Category Archives: Scumbag studies

All about Messing With Telemarketers

It’s not just a fun hobby; it’s now a website, whose author has written a great book. Much of the insight presented here emanates from my interpretations of Haven Riney’s methods, for which I extend him his due full credit.

Where Riney’s mind and mine meet is where most disagree with us both, to wit:

  • Problem: telemarketers waste our time and annoy us.
  • Most people: just hang up on them, not worth your time.
  • Riney and I: torment them and waste their time in creative ways that amuse us.

I can’t speak for Riney, but the way my mind works is that we make the world a better place every time we make bad behavior less profitable. I also believe we should find ways to enjoy making bad behavior unprofitable.

Riney draws a valid distinction between telemarketers (who intend to deliver a legitimate, if stupid and/or useless, product or service) and scammers, whose work is to steal. I agree with his recommendation, that one show telemarketers a little more mercy than scammers. In my view, the scammers are fair game for everything including a scam of one’s own. There is plenty of e-mail scamming going on, as all of us who know and love 419eater.com are aware, but Riney covers only phone scams. The most common one at this writing is the fake IRS collector. Among others, in the book Riney reacts to many iterations of the Windows Security scam. I’ve had lots of those.

Riney, it seems, is a born actor and improv comic. His dialogues with telemarketers and scammers are genius. He nearly always knows how to run with any reaction he might encounter. I hope his book sells quajillions of copies, makes him rich, and inspires so many people to take up telemarketer-tormenting and scammer-tormenting that both become unfeasible economically, horrible work, and die out. (This will unfortunately destroy the economy of Boise, which is the Unaccented English Call Center Capital of the world these days. Can’t be helped.) I doubt Riney’s skill can be taught.

For some of us, it’s harder. I’m not very good at handling surprise lines of inquiry off the cuff. I need a plan, some prompts, a little preparation. I don’t think I’m the only one. So what I’m going to do is glean from Riney some tips that will enable others, who might also need a little advance prep, to screw with these people. I’ll add my own inspirations, in case they help.

One of Riney’s best methods, which won’t work for me, is to react as if one were a given film character. It helps if one can pick a suitable film character for the line of inquiry. For example, Riney responded to a health insurance query by pretending to be Steve Austin, the character on the 1970s show The Six Million Dollar Man. He presented as Star Wars characters. I think it’s a great idea if you watch much pop culture (I don’t) because you can adopt a persona and react as that person would. If it’s someone that few foreigners would probably suss out, better still. In my case, I’d have to think of a few in advance so that I could react on the fly.

Another method is to adopt a made-up, bizarre persona. Riney did several of these, usually with names that would read very comically. A given persona might desire to re-enact the battle of Gettysburg with rodents as the actors, or claim to be in the process of actually holding up a convenience store during the call. I’m not able to do this at all without time to process, but some people can.

One that occurred to me: why not claim to be an animal of one’s choice and knowledge? “My name is Mr. Ursus. I like honey and salmon.” Then give the sorts of responses that would be reasonable for a bear.

Other methods used or inspired by Riney:

  • Adopting a very odd manner of speech, such as like a Star Trek computer voice or somesuch.
  • One of my inspirations would be to do a very heavy foreign accent, such that it was difficult for a foreign speaker to understand. Even a very heavy domestic accent: if you’ve always wanted to see how your drawl sounded, that’d be your chance.
  • Random quotes would work, if you were encyclopedic and quick enough. Riney is; I’m not.
  • One of my favorites with the Windows Security scam is to pick a random non-computer device, such as my microwave or toaster, and pretend that I think it’s a computer. That gets them very frustrated. “It doesn’t have the key you are talking about. It has this sliding thing alongside.”
  • Claiming to be occupied doing something fairly gross while talking. The funniest one in Riney’s book was the one about getting a rectal piercing. You could claim to be eating live mice if you thought that would rattle them.

Just as people advise writers to write what they know, the common thread here is to act out what you know. If you know your cat’s personality well enough, act it out. If you’re a huge fan of Tatiana Maslany (and you should be), pick one of the Orphan Black clone characters (I vote for Helena). If a cow could speak in response to a telemarketer or scammer, what would that cow say? You could pretend to be your Prius, your conure, your schnauzer. I think the key is the ability to imagine a different perspective and play pretend.

Many telemarketers are so wrapped up in the script that they don’t use any active listening at all, as Riney’s results illustrate. In many cases, he even answered the phone with “messingwithtelemarketers.com,” yet people just rolled through their scripts. Riney got so many calls from the same scam artists that he got to know a few of them, even had candid conversations with them about how the scam worked. One of the more interesting revelations is that scammers use the MagicJack device to fake phone numbers, but that they themselves get hacked by other thieves, and it bothers the scammers a lot.

I have no patience for the argument that there is anything wrong with being unkind to them. When you are in a bad business, people will be unkind to you. That’s because it’s a bad business that deserves unkindness. Suffering goes with its territory.

If you question whether it’s worth your time, which is a valid question, consider this. While you’re wasting this person’s time (by donating some of yours), you aren’t wasting yours. While he’s talking to you, he’s not available to run game on Mrs. Edna Miller of Wausau, WI, who is a little confused nowadays and is thus vulnerable to such tactics. If every telemarketing or scam call resulted in wasted telemarketing or scammer time, the world would be a better place. None of us can stop it singlehandedly, but if we all pitched in a little time, we’d have a little fun while helping the vulnerable.

I feel energized. I think my next scam caller will hear that I am Sarah Palin, or Johnny Manziel, or Octomom, or Ban Ki-Moon, or a grackle.

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Fun with car dealer service departments

Car dealerships do not get it.

My truck has, or had, a leak somewhere in the cab. My truck is a quarter century old, I am its only owner, and I like it. If someone gave me a free Rolls-Royce, I would sell it. No, I would never want to drive it just the once. I simply don’t get a kick out of driving new cars. Because my truck is that old, there are many potential failure points: rusted floorboard, deteriorating window seal, maybe even a drain line from the heater.

Unless I wanted my well-preserved truck to smell like mildew sooner rather than later, this needed handling. A post on an automotive forum alerted me to the possible causes, got me lots of encouragement to try fixing it myself (no, thank you), and did not get a single respondent answering the question: would I take this to a mechanic, a body shop, or an auto glass place?

So I ended up at the Toyota dealership where most of my fellow Beaverts, or Aloverts, would be likely to go. I made an appointment several days out, kept putting paper towel rolls on the truck floor, and tried not to drive when the weather went full Portland. No matter what I did:

  1. I could not see where the water was leaking in.
  2. It was definitely related to driving, as in, if left to sit in peace, it did not leak.

Clear as mud, right? Now, the Toyota dealer (a species often condemned by Martin Shkreli for low morals) had quoted me $110 to diagnose the problem. With no real idea where to begin, this seemed that rare situation where going to a Toyota dealer service department could benefit a customer, since a dealer has to be able to address (or job out) all the different issues that could arise with their brand. All right, if it costs $110 to figure out what the deal is, if I don’t like the repair quote, I can always take it elsewhere to get the work done. I pull into the service bay, where I sit in my truck reading a book for ten minutes before a service writer comes out to talk. I explain the problem and what I’ve observed so far.”

“How long are you able to leave it with us? We’d really like a few days.”

That got my attention. “I was under the impression you’d spend an hour diagnosing the problem.”

“It can take a lot longer. We have to pull up your panels, rugs, take out your seats, then basically run it under a huge shower and see where the water comes from. Sometimes takes up to eight hours.”

I did some mental math. “In other words, you’re suggesting that you might charge me up to $880 to figure out where the truck cab is leaking. This is not what I was told over the phone.”

“I’m sorry. They’re hard to find. But we–”

I rebuckled my seat belt and turned the ignition key. “You understand, of course, that this means I was deceived over the phone in just about every way. Therefore, I agree to no service today and will not be needing this appointment.”

He stepped back without a word and opened the far bay door, and that was that.

Then I went to the backup plan. When you use Toyota dealer service departments, you need a backup plan. I took it to a mechanic who had gotten a lot of good reviews as an honest guy. He suggested I take it to his favorite auto glass place, and tell them he’d sent me. I did that. They charged $68 to leak-hunt, determined that my windshield was sealed properly, and discovered that all the crud in my vents was preventing water from draining as it should, thus it was overflowing into the firewall. For $50, they would clean it all out. I said “please do so.” They did. $118, please. Here’s my Visa.

$8 more than what the dealer wanted to charge me for diagnostics, problem addressed.

I do not know why Toyota dealer service departments are so typically bad, so underskilled, so overpriced. I know I have yet to meet one I believe should remain in business. While this wasn’t quite as satisfying as when my wife told the sales manager in Hillsboro to go fuck himself (I still get a little misty with pride when I think of it), I’ll admit a thing. The reason I was okay with setting an appointment there was because I was going to benefit either way. Either I would get a solution to my problem, or I would drive off without paying anything, or I would give a Toyota dealership hell’s fire. Couldn’t lose.

In the meantime, everyone who loathes car dealerships can have a little glimmer of joy from today.

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.