Archive for the ‘Skirts Who are a Problem’ Category

Slide1I’m fairly certain I understand what it takes to make great entertainment: a well-written narrative, good casting, and compelling characters, but the current trend of the Anti-Heroine in the Spy Dame genre is really starting to tick me off and sends a bad message about women in the biz.

It started with Carrie Mathison, the CIA analyst from the popular TV series Homeland. Carrie is a talented analyst aided by her bipolar disorder, when in full-force, enhances her ability to see patterns where others fail. However, her erratic behavior and general prickliness makes her really unlikable as a person.

Then we are followed up by another CIA analyst, Maya Lambert from the Oscar nominated movie Zero Dark Thirty. No apparent mental health issues, but again, the near combative, and constant bullying behavior was overwhelming throughout the movie, and at times, very much unwarranted and out of place.

Now we have the new TV show The Bridge with Sonia Cross, a detective in the El Paso, Texas police department tracking down a serial killer who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, which limits her ability at times to accomplish her job without ruffling more than a few feathers, and apparently also makes her a pretty bad driver.

Maybe these writers think that making these women exceptionally quirky somehow makes them more exciting, lovable, or endearing. Mostly it just makes them aggressively annoying. I love the “procedural drama” because I like to understand how the proverbial machine of investigation and analysis work, but putting the disfunctional character archetype first and foremost really undermines and even derails that genre as a whole.

Now this is not to say that there are not women out there doing the job with these circumstances. But this twist of character doesn’t even have a base level by which to jump off from. A base level where are just women doing The Job. So here’s my bigger problem: It’s not enough that a woman can be a real and normal human being with all the real and normal issues that accompany that, but that she also has to be decidedly single with a mental illness-disorder-awkwardness-whathaveyou, and in many cases, just plain damn unlikable sends the message that dames can’t get the job done unless they delve just enough into a big bag of crazy, or conversely, any woman successful at her job must somehow be a loon on some level. And frankly, at the end of the play, I think it’s a cop-out to cover the fact that writers can’t develop a strong female character without a plot device.

Plenty of amazing fictional Spy Dames didn’t need this malarky: Kate Burroughs, the illustrious M, hell, even Sidney Bristow – Queen of SpyFi – got along just fine with her overly-developed sense of patriotism that almost always resulted in her being a pretty darn positive person…impending Zombie Apocalypse and mad scientists aside.

So I find myself waiting, patiently, for the Happy-Go-Lucky-type SpyDame to appear on the screen, big or small. They’re out there. And if writers had even some sense of a clue, they would write about her.

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High profile people make the most interesting spies. Their fame and subsequent connections allow them access to places everyday schmoes can only dream of (like a certain Miss Baker  during WWII). It makes me wonder though about Princess Stephanie Julianne Richter zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst (1891 – 1972), a high-society, Austrian of Jewish descent married into German royalty and a spy for Hitler: does this odd relationship say more about a famed wild child-celebutant or a keen self-preservationist?

Stephanie was born in Vienna, Austria, and raised in the lap of luxury. Her training as a ballet dancer, charm and good looks helped insert the young Miss into the highest social circles. It also helped Stephanie get into a good number of fixes over the years as well.

At the tender age 22, Stephanie found herself knocked-up with the illegitimate love child of an Archduke/Prince. The family’s money and connections manage to cover up her indiscretion through a hasty marriage to German Prince Friedrich Franz von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst.

The child was born and raised with Hohenlohe name. Stephanie herself took to royalty like a Cinderella and a glass slipper. Despite her divorce in 1920, Stephanie continued on with her “Princess” shenanigans all throughout Europe and was involved with anyone from a British newspaper tycoon to a Nazi diplomat. It was during this time that Stephanie began her association with one Adolf Hitler, who intimated her with the moniker “My Dear Princess”. She held close relationships with the Nazi elite and managed to secure yet another title, one of “Honorary Aryan“, a pretty important title if you had but a drop of Jewish blood in you during those times.

During the 1930s, Stephanie took up residence in London and circulated through London society. The assumption during this time was that she was spying for Hitler and using her charms for propaganda and the Nazi cause. Not a hard sell as the London elite of the age had plenty of Nazi sympathizers among their ranks. Passing correspondence and arranging meetings between noted Britons and high-ranking Nazis, Stephanie even arranged the infamous meeting between the abdicated King Edward VIII, now Duke of Windsor, and his American wife, Wallis Simpson, with The Fuhrer in 1937. The British government kept a close eye on her though, noting her influence with Hitler and how he actively sought her advice.

With Germany effectively being broke during this time, one wonders how the Princess managed to support herself. Well, she did so by becoming the paid mistress of a British Lord. The relationship eventually fizzled and Stephanie went as far as to sue the Lord in court (she lost) demanding continued payment as was promised to her for life. Considering the payments were regarded as a “retainer”, one doesn’t have to go far to guess what kind of services were rendered.

An affair with Hitler’s top-aid, Fritz Weidemann, saw Stephanie through the rest of the 1930s. When Fritz was name consul-General to the United States and assigned to the San Francisco post, she followed. She traveled back and forth between the US and England but settled in the US after the official outbreak of war. Her spidey-senses a tingling, she became fearful the Brits might arrest her as a spy. However, the US, despite not taking part in the global festivities, kept a close eye on the minx. FDR famously wrote that the activities of one Princess Stephanie made her “worse than 10,000 men”.

Stephanie’s relationship with Fritz ended and after her visas ran-out in 1941, she was detained by US immigration. However, yet another affair, with the head INS no less, prolonged her stay in the country, and even saw her put up in a hotel in DC for a spell.

But as we all know too well, all good things must come to an end. In 1941, the FBI arrested Stephanie. She was placed in a detainment camp in Texas until her parole in 1945. But she made good use of her time there, she helped the OSS develop a psychological profile of Herr Hitler and was influential in a 1943 report “Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler“.

After the war, Stephanie resumed her affairs in post-war Germany, targeting men who were best able to support her lifestyle. She lived to the ripe-old age of 81 and died in Geneva, Switzerland. A good long life, longer and better than most who lived during those times.

A very good book about this dame and her exploits was crafted by Martha Schad and is definitely worth a read.

I cannot believe I am about to blog about Lana Kane, aka sex-bomb super-agent of Archer‘s fictional spy-outfit “Isis”, but here we go…

If you haven’t seen the anachronistic FX animated Series “Archer”, then you’re in for a treat. The show is snappy, dirty, raucous (great word – don’t get to use it very often), and abso-freakin-lutlely hilarious. Of course, I can see where it would offend someone with more “delicate sensibilities”, so if you’re one of those, you best skip it altogether.

Lana Kane, voiced by the highly-nuanced Aisha Tyler, plays a constant second-fiddle to the slightly dumb and misogynistic Sterling Archer, spy extraordinaire!, of Isis, a security agency run by Archer’s fabulously wicked mother.

Lana is mostly a consummate pro when on the clock. She’s regimented, disciplined, and not above shooting Archer in the foot when he’s being an ass, which is pretty often. And the running joke on her monster paws is amusing. However, Lana does introduce a great point of contention in the co-ed workforce and that is the difficulties of “inter-office dating”.

Lana’s dating fiasco with Archer is followed up by her equally disastrous relationship with Cyril, agency comptroller, and further muddied by a fling with an agent from a rival outfit. Lana’s not about to let a bad-man get her down, but it does frustrate the beejeebers out of her when she can’t escape the idiocy that are her former flames.

Tune in for name drops on tradecraft and obscure pop-culture references, but mostly just tune in because it’s so damn funny.

“YUP!”

I think we’re way beyond explaining how the media misrepresents the spy trade but the fact remains that certain people get drawn in by those little falsehoods and it has very real consequences.

Odile Harrington (1961- ), a young white woman recruited by South African Intelligence in 1986, then controlled by the white minority government during the Apartheid era, to go and spy on the African National Congress (ANC) in Zimbabwe. Odile was young, dumb, and thoroughly unprepared for the fate that befell her.

In a 1990 interview, Odile admits “I think it was an extremely unwise and a naive decision. With the role that spying plays in the media on TV and in newspapers and books and so on, it really doesn’t look as dangerous as it really is. It’s actually seen as more glamorous.”

Odile was a young college graduate, the daughter of a doctor father and an artist mother, who had a reputation as being a bit of a bimbo when she joined the spy trade. She thought she was serving her country. She thought the ANC, which in all fairness was the largest guerilla paramilitary group in the region, was a threat to South Africa. Like many white people of her generation living in South Africa, she was raised with no small amount of fear of black people.

Her mission, and she chose to accept it, was to infiltrate the ANC posing as an anti-apartheid activist. And while she spoke nothing of her training, it all went horribly wrong from the get-go when she repeatedly shot herself in the foot.

Mistake #1: Instead of using a correct method of  transmitting information, like say, a dead-drop, Odile instead tried to mail an envelope to South Africa filled with incriminating information including a picture of a potential target.

Mistake #2: Odile handed off said envelope to a policeman to mail for her and the policeman turned her in to Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization.

Yup, she is credit to Spy-Dames everywhere.

Now one of two things should have prevented this whole catastrophe: one, given her reputation prior to joining SA Intelligence, her recruiters should have realized during a background investigation that she was a flighty bird and removed her; and failing that – two, her handlers should have better assessed her during training and removed her from contention for active service.

But what happens instead is that Odile is arrested, whipped, starved, raped, nearly drowned (and I don’t care what the Pres. George Bush and cronies claim, it’s still torture), and is sentenced to 12 years in prison. This is actually a lesser sentence handed down by the Zimbabwe courts due to the admitted treatment of Odile as a prisoner.

But what else happened to Odile while imprisoned? She received an education. She had black cell-mates whom she listened to (when she wasn’t fighting them), she read the local papers, she came to understand the point of view of blacks in her region who were marginalized at every turn. She realized she was wrong.

Flighty bird or not, it takes a lot to change a mind.

Of course, during this time, the South African Commissioner of Police disavowed her, but over the next few years, Amnesty International took up her case, and eventually, the infamous President F.W. de Klerk negotiated her release and she returned to South Africa. In an interview following her release, she actually stated her wish to return to Zimbabwe and work in the area of race relations.

When asked if she would spy for the ANC instead, Odile replied “No, I think it’s best to call it a day.”

Granted, the media has amped up what I like to call Spy-Fi (spy fiction) with slightly more reality: the gadgets are little more real, sometimes the agencies, and occasionally the tradecraft. But there’s still this lone-wolf, sexed-up killer fembot thing they have about the women in the trade. Every spy-dame is a lone super-woman in a miniskirt flirting her way out of danger. And while this false belief about the business alone should filter out the innocents from such a life, you have wonder how many people are still drawn to it based on that fantasy.

A pint-sized hacker with a photographic memory and a dark past is the standout character is Stieg Larrson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and fills out a trio of books called The Millenium Trilogy (in the US anyway, in Sweden it is referred to as The Men Who Hate Women trilogy).

Salander copes daily with her troubled childhood or, as she refers to it, as the time When All The Evil Happened. According t0 Swedish society, she is labeled mentally incompetent and is officially a ward of the state. In the novels it is hinted that she may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome, but personally, if I experienced this girl’s childhood, I might be more than a little anti-social myself.

Lisbeth uses her super-computer powers to facilitate her job as a freelance private investigator.  She works when she wants, with whom she wants, on what she wants, and at her own leisure. She is surly, taciturn, and disappears for weeks, sometimes months, on end but turns in such brilliant work that her exasperated employer can not help but keep her on. Why? Simple, because Lisbeth is the best.

Salander is a problem solver. But what’s interesting is that she doesn’t get a thrill so much from solving a problem as much she does from the process. Her approach is what really snags the reader. The tougher the problem, the happier and more engaged Salander is. And believe me, her solutions are not for the weak. Burn her once and she’ll burn you back with an attack that makes Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like a water balloon fight.

Lisbeth is described in the book as an “information junkie with a child’s play on moral and ethics”. I couldn’t disagree more with the assessment. Lisbeth has an agenda and while her agenda does not necessarily meld with polite society, it is often effective and for the best of everyone involved. She is a highly rational actor with perceived unreasonable reactions.

If there is any complaint I would have about the character is that I would love to see more of her inner dialogue when it comes to methodology. Lisbeth is so utterly fascinating I find myself hanging on every word to see what she does next.

Josephine Hart once wrote that “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.” No truer words could ever be written  as it applies to Lisbeth Salander. She is no one’s fool and certainly no one’s victim. This girl has taken shots that would take down an elephant, but she refuses to acknowledge that fact. Not acknowledging keeps her going and decidedly drives her work and her thought process as exemplified in her constant mantra Analyze the Consequences.  However, at the end of the day, this also prevents Lisbeth from making real connections with people, particularly those who wish to help her.

And Lisbeth doesn’t want those connections. She enjoys her anonymity and the peace it brings her by living on the fringe of society where she can be left alone to do her work. I wonder if she could be quite so effective at her job, blending in, sneaking about, observing, if she were more connected to this so-called “polite society”?

gercarreMathilde “The Cat” Carre (1910-1970) was a French double agent during WWII. Carre makes for an interesting study in that her treason is based on nothing more than self-preservation and possibly the desire for a long hot bath.

Carre was born in France, educated at the Sorbonne, became a school teacher, married, and moved to Algeria. Pretty uneventful stuff. War soon broke out and Carre’s husband was killed during the campaign of Italy.

Carre returned to France as a nurse just in time for it to fall to the Germans, took up with a Polish military officer, and joined the Franco-Polish resistance movement of the Interallie. Carre proved very useful in being able to determine and size and location of Luftwaffe and SS Panzer divisions in the region. Some say it was Carre’s green eyes and shapely gams that got her intel from German officers in her area.

Carre was taken prisoner by the Germans during a catastrophic decision to recruit a female into the Interallie who turned out to be a double-agent for the Abwehr. Carre herself was turned into a double-agent and released back into the field.

Carre, still believed to be a trusted member of the Interallie, was summoned to London with a cohort. The Abwehr believed they were about to get their chance to infiltrate the infamous British SOE, but Carre was instead arrested and imprisoned during the duration of the war where she served her time as an informant against other detainees.

After the war, Carre was sent back to France to face trial. She was initially sentenced to death but eventually had her sentence commuted to 20 years. She was released in 1954, penned a book, “I Was Called the Cat”, in efforts to explain her side of the story, and passed away 1970.

During her trial, the prosecution read from Carre’s diary: “What I wanted most was a good meal, a man, and, once more, Mozart’s Requiem.” Interesting. We view treason through the lens of money, ideology, compromise, and ego, but this hints at something more. Fatigue.

Certainly, Carre was compromised into turning double agent, but that implies something that is still against her will and I think Carre’s will was long gone. With her husband dead and her country devastated, Carre strikes me as someone so demoralized that she became bent on doing whatever she perceived it took to just get the war over with and she had given up caring which side won.

Too bad really. Carre was called “The Cat” because of her elegant manueverings and stealth like ways of gathering intel. Perhaps a more concerted effort at sublimating that demoralization might have resulted in an entry celebrating this dame’s accomplishments instead of writing about a lady who gave up, gave in, and turned coat.

velvaleedickinsonVelvalee Dickinson (1893-1980) sounds like a name more befitting a Wisconsin cheese heiress than a WWII spy, but a spy she was and her undercover monicker of “The Doll Woman” is highly appropriate for this broad’s shenanigans.

Velvalee was born in Sacremento, California and educated at Stanford University. In the mid 1920’s, Velvalee went to work at a brokerage company in San Francisco where she met future husband, Lee. Velvalee became involved in social work which brought her into close contact with the Japanese community there. She became a member of the Japanese-American Society (fees paid by a Japanese Attache, thank you), well-entrenched with visiting members of the Japanese military and government, and hosted numerous soirees in her home for said same folks.

The Dickinsons moved to New York City in 1937 where Velvalee opened a doll shop specializing in rare and antique dolls. It was here, well under radar, that Velvalee conducted her treasonous activities.

dickinson_store1Velvalee used her doll shop as a front to send secret communiques, more specifically, steganographic messages, around the globe reporting on military activities and position. And example of an actual message: “Doll in a hula skirt is in the hospital and doctors are working around the clock”, which translated to “Light cruiser USS Honolulu is badly damaged and in Seattle undergoing around the clock repairs.”

The language of dolls apparently served up a myriad of ways certain activities could be discussed in front a casual observer without drawing too much attention. However, this was WWII. The government had a cadre of cryptanalysts on payroll examining the mail of everyday citizens and this is what led to Velvalee’s discovery.

The dame was busted by a piece of returned mail.

velvaleedickinsonfeb221942letterYup, she sent one her “letters” to Buenos Aires, but the intended recipient had moved on and the letter was returned to the US where it was intercepted by wartime censors. Thinking the correspondence was a little fishy, the censors passed it along to the FBI where it ended up in the capable hands of our favorite cryptanalyst, Elizebeth Friedman, and the rest is history.

The subsequent investigation uncovered all sorts of correspondence that had been bouncing around the country under a variety of different names in dozens of cities, but all traced their way back to Velvalee. The FBI uncovered her connections to the Japanese government in San Francisco and New York, about $25 thousand in payments made to Velvalee, and then they really went to town.

Velvaless was indicted in 1944 under a number of various charges and like the stand-up gal she was, she promptly blamed it all on her late husband who has passed away in 1942. However, medical records proved her husband’s lacked the mental faculties at the time in question due to a prolonged illness, and then the gig was up.

Maintaining her innocence until the end, Velvalee was sentenced to a ridiculously short amount of time in federal prison and was released in 1951, disappears from radar in 1954, and all we’re left with in the end is her date of death in 1980.

I came across this article today regarding a female student’s lawsuit against the famed Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut.

Miss Porter’s is a 165 year old institution noted for such venerable students like Jackie O and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Painting of the Oprichnik for use in an opera

Painting of the Oprichnik for use in an opera

The suit is based on the harassment of said student by a group of girls who referred to themselves as the “Oprichniki“. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it was the name given to the Russian secret police squad under the command of Ivan the Terrible in 16th century Russia.

Aside from feelings of revulsion and outright disgust, I find this whole story fascinating on a number of different levels. Obviously, I fail to understand women undermining other women. If one of us gets ahead, we all get ahead and I believe that sisterhood will further our united cause, so female bullying rather gets this Agent’s Irish up sort to speak.

Okay, rah-rah feelings aside, what really interests me about this story is that the history of the Oprichniki is not solely attributable to a guy. It is believed by a great number of scholars that it was the second wife of Ivan the Terrible, Maria Temrjukovna, that founded the idea of this brutal organization most noted for the abduction, imprisonment and subsequent torture of the Czar’s internal enemies.

Secret police have been used throughout history as a way of those in power retaining their power. They gather intel on real and potential enemies and then neutralize these enemies through such methods as impalement, throwing “offenders” in vats of boiling oil,  and being drawn and quartered, to name a few choice methods.

Makes you rethink the whole idea of Hell’s fury in relation to women feeling put-out.

Also makes me wonder about a group of high school girls referring to themselves in such a manner and what this means to society as a whole.

Since the new 007 film, Quantum of Solace, opened during finals it took me sometime to properly recover to see the movie in my right mind. Having seen the latest installment, it’s time to re-visit an old topic: Bond Girls.

camilleOh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy, where to begin? Let’s start with Camille, the supposed Bolivian beauty seeking revenge on the man who killed her parents. Do I really need to comment on the fact that a very obvious looking Eastern European actress with a visible Russian accent bleeding through her obviously tortured Bolivian accent was a little much at times? After 2006’s Casino Royale, I thought that Bond films had taken a turn and would at least attempt to flesh-out (pardon the pun) the female characters a bit more. But alas, tis not meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the idea of unrequited revenge as a theme, but without sufficient build-up of a back story, the character rings hollow.

sfThat’s Bond Babe #1, dare I venture an opinion on Bond Babe #2? “Strawberry Fields”? Consular agent? Are you kidding me? This saucy 1960’s throw-back of monikers is overdone and, frankly that character doesn’t even deserve a critique, so I’m moving on. Enough said.

imagesDame Judi Dench, however, ever deepens my undying loyalty in the role of ‘M’. love. her. I want this broad masterminding my intel agency once I become Dictator of my own nation (small country, manageable, an island preferably, benevolent of course).

The general movie revolves around Bond going rogue which is some fun stuff to gab about, but that discussion will unfortunately be left to another blog.

We only discuss the dames here.

I’ve always heard it that Hell hath no fury like a women scorned, but lately I’m more inclined to think it is that Hell hath no fury like a woman with a cause.

Anna Montes (1957-) is the daughter of the career Army doctor. Born in West Germany and bounced around a bit as a kid, Ana grew up, became extremely well educated with degrees from University of Virginia and John Hopkins University. Montes upon graduation was snapped up by the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1985 where she went to work as an analyst.

Like all good spy-dames, Montes proved herself early on to be exceptionally capable which moved her up the ranks fairly quickly. In 1992 she was assigned to Cuba where she studied the Cuban military. So here’s where is gets interesting, the government believes that Montes was recruited by Cuba prior to ever working for the DIA. Seven years is a damn long haul to wait for an agent to be placed in the perfect position for counterintelligence, but that shouldn’t surprise you really. If the agent is to remain under the radar, then the transition needs to be organic.

What is fascinating about the Montes affair is that this is some good old-fashioned cloak and dagger kind of stuff. Montes received orders via shortwave radio and she communicated back to her handlers via numerically coded messages placed at phone booths around the DC area. All messages were printed on water-soluble paper that could be easily destroyed on contact.

Federal prosecutors of Montes’ case claim among all the info she passed along, included were the identity of four spies and classified intel that resulted in the death of an operative in Central America.

Montes was very clearly being watched for sometime and was eventually arrested September 21, 2001, ten days after the 9/11 attacks. It has been reported that Montes had access to the Afghanistan invasion plans and the government picked her up before it could be leaked.

Montes avoided the death penalty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. She’s serving her time in Texas where I’m sure she is well-regarded. So this leads us to the question of why? What was her motive?

When we’ve talked of motives for treason previously, the theory of MICE always comes into play. Money. Ideology. Compromise. Ego. When you break it down, Montes never received a dime for activities, she wasn’t coerced via evidence of illicit behavior and an inflated sense of self importance doesn’t appear to be the case. This leaves us with ideology.

Montes is of Puerto Rican descent, not Cuban. She did apparently maintain radical views that alienated her from her conservative military dad. So in the end, what we’re left with is the ideology that Cuba was treated unfairly by America. That’s it.

Montes is eligible for parole in 2023. She will be 66 years old.