Archive for the ‘Whom You Least Suspect’ Category

ImageIn one of the most original Spy-Dame personas that I have seen in either film, book, or TV, the incredibly nuanced performance by Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, a Russian sleeper-agent on FX’s 1980s themed “The Americans”, is remarkable for the fact that, one, Elizabeth is a rare example of a fully-realized female character, and two, for the fact that the character wrestles with the seemingly mundane and quintessential female problem of trying to have it all – but with a twist.

Elizabeth (actually “Nadezhda”), raised in post-war, Communist Russia by a single mother, is a young KGB agent assigned to pose as part of a suburban couple in America with another KGB agent, husband “Phillip”. Elizabeth and Phillip only know each other by their American names as a method of protection in case they are ever caught. They arrive in America in the late 1970s and the series follows them years later as the live as an established married couple, produce two children, and reside in the suburbs while running a travel agency in Washington DC. The perfect cover as the couple navigate their secret life as deep-cover spies.

And Elizabeth is one tough customer: a master of disguise, a talented wireless radio operator, a skilled tradesman in espionage, pretty good at hand-to-hand combat, and a consistent strategic thinker – and all while also dealing with the appropriate amount of stress of being a mother. But here is where Elizabeth diverges from the norm: however harried Elizabeth may be as a mom, it is not to comedic effect. Elizabeth struggles with the balance of work-home life because first and foremost, Elizabeth is a dedicated Soviet, a loyal servant to the cause. While her husband Phillip often suggests early they either defect or disappear permanently in America as the country is not all that bad and their kids are as American as they come, Elizabeth will not here of it. She is The Job and The Job is not over. If her children are “too American” it is simply because Elizabeth is “not finished with them yet”.

Elizabeth plays the maligned disciplinarian in the eyes of her children while her husband is the “fun parent”, a fairly typical story construct on any level, but there’s an interesting duality in this spy thriller. While she does love her children and has, if not love, but strong affection for Phillip, they are still part of The Job in her mind and that influences much of her actions, as her family life is part of her cover, part of her job. For example, we learn early on that Elizabeth was assaulted by a senior training officer in Russia, and while this is a certain catalyst for events in the pilot episode, it is not something that defines Elizabeth as a character because the only thing that does define her is her commitment to The Soviet Cause. So a predator in the Soviet ranks is almost something she took in stride, as part of the job, until she decides it is not.

So how does a Dame have it all? How does Elizabeth manage marriage, children, and home while trying to champion Mother Russia and maintain a secret identity? Most often through cold reserve, tenacity, big-picture thinking, and the ability to give a good beat-down when warranted.

The bigger question that will face Elizabeth in the series is the constant test of her ideology and whether it will uphold as Elizabeth realizes that her Russian counterparts are not quite the patriots she has held them out to be, and then, what will her actions be?

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I did not post much last year, and while I feel massively guilty over this fact, it is tempered with the reality that such is the life of the PhD student. However, given that is is January, I resolve to be a better blogger…we’ll see if this holds…because I am due to defend my dissertation this year…

But despite my bad blogger-ing, I did notice a heartening trend, particularly in the closing of the year. I noticed that the media was actually giving credit to the women of the trade in ways that did not involve perceived princess-ness, beauty, or even sex.

Wha-wa-wah!? you say? Women actually being noted for their competence? Skill? Tenacity? Dedication? Talent? Is this Backwards Land? Did I slip into a wormhole? Did the media actual wake up in 2012 and not the Groundhog Day existence of the 1960s that reporting on women in Intelligence has been perpetually waking up to since, well, forever?

Let’s run it down:

It began last September when a former Navy Seal, Matt Bissonnette, who took part in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden (yeah, I know, Usama-Osama, tomayto-tomahto, whatever – dead), reported the existence of “Jen”, a CIA agent whom he credited with tracking down the infamous OBL. Though I didn’t much care the descriptions of her being “feisty”, I certainly appreciated the use of the term “wicked smart”.

So, while terrific and all, a gal getting her due, what was more interesting was in what followed this initial reporting; reports of not only the existence of wicked-smart “Jen”, but of other women, equally talented, who work among the ranks of the typical white-male patriarchy that has plagued the Intelligence filed for so long.

Quickly on the heels of this reporting, follows the film “Zero Dark Thirty” a film about the hunt for OBL featuring the said-same “Jen” in the form of “Maya” (more on her in another post), a CIA agent working tirelessly for years in the hunt of the world’s most famous terrorist. The story of Maya is not about her being a broad in the field, but a tough, frustrated and determined agent who is often pretty difficult to like, especially when she is right, a trait which is normally heralded in a man and disparaged in women.

And of course, given the awards-circuit dominance of the Claire Danes playing Carrie Mathison on the TV show “Homeland” (more on her in another post – yes, I know, I’m behind), we start to see a trend – the portrayal and reporting of complicated, tough women doing the job, doing it right.

All of this makes for great fodder in the media particularly when there is a new spin to put on the story. Women are no longer just preternatural bombshells practicing “sexpionage”, but are a “new breed of agent” described as “secret weapons“. Something new. Something innovative. Something not ever seen before.

And here’s where I call shenanigans.

It is again a case where men and media fail to learn their history. In the said same reporting it is discussed how women served as the best “targeters” for capturing senior al Qaeda leaders immediately following 9/11, especially Jennifer Matthews, an agent key to the capture of Abu Zubaydah in 2002 (although later scapegoated for larger Agency failures). And, ahem, let the record show this article is written in 2012 – a full decade later the fact. So these women are hardly new to the scene.

And of course, this again denies the existence of women who have served in Intelligence all along as engineers, mathematicians, cryptographers, agents, operatives, etc – all dedicated, tough, talented, and relentless in their pursuit of a more secure nation.

So it is during this time that we note the passing of Jeanne Vertefeuille, a long-time CIA analyst largely responsible for uncovering the country’s most dangerous mole, Aldrich Ames, in 1994. Of course, Jeanne worked alongside a team of talented women, who have come to be known as The Sisterhood, that despite being hired in the CIA during a time when women were not exactly appreciated, still performed brilliantly, establishing careers and performing feats that anyone – men or women – should aspire to achieve.

I mention Jeanne in this post, not because she stands out above a few centuries of women in Intelligence, but because in light of the reporting of “Jen”, and “Zero Dark Thirty”, and the not-so-new-breed of female agents and analysts, Jeanne Vertefeuille received her full due in the national media, and is hailed as a hero for her service to her country.

Just as a lot of other women should be.

For me, 2012 ended on a high note: Women being recognized for their great work in national security. Granted the facts are hardly right and the historical interpretation is not exactly sound, but still, all said – I’ll take it.

Here’s hoping the men folk and the media keep it up.

The first thing you need to know about Maria Isabella “Belle” Boyd (1844-1900) is that she refused to be ignored. After that, you need to know that the first thing about her informs the second thing about her, which was that she was one of the most successful Confederate spies, if not one of the top, during the American Civil War. An original wild child and l’enfant terrible, Ms. Boyd worked her mojo on many an unsuspecting male resulting in the one of the most interesting espionage careers this country has seen, from either man or woman.

Born into a prosperous, socially prominent, and slave owning family, Belle made her way into the world back when West Virginia was sans “West”. Already a bit of a renegade and agent provacateur, there’s an amusing story of Belle showing up to a party she was forbidden to attend on a horse. Horseback riding is not so unusual in those parts and in those days, but when you show up to a party on a horse and ride the horse into the house where the soiree is being held, well…you get the picture.  Belle, despite her notoriety for being a bit of a problem, managed to be  educated at Mount Washington College in Baltimore, Maryland and after graduation, made the rounds as a Washington DC debutante.

After Virginia seceded from the Union, the Boyd family firmly planted themselves on the Confederate side of the squabble. Union troops occupying the ShenandoahValley, upon encountered the Boyd home in Martinsburg, found nothing short of a big ole’ Stars and Bars was flying out front, courtesy of our dear Belle. This instigated a row over which, long story short, Belle shot a Union soldier dead in cold blood. Since Belle was just a girl, she exonerated of the charge but more or less kept under house arrest.

Belle made use of her time by romancing a one Captain Daniel Kelly into revealing Union military secrets and attempted to smuggle them to Confederate camps via a house slave. When caught, Belle was threatened with death should her shenanigans continue. And let’s just say this would be enough for any sane young woman to cease said shenanigans, however, our dear Belle, saw this as merely wake-up call to improve her super-secret communication skills. Her parents saw this as a ripe opportunity to ship Belle off to the relatives in Front Royal, Virginia in the vain hope that Belle might actually behave herself.

No such luck.

By Fall of 1861, Belle had begun work as a courier between generals Jackson and Beauregard. She used her greatest weapon, her charm, to gather information and talk her way out of some pretty tight spots. It’s interesting to note here that Belle (evident by photographs of her) was not particularly pretty. It really was her personality and her way with men that made her so succedssful. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the men involved didn’t think enough of women at the time to view her as a credible threat.

Her charm was not foolproof, however, as Belle did manage to get herself arrested in 1862, but was then released in 1863 during a prisoner exchange when the prison warden became smitten with her. She was arrested again in 1864 when after volunteering to deliver Confederate papers to contacts in London, England when the ship she was sailing on was captured by a Union blockade.

It was here that we really discover learn what makes Belle tick.  Somehow, she was released from custody where Belle then escaped to Canada. But here’s where it gets interesting: she eventually arrives in London a few short months later, but then marries Union naval officer, Samuel W. Hardinge, one of the officers who seized the ship she was on.

So, you have to start questioning Belle’s motives at this point. On one hand, she has gone through a terrific amount of effort to spy for the Confederacy, so naturally, you assume Belle to be a true believer in the Confederate cause. But then to marry a Union officer? This doesn’t jive.

Hardinge has to return to the United States where he is quickly charged with aiding and abetting a Confederate spy. Belle is so well known to Union troops that she is referred to as the “Siren of the Shenandoah” or the more accurate “Cleopatra of the Secession”. Hardinge is soon released but then keels over dead. Meanwhile, Belle is in London, broke, and pregnant. A journalist persuades Belle to write her autobiography in effort to make some cash. Belle does and in 1865, Belle Boyd: in Camp and Prison, a two volume set no less, comes into being.

But let’s get back to Belle her motives. She is seemingly passionate for the Confederate cause but marries a Union officer. She is 21 years old and somehow thinks her life story merits a two volume chronicle of her exploits? Oh, she also becomes an actress, marries yet another Union officer, and later, an actor from Ohio. Belle supports herself by touring around the United States lecturing on her war time escapades which are often questioned by historians.

This is a chick that likes to be in the spotlight. She likes attention. If you read the introduction to her memoir, it compares her to Joan of Arc. I don’t know about you, this makes someone like Belle all the more dangerous. For a small woman, she had an ego the size of Virginia. For her, this was all one big game centered around one Miss Boyd. Had the Union officers been smarter, I have no doubt they could have very easily persuaded her into switching sides.

There’s something to admire about Belle though. She isn’t beautiful but she is plenty smart and pretty damn fearless. She understands her targets  – men – and knows how to work a situation to her advantage. This is a far cry from the modern era where spy-dames are nothing more than sexed-up killer femmebots, so you have give Belle her due even you don’t agree with which side of the war she placed herself.

Belle Boyd continued on, making money on her former notoriety. She died of a heart attack in the Wisconsin Dells in 1900 after giving what was no doubt another rousing recollection of her exploits to, oddly enough, a Union Veterans association.

Belle is buried in Wisconsin.

I’m not sure I have fully processed this movie about a genetically engineered super-soldier in the form of a teenage girl locked inside one damn twisted fairy-tale-esque nightmare, but here we go…

The movie opens with a young girl in the Arctic tundra stalking an elk (or was it caribou?). She nabs her prey only to then be attacked by an older man, whereby an fantastic fight sequence ensues. Of course, we learn this older man is dear-old “Papa” and we begin to wonder what kind of home life this child leads.

Well, it’s one of languages, and encyclopedic knowledge, and living off the land, and mastery of both martial arts and any object you can get your hands on to kill another human being.

Hanna is on lam, born on the lam actually, and her home life has been crafted by Papa to prepare her for her enemies because Hanna, as we come to discover, is a highly prized asset by a certain American spy-outfit. Hanna was genetically altered as an embryo in a reverse-twist on the Bionic Woman, where Hanna wasn’t re-built as a super-human hybrid but constructed as one.

Long story short: Hanna ends up back on the radar where CIA baddie, Marissa Veigerly, a link to Hanna’s conception, is trying to track her down. Hanna must realize the truth of her beginnings and protect herself from those who would destroy her.

So what does it bring to the table? There’s your usual Spy-Fi stuff about experimental science, assassins, and rogue agents chasing each other around the globe, and while I thought this movie would go down the path of nepotism (a subject I loathe: supposed inherited greatness), it actually brings up a rather interesting debate on nature versus nurture.

Sure, Hanna is genetic engineering marvel. She was created to be great, stellar genetic material that also makes her a liability, but the irony of the movie is that it is only by relentess training and realizing her true and full potential that she can protect herself. Hence, growing up isolated in the woods in the Arctic circle, learning as many languages as she can master, and becoming the ultimate survivalist.

But the fly in the ointment is actually two-flies: one, Hanna’s isolation makes her susceptible to over-stimulation where a TV, a fan, and a light switch is enough to drive her bonkers; and two, Hanna is an adolescent girl with enough pubescent hormones to power a small city.

There’s no resolution to Hanna. I rather enjoyed that as I don’t care much for pat endings. But two things I have found really fascinating about this film: the first, the director, is re-knowned for English romance films; and two, the that in an all-United-Kingdom-and-Commonwealth acting troupe, the baddie, Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett, has a Southern accent, thus keeping alive a tradition where Americans represent the baddies as Brits but the Brits represent our American-evilness as somehow being Southern.

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.

Miss Jenny is an interesting little mystery. Not as interesting nor as tragic as the drama surrounding Agent 355, but a nice little mystery all its own.

Miss Jenny, as we understand, was a French-speaking Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War who infiltrated the French camps during 1781 and passed information along to the British. Acting on intel that the French were moving troops in an impending attack on New York City, Miss Jenny was out and about trying to confirm the information when she was caught by a French guard.

The little minx held to her story that she was looking for her French-Canadian father, a story which did not appear to go over well, and consequently, Miss Jenny was turned over to none other than George Washington. Further questioning achieved nothing because she stuck to her story despite rigorous questioning. Washington handed her back over the French, who in a last ditch effort, attempted to make her talk but to no avail.

The French carried out a traditional punishment of the time, lobbing off a gal’s coif, as more stringent forms of punishment without proof would be unthinkable and mostly because the “wisdom” of the era saw women as not being intelligent enough to be spies. Hair cutting as punishment has a long and distinguished history in the Arab and Islamic world, the Europeans during the witch hunts in Medieval times, and the French and Dutch during World War II when humiliating female Nazi sympathizers.

Miss Jenny, sans hair, was released and immediately made her way back to the British camp in New York where she reported her findings. The British responded by holding their position in New York rather than the original plan to move on.

Luckily, the French and Americans switched gears and launched an attack on Yorktown, which proved a pivotal battle in the war. To date, the real-life identity of Miss Jenny has never been confirmed.

We only know of Miss Jenny due to the meticulous nature of the British and their OCD-like abilities in record keeping. Baron Ottendorf, a German mercenary whom Washington gave the boot thus inducing him to switch sides in the war, relayed the tale of Miss Jenny to Sir Henry Clinton, a British military commander, in the form of a letter which is in the keeping of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

I could be really teed off at this broad for dashing my hopes of what I thought would be a kick-ass thesis by accomplishing it first, but I am too in awe of her massive mental abilities, and as such, have decided to profile her instead.

Judee-doll was born in Ames, Iowa in 1948. A fairly normal upbringing ensued and resulted in classic mid-western dame. Judee attended Iowa State University where she earned a degree in both Speech and English minored in both Social Studies and Education. She quickly went on to earn a Masters in Speech Communication and a PhD two years later in Communication and Educational Psychology.

So let’s tally this up before proceeding:

  • Speech: verbal communication
  • English: written communication
  • Social Studies: ability to learn about people in context
  • Education: ability to teach people
  • Communication: a hefty blend of all of the above
  • Speech Communication: a further blend of speaking about all of the above
  • Educational Psychology: how people learn in educational settings

I’m not going to lie here: I expected her head to be size of mutant watermelon. I mean really, that is a heck of a lot of knowledge for one brain in such a short amount of time, but I Googled her and her head seems well-sized. So let’s continue:

Judee bounced around academia teaching in Florida, New York, Michigan and finally settling in Arizona where she is firmly installed a the University of Arizona. Her teaching and research interests according to her website read:

My primary teaching and research interests center on nonverbal and relational communication, with emphasis on such interpersonal communication processes and outcomes as expectancy violations, deception, nonverbal relational messages, conversation involvement and dominance, and dyadic adaptation patterns. I also have a subsidiary interest in mass media uses and evaluations.”

So you might be asking yourself:  Why does this dame deserve a post on this site? Simple, because she performed research  in something that I predict will become massively important in years to come: automated detection of deception

Long story short, aside from the usual verbal and non-verbal cues people provide when trying to deceive, Judee and her team developed a tool called “Agent 99” (named after the female Get Smart characterlove it!) that can detect (not always but there’s always room for improvement) deception in text messages.

Wow, wow, and more wow. In a world where Twitter informs the public of a major revolt inside a seemingly closed society, or is used as a tool of communication and deception in a government experiment, or is used to proffer information during a natural disaster , sound decisions making is going to depend on the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, the noise from the signal, the mayo from the baloney. So this Agent 99 tool? Pretty damn useful.

And Judee exemplifies what I love most about women and their contributions to Intel: they come from where you least expect it.

This, of course, still means I am stuck in search of a thesis topic…

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.

imagesOkay, I’m sooo late to the game on this one, but after a recent weekend spent on the couch with a lame back, a friend loaned me seasons 1-4 of NCIS, and now, I hate to admit, I’m hooked. The upside is that I feel like I have gotten my proverbial blogging mojo back. And it’s mostly because of Abby…and my theory about her parentage…

I know Abby, forensic technician extraordinaire!, is supposed to be the hearing child of deaf parents, but I think it’s a cover. I think Abby is the quirky, overachieving love-child-gone-wrong of X-Files residents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully…who also got kicked out of reform school…and single handedly supports the local tattoo parlor…

See, while Abby’s hard science tradecraft is truly superb, like mama Scully, just like old papa Mulder she too wants to believe. The chick digs crop circles! And unabashedly believes in aliens! But despite all her science, Abby brings a dash art and a heaping tablespoon of philosophy to her dishes. She is a creative thinker and willing to use that occasionally big bag of crazy between her ears to explore alternative theories.

I liken Abby to the revolution that has been going on in industrial design for the last ten years. Companies have been hiring not only the very best engineers but artists as well. Artists who may not remember a thing about high school trig class, but that doesn’t mean they can not dream up a truly new and innovative way to make a stapler.

Sure the character lacks boundaries, and her who hero-worship of Gibbs is slightly odd (although I totally dug the whole Gibbs-Shrine thing as a coping mechanism at the beginning of season 4), and so is her devotion to Catholicism while she plays with voodoo dolls and parties in cemeteries, but darn it if the girl doesn’t get the job done each and every time.

Abby’s interest in, well, everything makes her the perfect poster child for the 21st century knowledge worker. And the fact that she is allowed her public weirdness makes her that much more effective. Personally, I could wouldn’t want to share lab space with person that into Death Metal, but I think Abby, for her stellar quirkiness, does all us adorable, tattooed freaks proud.

And yes, while you may not know me, I am visibly in-your-face-tattooed, and quite adorable, and I am known to perform some damn fine analysis…but I prefer late 1970’s punk to Death Metal. That’s where Abby and I part ways.

countessmarkieviczandchildrenConstance Gore-Booth (1868-1927) daughter of the famous Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, made a name for herself by jigging her way out of her father’s shadow and becoming the Matriarch of Irish female insurrectionists.

Constance was born in London to a famous father who owned a large estate in County Sligo Ireland. Sir Henry was an odd-duck for his time as he was compassionate to the plight of the Irish during the worst of the Potato Famine. Sir Henry’s ideology deeply affected Constance and her sister Eva. Eva later became a leader in the labor and suffrage movements in England, while Constance eventually took up the cause of Irish freedom.

What led Constance to forward her regard for the Irish poor to the need for Irish freedom might have something to do with the company she kept. Constance fancied herself an artist and had many artistic friends, most notably, William Butler Yeats, who later wrote a poem dedicated to the Gore-Booth sisters.

What many may not realize is the nationalistic ideas and movements were long fostered in the Irish arts community. The arts were a means of keeping the culture alive and be it poetry, song, or plays, it was one of the few venues the Irish had to voice their outrage over the conditions in which they were subjected to.

po13_t01Constance joined this community with dreams of becoming a painter. She studied in Dublin for a time before moving on to France. All the while becoming involved in political movements regarding labor, suffrage, and equal rights. I was during her time in France in 1901 that Constance met and married Count Kazimierz Dunin-Markiewicz, a Polish Aristocrat who conveniently was also a painter and playwright. This was obviously a shot-gun marriage as Constance gave birth to a daughter shortly thereafter.

The Markieviczs moved to Dublin in 1903 becoming one of the mainstays in artistic circles. Through these circles, Constance became involved with the Gaelic League, an organization devoted to preserving Irish culture and language and served as incubator to the future leaders of Ireland, such as Douglas Hyde, future first president of a free Ireland.

By 1908, Constance had all but left a life of art behind and led a life devoted to Irish politics and attaining Irish freedom. And proving that you can take the girl out of the royal carriage but you can not take the royalty out of the girl, Constance turned up for her meeting of women’s revolutionary movement in a ballgown and tiara. True story.

The fun stuff really begins when Constance set her tiara towards taking down Winston Churchill in a parliamentary election. She showed up to Parliament in a carriage drawn by four white horses just to make a spectacle of it. She lost of course, but the effect was powerful. The suffragists were able to split the Churchill vote and thus give the election to another opposition candidate.

Mugshot of Countess Markievicz

Mugshot of Countess Markievicz

The deeper Constance embroiled herself into the cause, the more radical she became. In 1909, she founded Fianna Eireann, a paramilitary training corps for Irish teenage boys.  Constance also was arrested for speaking in favor of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and for protesting the visit of King George V in 1911. When workers suffered a lock-out for protesting against police brutality, Constance paid for food to feed families out of her own pocket and started local soup kitchens. In fact, Constance eventually sacrificed nearly all of her own wealth in support of the cause.

The long strain of Republicanism on Constance’s marriage took its toll by 1913 when her husband moved to the Ukraine never to return to Ireland. By 1916, Constance was fully immersed in planning and execution of the Easter Rising. Constance put down her tiara, picked a gun and served as second in command at the St. Stephen’s barricade, one of many encampments through the six-day long siege of the city.

Constance dug trenches, set up barricades, actually shot a British solider, and refused surrender until she received a copy of surrender orders from the the top command.

Of the 70 women arrested during the uprising and serving as “guests” at the Kilmainham Gaol, Constance was the only to be placed in solitary confinement. She further sassed her captors at her court-martial and when her sentence of death was commuted on account of her gender, she replied to the court: “I wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.”

Politics being what they are and the swell of support that arose from Irish Catholics to the government response of the Eater Rising, Constance was released in 1917. Shortly after, Constance renounce her Anglican faith and converted to Catholicism.

In 1918, Constance was jailed again for anti-conscription shananigans. While in jail, however, Constance was voted into the British House of Commons under the Sinn Fein party. The first women ever elected. As a part of general protest, she refused to take her seat.The first Dail Eireann convened in 1918 declaring Ireland a free republic and generally kicking off the Irish War for Independence.

1968-countess-markievicz1

Constance served in government, most notably as labor secretary, until 1922 when Eamon de Valera, Constance and other followers resigned in protest over the passage of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which formally separated North and South Ireland.

A major turn-about occurs in 1923, when Constance, re-elected to government yet again, refused to take her seat and participated in other activities considered detrimental to the new Irish state. She was jailed, again, and led 92 other women in a hunger strike.

Constance kept her foot in the door of Irish politics until her death in 1927 at the age of 59. Years of working in Dublin poorhouses more than likely exposed her to tuberculosis listed as the official cause of death. Her estranged husband returned from abroad and was at her side when she died.

Eamon de Valera provided her eulogy. Sean O’Casey, the famous Irish playwright, provides the most memorable quote about Constance:

“One thing she had in abundance—-physical courage; with that she was clothed as with a garment”.