvirate involving the AL and NL presidents, plus one other person. In practice, as its strongest personality, AL founder and president Ban Johnson ran the show. Johnson and Comiskey were bitter enemies, a backdrop that affected the entire investigation.

Rumors of a fix came as a surprise to anyone. By 1919, there were such rumors of some sort every fall, with scattered showers of gambling scuttlebutt all season. The difference in 1919 was that money poured into the betting in ways that professionals recognized as contradicting the usual pattern, and the odds favoring Chicago began to drop. And kept dropping, as you’d expect if a Sox star were injured and with an increasingly grim prognosis–which wasn’t the case.

Arnold Rothstein came up with a plan to fix it. Actually, Rothstein–a professional gambler and urbane but dangerous New York underworld figure–was skeptical at first when minions brought the plan to him. Not that Rothstein wasn’t capable of trying to fix it; he had no scruples of that kind. It wasn’t his idea at all. Many in baseball agreed with Rothstein that fixing a World Series was problematic.

Comiskey, his executives and manager Kid Gleason had no idea of a fix until late 1920. The Grabiner diaries show that Sox executives were seriously concerned as the Series unfolded. Gleason, a man as honest as Hal Chase was crooked, knew it in his gut. Catcher Ray Schalk, watching his best pitchers tank, knew it. Gleason was literally ready to kill over the matter.

The eight were banned immediately after the Series. No, actually, seven of the eight played nearly all of the 1920 season for the White Sox–most performing spectacularly. Only Gandil didn’t play again (for anyone in MLB) after the 1919 Series.

All the best players were in on it. Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk, Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins, Hall of Fame pitcher “Red” Faber, and standout pitcher Dickie Kerr most certainly were not. Kerr managed to win two games with 3/4 of his infield and 2/3 of his outfield at least party to the fix. There was a social divide on the Sox, and those three were on one side, with most to all of the cheaters on the other. Other capable players on the square were right fielder “Nemo” Leibold, right fielder Eddie Murphy, first baseman “Shano” Collins and pitcher Roy Wilkinson. At one point, Cicotte (normally a reliable fielder; .9415 lifetime, #278 all time) seems to have made a couple of errors himself to help the fix along.

The fixers made bank. This’ll show you how dumb a lot of bumptious 1910s ballplayers were: some agreed to fix it for less than the winner’s share–and most never got enough to equal that. Want more evidence of their full-scale dumbness? When Comiskey and his pet lawyer Alfred Austrian confronted some of them, three signed away immunity, trusting ‘Commy’ and his attack dog to guard their interests. Ha. While I wouldn’t consider illiteracy (Jackson could barely, with effort, write his name, but someone had to read a contract to him, and he wouldn’t understand half the words) to equal dumbness, it sure looks like Weaver, Jackson and Felsch were of below average brainpower.

All eight actually threw the Series. There is good reason to believe that Buck Weaver was never in on the fix, and played to win. The hard part here is judging effort and timing without video evidence, and eyewitness accounts differ. However, it looks as if Jackson played to win. Gandil, by all accounts the ringleader and a cold-blooded customer, may not have. Williams’ and Cicotte’s pitching looks questionable, to go by their catcher’s opinion (and this old catcher naturally tends to trust a brother backstop). Risberg, who like Gandil evidently had a streak of thug in him, may have thrown it for real. Felsch is a question mark. McMullin hardly had the opportunity.

All the games were fixed. For one thing, the Sox won three games, so that’s doubtful. For another, most of the money never came through as promised game by game, so even players who had agreed to the sordid deal quickly became disgruntled. Some never got a dime.

In reality, we do not know and cannot know who played crooked, nor how often. We do know that Chicago was originally favored for reasons of superior talent backed by statistics, and lost to Cincinnati five games to three. And at least some of the Sox were, for some games, in the tank.

Recent read: The Rajneesh Chronicles

By Win McCormack, The Rajneesh Chronicles proposes to tell the story of an Indian cult’s takeover of a tiny Oregon town, the shenanigans committed by the guru’s minions, their biological terror activity and their downfall.

This interests me because my home residence was rather close to Wasco County, Oregon. I played high school sports against teams from Wasco County, shopped there, drove there for such fun as existed. The bioterror attacks harmed people I knew and liked, folk who were just going to The Dalles for dinner (typically a substandard prospect). The short version: in 1981, a guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh got out of India before the state turned the heat up to frying temperature, and decided to park his movement in Antelope, Oregon. Antelope only had about forty residents, its county of Wasco having about 20-25,000 residents. The Rajneeshees bought up a distressed ranch near Antelope, started building a compound, brought in over a thousand of their own people, took over Antelope by sheer electoral numbers, renamed it Rajneeshpuram, and tried to take over the government of Wasco Country. That’s where the bioterror attack came in–it was meant to keep voters from the polls. They had homebrew salmonella, and they hosed it onto public salad bars. It sickened about 750 people, with roughly forty hospitalized (a very heavy load for the local hospital). With bad timing, my family could have been among them.

The Rajneeshes were pretty sinister; imagine one of those breakaway pseudo-Mormon polygamist communities with their total control over sworn local police and politics, but larger. Supposedly, this was all about enlightenment, peace, love and such. Given how efficient the Rajneesh leaders were at milking money out of new arrivals, and how many expensive cars Rajneesh owned, looks to me like it was a big con game dressed up in cute red robes. Eventually the state of Oregon caught on, the Federal government got involved, and both started leaning on the Rajneeshees. Rajneesh himself was deported, some of his lieutenants did jail time, and Antelope got its town back–and for the first time in its history, it might actually interest the outside world. (Antelope is remote as hell.  It’s about 85 miles south of The Dalles, and the only thing nearby that would attract traffic is a resort on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.) The nearest city is Madras, OR (which has decided not to rename itself Chennai).

Here’s what’s awful about this book. On its face, it can’t lose. It was assembled by a reporter who spent a lot of time busting out Rajneeshee shenanigans, back in the day. He was perfectly positioned to write a definitive history of the group, its activities, its people (especially the colorful and combative Sheela Silverman, aka Ma Anand Sheela), the whole story. It ought to hit the story into the nosebleed seats.

It does not. The editor/author just gathered up a bunch of old magazine articles from the Rajneesh years (many of them his own), arranged them in chrono order, added some pics, and called it a book. What is wrong with this? Think of what goes into a magazine article. An article cannot assume the reader’s familiarity with the previous events. It has to re-introduce the persons involved, define again esoteric terms, recap the story to date, and so on. In every article. Every time. What’s more, except for the front and back material, that is all the reader will receive. No ongoing analysis and interpretation, no insertion of new facts come to light in the intervening quarter century, no fullness of story. If you had an old stack of the magazines in which the articles originally appeared, you’d already have the book.

This I do not like. Every columnist, blogger or journalist who just gathers up a pile of old stuff and slaps it together into a book has cheated, because any hosehead can do that. A book meant to tell the story of an event (such as calling it ‘Chronicles’) should do just that, relating the tale in light of all relevant knowledge past and present. This could have been an excellent study in religious cults, their tendency to exaggerate leaders’ virtues and faults, and how people got sucked in. It could have been very much worth the money, especially in these days in which the threat of biological terror is taken very seriously. We could even have learned which restaurants were attacked, how it was carried out, more about what went on inside the cult, what its current ‘Osho’ diaspora thinks of it now. (They aren’t hard to find. I dated one for a year.) We could have heard stories from those who got sick.

Nope. That would be work. Other than the intro material, it’s just a bunch of old magazine articles. The source material has been mistaken for the book.

What a cheesy way to wring some modern profit from a bunch of outdated work–for which one was already paid once.

The day we faced down the Phelps gang

When thinking of people who have no purpose on earth but to hate and harm–real, true emotional terrorists–everyone but about fifty or so Americans agrees that Fred Phelps and his gang take the cake. Out of respect for my Christian friends, I’m not going to dignify the Phelps gang by calling them a Baptist church except in quotes (and tags). As much pain and indoctrination as real Baptists have inflicted on me in life while I was defenseless, even those involved in those abuses would not approve of the Phelps gang. Thus, I’m not cooperating with fake ‘Baptists’ in the effort to steal the title of authentic Baptists. I may not agree with much of anything that comes from the latter’s ecclesiastical leadership, but when it comes to Phelps, I’m okay singing a stanza of Onward Christian Soldiers with the real ones. (With my atrocious singing voice, they may not think of it as much of a joyful noise.)

Being a non-Christian here is actually pretty painless, because the Tri-Cities live by a quiet ethic of staying out of your face. It’s the same way with regard to homosexuality. If one doesn’t wash everyone’s face in one’s difference, and simply lives one’s life in peace, one is left in peace here. My gay, pagan and gay pagan friends living in other states tell me I shouldn’t take that for granted, and I believe them.

On 2 Feb 2007, Marine SGT Travis Pfister of Richland, WA died in Iraq. Always sad, but also an ever-present part of war. A memorial service was scheduled in early March for SGT Pfister at the TRAC (a trade show and expo center) in Pasco, to which one could presume his family, friends, and supportive community members might join in honoring his life and sacrifice. The Phelps gang announced that they were sending a picket.

Where there is a Phelps gang visit, counter-protests appear. For this one, attendance was triply obligatory. Phelps’s gang lives in my home state, in gutless Topeka which snivels and cowers before its barratry rather than taking concerted action to encourage them to find a new state. A civilized Kansan thus had to represent. Considering how many of my good friends are gayer than the 90s, I couldn’t look them in the eyes if I didn’t show up. I’m no patriot, but I respect service and sacrifice, and I don’t appreciate anyone–especially outside thugs–showing up to offend the family of someone who died keeping his oath of service. Deb, of course, was as dead set on attending as I.

We had company.

It was a pretty spring day, though I’m sure it didn’t feel springy for those who came to mourn. The law in Washington is that protests may not approach within 500′ of a funeral. The Pasco Police decided to confine the Phelps gang to a vacant lot across the street from the TRAC, well away from the main entrance and avenue of approach for mourners. A thin line of police officers manned the street with obvious reluctance, to prevent the crowd from physically tearing the Phelps gang to pieces. The air was filled with the sound of big motorcycles, for the Patriot Guard Riders had shown up with about 140 bikes. In most situations, to put it mildly, I am not a motorcycle enthusiast. For that day, I was happy to hear the rumbling sound. This organization travels around organizing counter-protests where necessary, and presumably doing other things associated with veterans’ causes. They do add a sense of muscle to the event, just by looking the way they look, not that we needed extra muscle. There were about two thousand people there, and it was a little difficult to get up the front of the police line. There was no way the family and attendees could see the protesters unless they worked at it. There was no way they could fail to see the rest of us, as there was barely room for cars to get around in the parking lot.

Across from us on the vacant lot were five pathetic individuals. I only remember a wild-haired adult male and a little girl. They were holding up their usual disrespectful signs, insulting military service, Christianity and homosexuals. What struck me was the great diversity of the crowd, a full representation of the Tri-Cities. Black, Hispanic, Asian, white; male, female, somewhere in between; straight, gay, still not sure; old, young, middle-aged; atheist, evangelical, Catholic, pagan, Mormon, Unitarian, agnostic; veteran, union, average joe or jane. At last, something we could all agree on and get together about! I am not a person for whom a sense of belonging or membership comes easily. I truly felt like part of the Tri-Cities that day, and proud to be so. We were supposed to turn our backs to them, or at least the Patriot Guard Riders tried to get us to, but not everyone did. I guess that’s the train wreck factor: it’s hard to look away.

In case you have never seen a Phelps gang protest, it works like this. They only send a small group (they’re a busy bunch, with a lot of people to offend nationwide). Their goal is to get attacked, or have some other event happen that will get them media time. If they do not get it, they lose. So they keep ratcheting up the outrage, in order to see what they can provoke, with increasingly offensive yells and signs. At the end, they had the little girl angrily stomp a U.S. flag into the dirt, which I gather is their ultimate step: if that doesn’t get them assaulted, nothing will. In this case, it didn’t. When it becomes obvious they won’t get what they came for, they leave. They may even have been gone before the family arrived at the memorial, which would be an added bonus. I think four squad cars of Franklin County Deputies escorted the Phelps gang’s car to the county line, off to whatever mission of antipathy awaited them next.

On the way home, I wondered if we’d done any good. I decided that we had. We couldn’t prevent the Phelps gang from doing what they did, but to whatever degree knowing of their presence made it worse for the family, perhaps a 400:1 support:hate ratio made it more bearable for the bereaved. It had gotten us all together, in all our different forms and ways of being and living, in good spirits. I didn’t see anyone showing disrespect for the police, who were doing a necessary and unpleasant job in a professional manner, and deserved cooperation from the good guys and gals. It must have been a moving experience for the gay counter-protesters, seeing so many of their neighbors so forcefully rejecting homophobia–which, after all, is the whole basis for this Phelps crap.

If nothing else, at least a few people learned that the Phelps gang is not representative of Kansas or Kansans. The heavy-bearded character in the KU t-shirt, looking like Gimli the Dwarf after a growth spurt, had something to say about that.

The Pac-12 Networks, a.k.a. the Not-works

In July 2011, with many college sports programs playing musical conferences and engaging in games of chicken with each other, the recently expanded Pacific-12 Conference (UW, WSU, the Zeroes, OSU, Utah, Colorado, Cal-Berkeley, Stepford, ASU, UA, USC and UCLA) announced plans for a TV network like what the Big 10 (which has more than ten schools) has deployed. Great, we said, we want to see more football and have our conference doing what big-time conferences do. Revenue sharing would help the smaller market schools, etc., etc. Let’s see the show!

The assumption, which we could not know was flawed, was that we would be able to see the show. In the words of the immortal, unbearable Lee Corso:  “Not so fast, my friend.”

Fourteen months later, the 2012 college football season kicks off. The Pac-12 has failed to reach agreement with just about everyone, which is a pretty good sign the conference got very greedy. A number of games are televised on the Pac-12 Not-works, but very few people can watch them on TV. A few clever souls find other ways, naturally, but only the hardest core of fans would do that. Those who do, find out that the Pac-12 Not-works have sold zero advertising, so the not-work fills the space with commercials for itself. Yes. I must have seen the Stanford swimmer’s segment a dozen times. Every few minutes, its ten viewers are treated to advertising telling us how fantastic the not-work is.

That isn’t marketing. It’s masturbation, and comical masturbation at that. Seriously: while having failed in your most basic mission, which is to get on TV so you can sell advertising, rather than spare me a bunch of commercial breaks, you are going to go on and on about your virtues? Do you not understand that when the only advertising content you have to offer is to rhapsodize yourself, you have failed? You are a conference comprised of twelve research universities, all with educational claims to fame and pride, which attract some of the best and brightest people in the world, and you leave the house without your pants? Mr. Larry Scott, you are a Harvard graduate. For the gods’ sake, put some trousers on. No one needs to see you this way.

Not that the satellite and cable providers are any prizes in the area of doing what’s best for viewers. DefectiveTV, which is what I have, engages in a ‘playground recess hair-pulling skirmish of the month’ with some content provider just about every month, taking its message to the blacked-out channels to explain how those nasty stupids at (insert network name) have been unreasonable, pulled their content, and tried to force us all to pay through the nose, but only DefectiveTV stands Promethean in defense of our fair prices and sweet reason. Yeah. When every recess, the same kid is always in a fight with someone, always comes whining, and never takes any responsibility for even being half the problem, guess what. It’s obvious where most of the problem lies.

The much-vaunted Pac-12 Networks are Not-works. They are a failure. At this point, we would be better off without them, since the games they show would otherwise be picked up on other channels, all of which seem not to consider themselves too ultra-special to get a deal worked out and be on the air.

Every year, it is a little more about pure greed and big money, and a little less about athletics and education. I will always wish UW well, but I can see a day where, if this trend continues, I simply won’t care about watching the sport. At which time I will cease to be an advertising consumer, be it for idiotic pickup truck commercials appealing to my machismo, idiotic insurance commercials appealing to my gullibility, or idiotic beer commercials appealing to my pedestrian tastes.

Mr. Scott, you and your networks are a failure.

The best ass-covering you could come up with was to blame it all on the other side, and sick your athletic directors on the public, encouraging them to switch providers. (For some of us, with no provider in our areas that carries the Not-works, a non-starter.) “Waaaaaaah! They started it! Waaaah! Punish them!

It’s looking positively Congressional.

Just another area of America in which the stupidity of the public is taken on faith by the wealthy and powerful, and where, if said public notices something wrong and complains that ‘this is bullshit,’ the public is fed a line of crap and told to stop being difficult.

I’ll give you difficult. Mr. Scott, so far you have boloed this exercise. You are a no go at this station. You snubbed BYU/Utah, the perfect regional, rivalry and research fit for the conference, simply because a Mormon school icks out Left Coast schools, with all that honor code and right-wing political stuff–as if that were relevant at all to research or athleticism. Instead, you brought in Colorado, which is about as Pacific as Wyoming and has a minimal existing rivalry relationship with Utah. Mr. Scott, if this is how you roll, I wouldn’t hire you to manage a Division 5 conference, much less a I-A BCS conference. You have failed. The results speak for themselves. You are the John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi of collegiate athletics. Enjoy that prestigious distinction.

In the meantime, Commissioner Scott, go to hell.

The strange story of Gary Thomas Rowe Jr.

A great American died recently:  Sheldon Kennedy.  He infiltrated the third Ku Klux Klan in the WWII and post-WWII years, then wrote about them.  The Klan never forgave him, which made him my friend in spirit on some level.  That got me back to some re-reading in a subject that has long interested me:  the KKK and its kind.

In the mid-1970s (age 12 or so), I happened to pick up a book called My Undercover Years in the Ku Klux Klan, by Gary Thomas Rowe Jr.  In brief:  “Tommy” Rowe was a working-class Georgian who liked to fight, and who infiltrated Bobby Shelton’s Alabama branch of the KKK (at FBI instigation) during the civil rights movement.  He informed (how truthfully, we are uncertain) on the Klan until the 1965 day he was in a vehicle from which Michigan civil rights volunteer Viola Liuzzo was shot to oblivion near the Edmund Pettus Bridge, not far from Birmingham and Selma, AL. The jig was up, of course.  Rowe testified against the assassins (never quite shedding suspicion that he was among them), his cover was well beyond retrieval, and he went into Witness Protection.  He passed away in 1998Here is a brief catchup on his story from a biographer, a more reputable source than the NYT.

In a way, Rowe’s ghosted autobio was one of my first introductions to historiography:  how much of what he said could I believe? I wanted to believe as much of it as possible.  As the descendant of a Kansas Ku Klux Klansman (unless my grandfather lied to me in one of his last fully lucid moments, which I doubt), I have had a longtime antipathy toward their kind–and toward all such organizations.  With a little luck, they feel the same way about me.  Any time you start researching any intelligence matter–and anything to do with the FBI qualifies as such–your historiography and skepticism must kick into passing gear.  You must realize that any of your sources have axes to grind and would willingly lie like rugs, the G-Men as much as the racists.  It’s all up to what you believe credible.  The greatest handicap is to be so emotionally involved that there are sources from which you would believe nothing, and on this topic I leave some paint on that guardrail.

So, thinking of Sheldon Kennedy, I revisited The Informant.  This investigative bio of Rowe came out in 2005.  As one may imagine, so long as Rowe lived, information about him would be elusive; he had betrayed a terrorist organization whose propensity for violence and reprisal he knew as well as any man alive.  Even after his death, it wasn’t easy for Prof. May to find the full story of Tommy Rowe.  At the very least, I can re-read what he did find–and even that must be considered historiographically.  Two of Liuzzo’s living relatives call May a liar.  Whom do we believe? Now you see why history can get so fuzzy.  The sister says she didn’t talk to May.  May disagrees.  Even though the principals are still living, we still must decide who’s lying.

All right.  What do I now make of Tommy Rowe, FBI informant, known racist, thug and adrenaline junkie? There is zero doubt that he participated in violence against the civil rights movement (we’ve got pictures).  Was that justified in the name of maintaining cover? Not an easy ethical question.  Did he fire at Viola Liuzzo? He may have, in order to avoid being immediately next, which does not necessarily mean he fired accurately.  FBI agents with motive to lie said his pistol had not been fired, but that means nothing except that someone (with a motive to lie) told us that a given weapon hadn’t been used.  (His was not the only weapon in existence, of course.  Lots of Americans have more than one pistol.  Some have dozens.  Show them this .22, not that one.)  We cannot know if Rowe fired, nor how effectively. What is well documented:  whether Rowe fired effectively at Viola Liuzzo and her passenger Leroy Moton (a black civil rights volunteer), or shot to death the three other Klansman in the car as they overtook the Liuzzo vehicle, fatal violence was imminent. Someone was about to die, by his hand or another.  Rowe could not have doubted that.

One may argue that this is exactly what Lowe should have done:  three quick, calm shots, executions of backseat fellow, shotgun rider, driver.  Two seconds, three violent bigots erased.  All very well to say, except that neither I nor most of you have ever lived a double life for several years while infiltrating a hate organization.  At this remove, it isn’t so easy to lay fair judgment about Tommy Rowe; he was there, deciding on the spot, and I was not.  Blowing people away in a speeding vehicle (in which you too are riding), before they actually commit a crime, in cold blood, well…that’s asking a lot.  Rowe had no more desire to spend life in jail than anyone else, and up to the moment guns blazed, he was still in cover with a job to do.  When does the infiltrator decide that the game is over, and to change his life forever? Judging this is like judging combat veterans.  We weren’t there; they were.

To call Rowe a civil rights hero is unsupportable, but it is equally indefensible to call him a racist redneck out for only a few thrills, some government dollars and shielding for beating people up (preferably integrationists).  He did tremendous damage to the Ku Klux Klan; unless he murdered a baby doing it, that goal was valuable to any enemy of the KKK.  I don’t have to think him an admirable man to be glad he was where he was.  I think he was a moderate racist, the garden variety who knew the cant and could pass, rather than a virulent bigot who only showed up so that he could beat up blacks with Federal impunity. (You think there is no such thing as a moderate racist? Don’t let the desire to demonize racism make you forget to be careful what you wish for.  I know people who use racist language but aren’t ever going to blow up a church.  I can disapprove of their attitudes while being glad they aren’t going to commit murder.)  Meta-fact:  fear of informers was a leading paralytic to KKK violence in the civil rights era, and after Rowe, it wasn’t paranoia on the Klan’s part; the Feds truly were out to get them.  (Go Feds!)  In the end, Tommy Rowe probably prevented far more racist violence than he participated in, and did vast harm to the Ku Klux Klan.

Sometimes we have to take what we can get–unless we ourselves are willing to step up.  Who’s volunteering for such a thing? Had I not married, I might have done so–but that’s not a story I’ll ever tell in a blog.  Rowe was what the FBI could get.  I would have a very hard time constructing an argument that decency would have been better served had he told the FBI and KKK both to go to hell, or had he died before then in a car accident and we never known him.