Archive for January, 2016


return to manitowoc


‘Making a Murderer’ Town’s Answer to Netflix Series: You Don’t Know

by Monica Davey, The New York Times

January 28, 2016

MANITOWOC, Wis. — In the tourism office here, where workers are accustomed to cheery inquiries about Manitowoc County’s best jogging paths and beach views, the questions have suddenly turned dark: How could you possibly promote tourism in such a corrupt town? Why would anyone visit here?

Fury—by telephone, email and on social media—has also flooded the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, the Manitowoc City Police Department, Manitowoc City Hall and pretty much anywhere else with the name Manitowoc attached to it.

Even the Manitowoc County Historical Society’s executive director, Amy Meyer, has taken to answering the phones so that volunteers—better prepared for gentler inquiries about the region’s history of shipbuilding and its claims to creating the ice cream sundae—do not have to hear “all that yelling, cussing and swearing.” A recent post on the historical society’s Facebook page read, “Too bad your history includes ruining two innocent peoples’ lives.”

The release last month of a Netflix documentary series, “Making a Murderer,” about a decade-old murder case, has upended this county of about 80,000 along Lake Michigan.

Ten years ago, when I first came here, Steven Avery, the county resident now at the center of 10 Netflix episodes over more than 10 hours, had been arrested on suspicion of murder a few days before.

Mr. Avery’s past was what drew me to Manitowoc in November 2005: For months, he had been held up in Wisconsin as a symbol of everything wrong with the justice system, having served 18 years in prison for a sexual assault that DNA evidence later linked to a different man.

After Mr. Avery was released in the sexual assault, and as he was pursuing a $36 million lawsuit against the county officials who had wrongly sent him to prison, he was charged in the murder of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer who had come to take pictures at his family’s auto salvage yard for Auto Trader magazine.

Back then, as I drove to the county seat and along the stark, rural stretches closer to the salvage yard, I found a close-knit community in mourning over a young woman’s death and an array of Avery supporters stunned by the turn of events.

28wisconsin3-web-articleLargeA pair of graduate student filmmakers in New York read the article I wrote and devoted the next decade to what became the Netflix series. In the end, Mr. Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, 16 at the time of Ms. Halbach’s death, were convicted in the killing—an outcome that some who watched the series were convinced was one more example of the justice system’s failure.

Here, many of the people who had watched the case play out in real time with intensive local news media coverage largely considered it settled.

But with a far broader audience now ravenously consuming the filmmakers’ take and raising pointed questions about whether those convicted were guilty, and whether the local authorities planted evidence and mishandled the investigation, a barrage of social media posts and calls is forcing Manitowoc to look back.

“We lived through this 10 years ago,” Jason Ring, the president of the Manitowoc Area Visitor and Convention Bureau, said from a counter covered in maps and brochures.

“We made our judgment, and the trial came to an end, and locally most people were in support of that,” Mr. Ring said. “Now it’s back—by no choosing or no doing of anyone in this community.”

“So that’s the first point of injustice,” he added. “That we have to live through it again.”

In downtown Manitowoc, the county seat, the talkative, curious people I had come upon a decade earlier were no longer surprised—or the least bit pleased—to see yet another reporter. Many avoided any talk about “Making a Murderer,” or simply spotted my notebook and walked away. The mayor declined to be interviewed. Business owners refused to discuss it: One said she had read online about a call for a protest in the town, and she was worried about safety.

“Look, we lived this whole thing like a juror,” Suszanne Fox, who lives not far from here, told me as she ate a burger at the Fat Seagull. “He was guilty as sin.”

Many viewers of “Making a Murderer” do not agree. Hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions asking President Obama to pardon Mr. Avery and Mr. Dassey, to which the White House has responded that the president cannot issue pardons in state cases. And Governor Scott Walker has long pledged to issue no pardons while in office.

The series left viewers with unrelenting questions: Did Mr. Avery’s civil lawsuit for his wrongful sexual assault conviction motivate the Manitowoc County authorities to plant evidence against him in the second case, for murder? How was it that an old sample of Mr. Avery’s blood, which was found in the victim’s car, appeared to be tampered with while in the care of the authorities? Should Mr. Dassey, at his young age and with a limited intellect, have been questioned alone by investigators? Was his appointed lawyer working against his cause?

But Ken Kratz, who prosecuted the cases against Mr. Avery and Mr. Dassey, said the series was one-sided and omitted significant pieces of evidence, including DNA from Mr. Avery on the latch under the hood of Ms. Halbach’s Toyota RAV4, found in the Averys’ auto salvage yard.

“It’s not a documentary at all; it’s an advocacy piece,” Mr. Kratz said in a telephone interview from New York, where he said he was being put up at the Waldorf Astoria while taking part in television newsmagazine interviews in the wake of the Netflix series.

Since the trial, Mr. Kratz went into private practice after a text messaging scandal in 2010 and a prescription drug addiction in which, he said, he “pretty much lost everything.” His business line now rings endlessly. “I guess it’s a concerted effort to shut down my office,” he said.

Sheriff Robert C. Hermann of Manitowoc County, who was the undersheriff at the time of the Avery case, said his office had gotten emails and voice mail messages calling the department corrupt.

“It’s not how Manitowoc wants to be put on the map,” Sheriff Hermann said. He said he had few regrets, though he wished, given all he knows now, that only officials from a nearby sheriff’s office, without Manitowoc’s perceived conflicts, had held any role in the investigation.

The filmmakers, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, say they believe their series accurately portrayed the essential arguments the prosecutors made. The point, they said in a telephone interview, was to look at the Manitowoc cases as a window into the American justice system.

“We have empathy for Manitowoc because we know that people have been reaching out in unkind ways and posting things about the city and the county,” Ms. Ricciardi said. “That’s an unfortunate response, because we have always wanted the series to be constructive, not destructive.”

28wisconsin5-web-master18028wisconsin4-web-master180Mr. Avery, now 53, and Mr. Dassey, now 26, have not seen the series, their lawyers said. Prisoners do not get Netflix. But as Mr. Dassey awaits a federal court decision on claims that his confession was coerced and that he had a right to a lawyer who would mount a defense, Netflix viewers have barraged him with letters of support, said his lawyer, Laura Nirider of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern Univ.

“He is incredibly hopeful for the first time that when people hear the name Brendan Dassey, they don’t think of a murderer, they think of someone who has been wronged,” she said.

And a new lawyer, Kathleen T. Zellner, well known for taking on wrongful conviction cases, has since signed on to handle Mr. Avery’s next legal step.

28wisconsin2-web-articleLargeAt the auto salvage yard, along dead-end Avery Road, tiny, jittery dogs watch from a green trailer where Dolores Avery, Mr. Avery’s mother, says she is too tired for more interviews. Years ago, I sat with her, her husband and a brother in the living room here as they insisted that Mr. Avery was being railroaded for a second time.

Standing in her doorway this month, Ms. Avery, a constant presence in the series, said she hoped people now saw “the crooked things the county has done” to her family.

But all the renewed talk, the calls for interviews from around the world? “I’m too old for this,” she said. “It’s too much.”

Recently, tourists have been spotted on the property, with its row after row of forgotten, snow-topped cars, stopping in front of the yellow and black Avery’s Auto Salvage & 24 Hour Towing sign to snap selfies.


Monica Davey is the Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times. She has worked for The Times for the past ten years, covering much of the Midwest and story lines that have included efforts to limit labor unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, struggles over abortion rights in Kansas, and the rise and fall of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (and a bunch of other Illinois politicians). Before The Times, Davey worked at the Chicago Tribune, The St. Petersburg Times (Fla.), The Roanoke Times (Va.) and City News Bureau of Chicago. She received a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Brown University.



Groove of the Day

Listen to The Fortunes performing “You’ve Got Your Troubles (I’ve Got Mine)”


Weather Report

72° and Clear


further thoughts: professionalization

Professionalization 2.

This is a follow-on post to “The Professionalization of Care.”

There is an insidious thing happening in our culture around the professionalization of everything, from elder care, to education, to repair projects around the house. People are thinking more and more that if you want something done right, you must hire a professional… and this, in my opinion, is Baby-Boomer nonsense. Competence (or the development of it) and professionalization are not the same thing.

This point was driven home to me when I served on the school board in Marathon. Marathon is a very small place (450 population) that is 30 miles away from Alpine (6,000 population). The K-12 total enrollment of Marathon is about 45 kids, and the town has been perpetually worried about its independent school system being swallowed up by its larger neighbor in Alpine, and its children spending an hour or more daily on the school bus. The cost of maintaining its independent status is about a million dollars a year—an amount that can never be recovered by taxes on the local community. As a result, the school district’s fate is dependent on a complicated funding formula that relies on the largesse of external Texas communities near and far; it is exacerbated by State-mandated operational standards (and expenses) for school facilities that are more appropriate to large suburban school systems, rather than a system which is focused on just 45 kids.

I came onto the school board with visions of achieving a sustainable, long-range solution to this precarious situation. My solution was to evolve some sort of hybrid education system that combined the individualized benefits of home schooling with the shared benefits of centralized facilities—libraries, science labs, sports teams and gymnasiums, etc. Well, when word of these strategic musings wormed their way into the town rumor mill, you would have thought that I was advocating the closure of the local schools, rather than their preservation. Within a month or two of my election, I was faced by an angry mob of parents who made it clear to me at a special meeting that they would accept no direct role in the education of their own children. They were intimated at the prospect.

I won’t argue whether such a system would have worked, nor use its rejection as a justification for my rather unremarkable tenure on the school board, but I have observed that there is a correlation between the involvement of parents and families in their children’s schooling and the quality of education those children have received. This correlation remains true, even when home-schooling families have adopted curricula that seem hare-brained in our modern world (for example, the Robinson Method, which advocates the reading of no literature works published after 1912).

What this experience in Marathon taught me is that (1) too many Americans see themselves as consumers of education, rather than participants, and that (2) they have succumbed to the view (promoted by the teachers’ unions) that only “professionals” are qualified to teach. As a result, they abdicate their traditional responsibilities as parents and become willing participants in their children’s dumbing-down. They forget that we all have wisdom to impart and share. They forget that the root of the word “amateur” is ‘love’—which in the case of education denotes a love of learning.

How else would yesterday’s post have been possible?



Groove of the Day

Listen to The Mae Shi performing “R U Professional?”


Weather Report

77° and Clear


idiocracy: the reality show

My son sent me these links after he read my recent post, “Civics Now.”

This is at American University, a major pipeline for students seeking political careers.

Their ignorance is capped by showing that, while none of the students could correctly answer any of the questions about government, every single one knew the name of a song from a Disney movie targeted at elementary school-aged girls.


Okay, civics is isn’t taught anymore, and who pays attention to the US Congress anyway? This is a video from from last summer, in which interviewer Mark Dice asks people in two different cities about the history of Independence Day.


Okay, okay. Maybe all those history questions were too hard. How about some basic math?


And I was wondering why more people don’t read this blog!

Silly me.



Groove of the Day

Listen to Sean Kingston performing “Dumb Love”


Weather Report

71° and Clear


100 years: battlefields


Three days ago, I wrote that a century ago, the world was in the middle of the First World War. Then I got to thinking: what does one hundred years look like?

As you can see below, the earth has begun to heal, but it is still scarred. The people of that time are gone, but the evidence of their insanity remains.





trench 5.











Tour1 battlefields 01.


As with all wounds, healing takes time.



Groove of the Day

Listen to The Cure performing “One Hundred Years”


Weather Report

62° and Clear


the professionalization of care


Hiring a housekeeper to help me with physical tasks I can no longer do has completely changed my quality of life. I am no longer drowning in dust. I no longer spend hours on my back fantasizing about things I would change in my environment if only I could; we have hung pictures, fixed air drafts and water leaks, weatherized doors and windows, rearranged storage, and done dozens of other tasks that I would previously have done for myself without a thought. Since the stroke in November 2012, every task—no matter how small—usually involves some sort of work-around.

Hiring Karen, my housekeeper, has enhanced my ability to remain independent. But mostly it has helped me forge a friendship with someone who really, truly cares. I am deeply thankful.

She comes in once a week for three or four hours, and we probably spend a quarter of our time interacting with her 3-year-old daughter, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and catching up on one another’s weeks. Last week she asked if she could work an hour less for me; she has developed quite a reputation out here for providing a wide range of quality care, and one of her elderly clients lost his balance and injured himself, and needed extra help getting ready to visit the doctor.

It used to be that families provided most care for their elders. When I was very young, my great-grandmother lived with my maternal grandparents, so this arrangement seems quite normal to me. Yet as families have become geographically dispersed, it has in fact become a relatively unusual practice.

Elderly parents living with their children declined from about 70% in 1850 to about 12% in 1980. But according to a 2014 report from the Pew Research Center—in part, because of the recession—multi-generational households are on the rise. Now, 18% live this way, and the total number of Americans living in such households has doubled, to 56.8 million.

I have heard many stories that the reason some families have stuck together is that multi-generational households have become dependent on the elders’ monthly Social Security checks coming in. According to a 2011 report by Generations United, 63% of respondents to a survey agreed that “Social Security plays a vital role in the financial stability of our multi-generational household.” I have even heard about at least one adult daughter here in Texas who kept the bodies of both her deceased parents buried under the floorboards of her home to ensure continuation of the monthly benefit checks.

One wonders to what degree this also influences families to demand that health care facilities do “everything possible” to keep their elders alive long beyond the point where their lives are rewarding? Modern health care, with its reliance on endless intrusive tests, CAT scans, mind-numbing medication, and imprisonment in heartless facilities, can be literal torture to old people who would just prefer for nature to take its course.

Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote a post about providing care to spouses, partners, or loved ones, but what happens when you are alone and you are the one requiring care? I have been extremely fortunate: my doctor, my home health care nurse, and my housekeeper could not better meet my present needs. But are most older people so fortunate?

Just because someone has met basic training and licensure requirements does not guarantee they will provide caring services. One would presume that the level of caring is greater among family members, but as the example of the above Texas daughter suggests, this is not always the case. Yet at the very least, if you rely on your children for care in your old age, this is something you have had a lifetime to influence.


Some may say that today’s Groove of the Day is a bit of a downer, but this version is so beautiful I had to share it with you. The original song, of course, is in French and sung by Jacques Brel.



Groove of the Day

Listen to Laurika Rauch performing “The Old Folks”


Weather Report

Cold and Cloudy in the morning, 55° and Partly Cloudy in the afternoon



supreme court ruling on jlwop, finally!

Supreme Court Now.

Supreme Court: Life sentences on juveniles open for later reviews

by Robert Barnes, The Washington Post

January 25, 2016

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that those sentenced as teenagers to mandatory life imprisonment for murder must have a chance to argue that they be released from prison.

The ruling expanded the court’s 2012 decision that struck down mandatory life terms without parole for juveniles and said it must be applied retroactively to what juvenile advocates estimate are 1,200 to 1,500 cases.

More than 1,100 inmates are concentrated in three states—Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Michigan—where officials had decided the 2012 ruling was not retroactive.

They should have a chance to be resentenced or argue for parole, said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the new 6-to-3 decision.

Kennedy has been the court’s champion in a line of cases that declare that juveniles convicted of even the most heinous crimes must be treated differently than adults. The court in 2005 ruled out capital punishment for juveniles and later said they could not be locked away for life for crimes other than murder.

The 2012 case ruled out mandatory life imprisonment without parole, which was the situation facing Henry Montgomery of Louisiana, who brought Monday’s case. In 1963, when he was 17, Montgomery shot and killed Charles Hurt, a sheriff’s deputy.

Montgomery is now 69 and says his rehabilitation in prison should make him eligible to be considered for parole. The Louisiana Supreme Court rejected his plea, saying the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama was not retroactive.

The six-member majority, which in addition to Kennedy included Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s liberals, said on Monday that it was.

“Prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy acknowledged that the court’s 2012 Miller decision recognized that a judge “might encounter the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible and life without parole is justified.”

But he said the ruling’s overarching lesson was that “children’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change” cast doubt on mandatory sentences, and that this “harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”

In a dissent that described Kennedy’s ruling as “astonishing” and “sleight of hand,” Justice Antonin Scalia said the majority’s goal was abolishing life imprisonment without parole for juveniles.

There are two pending cases asking the court to do that. And Christopher Slobogin, a juvenile-justice expert at Vanderbilt Law School, wondered what the next step might be for a court majority that thinks the immaturity and impetuous behavior of juveniles, as well as their potential for reform, makes them different from adults.

“The next step might be no mandatory sentences for children at all,” he said.

Many states that previously allowed life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders had already agreed that those sentenced under the old codes could have their sentences reviewed. Others, such as Arkansas and Texas, have enacted mandatory sentences—40 years, for instance—before parole can be considered.

But seven, including Louisiana, had said the court’s ruling was not retroactive. Most changes in criminal law do not apply to settled cases.

But Kennedy said the Miller ruling was a substantive change in the law that must be applied to earlier sentences.

“A penalty imposed pursuant to an unconstitutional law is no less void because the prisoner’s sentence became final before the law was held unconstitutional,” Kennedy wrote. “There is no grandfather clause that permits states to enforce punishments the Constitution forbids.”

Scalia retorted: “There most certainly is a grandfather clause—one we have called finality—which says that the Constitution does not require states to revise punishments that were lawful when they were imposed.”

Kennedy acknowledged the difficulty of determining decades later whether a judge was correct to have justified sentencing a youth to life imprisonment because of “irretrievable depravity.”

But he said the situation could be remedied by giving the offender a parole hearing.

“Those prisoners who have shown an inability to reform will continue to serve life sentences,” Kennedy wrote. “The opportunity for release will be afforded to those who demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition—that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.”

Scalia said that was a power play that showed the majority’s true goal of getting rid of life imprisonment for juveniles.

“In Godfather fashion, the majority makes state legislatures an offer they can’t refuse: Avoid all the utterly impossible nonsense we have prescribed by simply ‘permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole,’ ” Scalia wrote. “Mission accomplished.”

Scalia was joined in dissent by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Kennedy said Montgomery will still have to prove his case but that he had a good case to make.

“Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison,” Kennedy wrote, but added that Montgomery “has discussed in his submissions to this court his evolution from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community.”

Those inmates affected by the court’s decision will probably have to bring individual claims or requests for parole, juvenile-justice experts said.

Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center said there could be special proceedings to deal with those inmates. For instance, of about 500 serving life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania, she said, about 300 are from one county, Philadelphia.

The Supreme Court’s decisions on juvenile sentencing have featured sharp debates between Kennedy and Scalia, and Monday’s was no different.

“This whole exercise,” Scalia wrote, “is just a devious way of eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders. But, without mentioning Kennedy by name, Scalia said such a straightforward acknowledgment would have been “an embarrassment.”

One of the justifications the court gave in Roper v. Simmons for ending the death penalty for juvenile murderers was that life without parole was a severe enough punishment, Scalia said.

“How could the majority—in an opinion written by the very author of Roper—now say that punishment is also unconstitutional?” Scalia asked. Since it couldn’t, he answered, they made it “a practical impossibility.”

The case is Montgomery v. Louisiana.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.



Groove of the Day

Listen to Crosby, Stills and Nash performing “Long Time Gone”


Weather Report

49° Cloudy and Windy, Rain


live and let live


A hundred years ago, the world was halfway through World War I, a stalemated struggle in which the German and Allied armies constructed a matched pair of trench lines from the Swiss border in the south to the North Sea coast of Belgium. These trenches were without flanks, with the results of battle to be decided by carnage and attrition.

The troops quickly realized they were in a no-win situation and—at the small-unit level (platoons or companies), in certain local sections, or among privates and non-commissioned officers—spontaneously resorted to non-aggressive, even co-operative behavior that became known as “live and let live.”

For example, when soldiers noticed that the occupants in opposing trenches were engaged in mealtime activities, they would sometimes refrain from disturbing them—”common courtesy,” they said. Sometimes soldiers from the opposing side would even share in meals.

Once a stone was lobbed over from a German trench with the following note attached: “We’re going to send over a 40-pounder. We don’t want to do this, but we’ve been ordered to. It will come this evening, and we’ll blow a whistle first so you’ll have time to take cover.”

In 1914, there was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the front around Christmas. In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. Soldiers played football matches with one another. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, and several meetings ended in carol-singing.

In his book Trench Warfare 1914–1918: The Live and Let Live System, author Tony Ashworth used diaries, letters, and testimonies of former soldiers to research this phenomenon. He discovered that “live and let live” was widely known about at the time, and was common at specific times and places—but almost never with elite troops who took themselves seriously. It was often to be found when a unit had been withdrawn from battle and was sent to a rest sector.

The Higher Commands, Division, Corps, and Army Commanders and their staffs were aware of this practice, and would try to extinguish it. They sometimes analyzed casualty statistics to detect it.

Bogus reports of daring raids were submitted, but some commanders like Brigadier General Frank Percy Crosier didn’t believe them. He demanded that proof of the raids—samples of enemy barbed wire—be submitted with such reports.

So his enterprising soldiers collected a coil of German barbed wire in no man’s land, and snippets from this coil were submitted. The “old man” never knew.



Groove of the Day

Listen to Bobby King & Terry Evans performing “Live and Let Live”


Weather Report

79° and Clear




After more than 2,000 years, it is interesting how some Germans—mainly the older generation—still revere the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest, which took place in 9 AD, during the reign of Caesar Augustus. The battle was between a Germanic prince named Arminius, who had secretly forged an alliance of five Germanic tribes that had traditionally been enemies (out of about fifty extant at that time), and the 17th, 18th, and 19th legions (between 15,000 and 20,000 men), six cohorts of auxiliary troops (480 men each of non-citizens or allied troops), and three squadrons of cavalry under Publius Quinctilius Varus.

The battle was basically an unrelenting three-day-and-night ambush of the Roman army by the German tribesmen, resulting in the Romans’ total annihilation; but the backstory is in many ways more interesting than the battle itself.

This is not to minimize the significance of the battle; it is generally regarded by modern historians as the most crushing defeat the Roman army ever suffered, and it effectively ended Rome’s expansion of its empire east of the Rhine for all time. The three legions that were wiped out were never reconstituted after Teutoburg. It is a permanent blight on ancient Rome’s history, and subsequently inspired countless insurrections after others discovered that the legions were not invincible, after all.

On the Roman side, Varus was a poor choice as a commander. Although he was well-regarded by the Senate, his reputation derived from the fact that he was trained as a lawyer (what else?) and from his governorship of Syria, where he was known for levying high taxes and administering a harsh rule. For example, after occupying Jerusalem, he crucified 2,000 Jewish rebels, which was probably one of the prime causes of anti-Roman sentiment in Judaea. Yet he had married a grand-niece of Augustus and was considered trustworthy. But he was not a trained military commander, and leading up to Teutoburg, Varus committed a number of mistakes no military man would have made.

On the German side, the story is even more instructive. Arminius was a son of the Cheruscan chief Segimer, who sent his son to Rome to live as a hostage insuring peaceful relations. While there, Arminius obviously learned to keep his true feelings to himself, received a military education, obtained Roman citizenship, the status of equestrian (petty noble), and command of a Cheruscan detachment of Roman auxiliary forces stationed in the Balkans. When Varus was assigned the governorship of the German provinces, Arminius was reassigned to Varus, presumably for his knowledge of the German tribes.

Varus’ first mistake was that he found it inconceivable that the German tribes would not want to submit to Roman rule and discipline.  In reality, the Germans were extremely independent and committed to maintaining their freedom. He took false comfort that organizing the German tribes was akin to herding cats; he had absolutely no idea that Arminius was in fact doing an effective but secret job of lining up opposition to Varus and his severe style of leadership.

As Varus was preparing to move his troops from his summer camp west of the Weser River to winter headquarters near the Rhine, he heard reports of a local rebellion, reports which had been fabricated by Arminius. As Edward Creasy wrote in Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World (1851): “This was represented to Varus as an occasion which required his prompt attendance at the spot; but he was kept in studied ignorance of its being part of a concerted national rising; and he still looked on Arminius as his submissive vassal.”

The most direct route to the supposed trouble-spot (suggested by Arminius) took Varus through an unfamiliar forest where the Roman troops would be forced to march in a perilously long line, just a few men abreast, that stretched out between 9 and 12 miles. Normally the legions marched ten men abreast and were able to make defensive maneuvers. But dispersed, interspersed, and separated from one another by camp followers, they were helpless and the head of the column didn’t know what the tail was doing.

Under the pretext of organizing German tribes as allies, Arminius and his auxiliary troops broke away from Varus’ column. In actuality, Arminius organized the ambush, including the construction of wooden and peat ramparts around the choke-points in the woods. On a signal, Varus’ troops came under attack and, over the next three days and nights, were reduced to thousands of corpses which were nailed and deposited to the surrounding tangle of trees.

Upon hearing of the defeat, the Emperor Augustus, according to the Roman historian Suetonius, was so shaken that he stood butting his head against the walls of his palace, repeatedly shouting: “Quintili Vare, legiones redde!(“Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!”) Varus was so humiliated, he committed suicide.

Hermannsdenkmal_1900(1)The legacy of the Germanic victory was resurrected with the recovery of the histories of Tacitus in the 15th century, when the figure of Arminius (now known as “Hermann”—a mistranslation of the name “Armin”), became a symbol of Pan-Germanism. During the Napoleonic Wars, the memory of Teutoburg was revived to equate the invading French and Austro-Hungarian forces with the invading Romans, similarly destined for defeat.

As a symbol nationalism, the Hermannsdenkmal, a monument to Arminius (seen in 1900 at the right),  was erected in a forested area near Detmold, believed at that time to be the site of the battle. Paid for largely with private funds, the monument remained unfinished for decades and was not completed until 1875, after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 unified the country.

Since the end of World War II there has been a strong aversion in Germany to celebrations of the nationalistic past, so Teutoburg has not been much mentioned in German textbooks. Only old people still sing the Groove of the Day, a folk song recounting the Teutoburg victory composed in 1847 by Josef Victor von Scheffel. In 2009, commemoration of the battle’s 2,000th anniversary was muted.

Late-20th-century research and excavations were sparked by finds by British amateur archaeologist Major Tony Clunn, who was casually prospecting at Kalkriese Hill with a metal detector in hopes of finding “the odd Roman coin.” He discovered coins from the reign of Augustus (and none later), and some ovoid leaden Roman sling bolts. Kalkriese is a village administratively part of the city of Bramsche, on the north slope fringes of the Wiehen, a ridge-like range of hills in Lower Saxony north of Osnabrück. The site is some 43 miles from Detmold, where the Hermannsdenkmal is located.

Excavations have revealed battle debris along a corridor almost 15 miles from east to west and little more than a mile wide. A long zig-zagging wall of peat and packed sand apparently had been constructed beforehand; concentrations of battle debris before it and a dearth of artifacts behind it testify to the Romans’ inability to breach the Germans’ strong defenses. Human remains appear to corroborate Tacitus’ account of their later burial. As a result, Kalkriese is now believed to be the site of part of the battle, probably its conclusive phase.


Groove of the Day

Listen to unknown WWII soldiers performing “Als die Römer frech geworden”

(When the Romans became naughty)


Weather Report

80° and Clear


give peace a chance

John Lennon WWII.

In the history of the world, the survival of the great empires and small nations alike has depended on conquest, new taxes, and growth; without these factors, they have all degenerated into corruption, injustice, bribery, and nepotism. Since the assassinations of the 1960s, we have endured our own Caligulas and Neros in the US—and currently (according to Netanyatu, no doubt)—Vespasians or Tituses. Though humanity will periodically experience some improvements, the trend appears generally and perpetually downward.

I’m sorry I cannot offer some words of optimism or encouragement, but I have come to the sorry conclusion that personal happiness can be achieved only by those individuals who eschew the fate of civilization in general and make their own independent ways.

The big problems of the world just seem to be beyond the ability of any one person to control; yet there is a part of me—perhaps an irrational part—that wonders if this isn’t an illusion. Just as one is freed from fear of death by embracing one’s own mortality, the solutions to life’s most intractable issues may be similarly instantaneous.

For example, one of the greatest anti-war activists of my youth was John Lennon. While most of the world waited for leaders like Richard Nixon to make peace happen, Lennon’s solution was: “Declare it. Just the same way we declare war. That is how we will have peace… we just need to declare it.”

He said: “It’s quite possible to do anything, but not if you put it on the leaders and the parking meters. Don’t expect Carter or Reagan or John Lennon or Yoko Ono or Bob Dylan or Jesus Christ to come and do it for you. You have to do it yourself.”

“There is an alternative to war. It’s staying in bed and growing your hair.”

Apparently Lennon’s popular influence was considered to be an existential threat to the Nixon Administration, and the US Immigration and Naturalization Service began a four-year effort to deport him. After Nixon resigned, Lennon’s deportation order was overturned in 1975, and his application to remain a permanent resident of the US was granted in July 1976.

Maybe staying in bed is a way to defeat ISIS.




Groove of the Day

Listen to John Lennon performing “Give Peace a Chance”


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Groove of the Day

Listen to Charlie Spivak and His Orchestra performing “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin'”


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