Good Golly, Miss Molly!

Professional dominatrixes, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, an ode to Nancy Drew -- welcome to the ramblings of a freelance journalist...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Harry Dade Goes Mobile

Harry Dade knew what was what. And the minute the broad walked through the door, he knew she was nothing but trouble.

"Mr. Dade?" she’d breathed in her sultry Southern accent.

"That's right," Harry replied.

He stood to light her cigarette, wishing he'd taken the time to get rid of his five o'clock shadow. But the can of shaving cream he'd bought at O' Reilly's Market with his 7 a.m. doughnut and coffee still stood unopened, ignored on the rusty sink top.

It had been a quiet day at Dade Investigations. Outside on Sunrise Boulevard, traffic moved and drivers cursed through the evening smog. But till now, the only thing moving at Dade Investigations had been the smoke from Harry’s La Gloria Cubana cigar, wafting up to the dingy ceiling.

"Mr. Dade, I hear you solve problems," the blonde told him as she sat in the empty swivel chair.

Somehow, something seemed wrong with this picture—the swivel chair, its ripped fake-leather cover and exploding yellowed foam, the sexy blonde, her Versace purse, and 14kt gold diamond tennis bracelet catching the light.

"Depends what the problem is." Harry tried to focus on what she was saying, but the minute the broad crossed her legs, the tight red dress started inching up over her knees, exposing thigh through see-through stockings.


The blonde took a long drag on her cigarette, leaving a red ring of lipstick around the tip. "This is the problem," she said, pulling a mobilmedia cellphone out of her handbag. Clearly agitated, she pushed a few buttons and the screen came to life.

"Hi, baby," an athletic-looking young-man said.

Harry figured by the fire escape diagram on the wall behind him that he was sitting in a hotel room-–upscale, yes, but hotel room nonetheless.

"I'm making a lot of great contacts here at the conference, this place is just a nest of opportunity. I know it's our anniversary, but business has to come first if you want me to keep you in that life of luxury." The man laughed, as if at an inside joke. "I'm sorry baby, but it doesn't look like I'll be back in town till Saturday. You know I love you."

"Hmmph," the blonde said. She held the mobilmedia screen up to Harry's eyes and pointed aggressively. "You see that? You see that?"

Harry squinted, making out what appeared to be red women's lingerie, draped over the back of the man's chair, caught in a corner of the screen just above his shoulder.


Harry caught the 9:45 p.m. flight to Houston International.

He always traveled light, with just a couple changes of clothing stuffed into his beat-up teamsters union Local 924 blue-leather bowling bag.

That, and his surveillance equipment--a wireless mike and room bug, car tailing transmitter, and of course, his micro-mini wireless color pinhole camera with a built-in video transmitter.

After renting a beat-up Cadillac Seville at the airport, Harry checked into the Starlight Motel. He grabbed a quick pastrami on rye at a diner down the street and gulped down a black coffee while he fiddled with his equipment.

Though long ago, ten-years in an elite unit of the U.S. Special Forces had taught Harry that self-sufficiency was next to godliness. With little more than an afternoon of tinkering, he'd managed to interface his micro-mini wireless color pinhole camera with a newly purchased enhanced security product suite, enabling the viewing of encoded live video on his cellphone or PDA.

No more renting rooms while on stakeouts. From then on, Dade Investigations had conducted business in a mobile environment, both wireless and on wheels. Harry liked it better that way. Keep up with the times, or the times leave you behind.


Harry eased the Cadillac into park. A light drizzle tapped on the roof of the car, worming its way down the oily windshield.

Munching on a glazed doughnut, he focused his attention on the screen of the cellphone. The man from the blonde's video-greeting was clearly arguing with someone else, a note of desperation in his voice.

"Listen, Vinnie, do you really think I would do that? This is me, man, me..."

Things might get interesting after all, Harry thought, settling in for what from the looks of it, would be a long night.


As he reached for his Zippo, Harry heard the shot. That was when he knew things were starting to move...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tribalism and Honor in War and Peace

A couple days ago, an article in the Jerusalem Post quoted eighteen-year-old Mohammed Swyel of Lebanon. He stated, "Everybody in Lebanon needs Hezbollah. Of course, we need peace for this country, but not over our dignity. Our dignity is first."

Dignity. I call it tribalism and it's a big part of the reason that the Middle East is in the state it's in. And it is a factor of Middle Eastern cultures that much of the West has yet to understand.

So, as the fighting continues up North, I say to those who feel Israel has gone too far – in the Middle East, strength is what talks. There is no such thing as a unilateral withdrawal on the part of Israel for peace, or a prisoner swap for peace, in which Israel would exchange hundreds of Arab prisoners for 3 Israeli soldiers. To the Hezbollah, to the Palestinian masses, this is seen as weakness and Israel, in doing so, sets itself up for future attacks.

Take Israel's hastily implemented withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May of 2000. Israel left and the Hezbollah quickly moved in. Now tell me, what sovereign country would idly sit by as neighboring forces rain rockets on their civilians, or kidnap their soldiers on patrol within their own country's borders?

Many of you may be wondering just how this situation came about. Rather than tracing it to Biblical days, let's look at a condensed version of more recent history: back in 1978, Israel had entered southern Lebanon to stop PLO-allied cross-border attacks along its northern border. It wasn't long before the UN Security Council passed Resolutions 425 and 426, calling for the withdrawal of both Israeli and Palestinian forces, and the establishment of UNIFIL - the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon.

Israel withdrew several months later, and the pro-Israel SLA (Southern Lebanese Army) set up base in southern Lebanon. But the Palestinian and Hezbollah forces, remained, violating the UN cease-fire resolutions and continuing their cross-border attacks into northern Israel. In 1982, Israel again entered Lebanon reaching Beirut, with the goal of evicting the PLO which had established a foothold in the country. Israeli forces withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, retaining a "security zone" in southern Lebanon until the Israeli Defense Forces 2000 withdrawal.

Rather than leading to peace along the border, this withdrawal allowed the Syrian-backed Hezbollah to move back into the south of Lebanon, leading to the raining of rockets on Kiryat Shmona and other northern Israeli cities.

Now, back to tribalism, honor and dignity. While the majority of Arab leaders may have accepted the larger idea of a Middle East peace, I would argue that they represent the Westernized few. (For example, they obviously do not include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, or Hasan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah, who I would argue represent the best of tribalism, fanaticism, or whatever else you'd like to term it.)

So while 'Westernized' Arab leaders are left trying to bridge the gap between the 'civilized' notions of negotiation toward peace, standards other Western countries expect them to uphold; they are also left having to show respect for the 'tribal' notion of blood for honor; a belief I would argue, primarily of the poor, uneducated and un-Westernized.

I'd also argue that it is an instilled fear (a.k.a. brainwashing) of the 'indecent freedoms' these un-Westernized Muslims may associate with Western culture that would lead to a strengthening of the fanaticism. This fear becomes a bond that holds them together and which fuels their hatred – of Israel, of the West, of America.

Bottom line is, when it comes to the Middle East, there are two standards of behavior – the Western 'civilized' standard; and the Islamic 'tribalized' standard. Survival requires that you engage in diplomacy with the West; and show strength to the Arabs.

Monday, July 17, 2006

On the Northern Front

For those of you following the news, you may be imagining scenes of war and bombing in Israel. But actually, in the majority of the country, it's life as usual.

Israelis tend to take situations like the current conflict along the country's border with Lebanon in stride. This isn't surprising considering that Israeli cities like Kiryat Shmona (along the Lebanese border) and Sderot (which sits alongside the Gaza strip) are regularly hit by falling rockets, gifts from our Hezbollah and Palestinian neighbors.

So in Haifa and on northward, people have been spending some time in the shelters – or "miklatem," as they are called in Hebrew. They have been instructed to stay close to protected areas and head for these shelters when sirens are heard.

But southward of Haifa on down to Tel Aviv, where the Home Front Command has issued a warning for the possibility of missile strikes, it is life as usual. Case in point, I don’t know where my neighborhood's bomb shelter is located. If I hear an air raid siren, I will simply go to the strongest walls in my apartment, the most inner walls, and hope for the best.

At work, they sent out an email telling employees that if they heard a siren, there was a shelter in the building's basement to which they could go. It may be disconcerting as far as the thought goes, but it still doesn't seem real. And honestly, after going through the night without hearing a siren, it seems more doubtful to me that missiles will reach Tel Aviv.

In last night's continually running news coverage, Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah's leader, broadcast his message "I have a surprise in store for Israel, we will reach south of Haifa just wait and see." My first thought was, "If it's going to happen, it will be tonight." But in the end, nothing came of his threats. So now it seems less likely to me.

One military analyst made a good point on yesterday's news – he said: "If Nasrallah could do it, he would've already." So, whether it's because the Israeli Air Force's bombardments of Hezbollah positions have destroyed their rocket launchers; or because Nasralla's afraid of the response (which seems less likely because he obviously doesn't care about Lebanese civilians and what happens to them, as the Hezbollah regularly uses them as human shields by positioning their launchers in residential areas), he hasn't launched any of those long range missiles. And by the way, yesterday Benjamin Netyanhu was interviewed on Britain's Sky News. He said we know that the Hezbollah has at least 12,000 missiles aimed at Israel. So how many has Nasrallah launched in total? 20? 30?

Watching Nasrallah speak, you can't help but admit – the guy is a master orator. I think he's playing a great manipulation game, and a great psychological game. He's so calm and focused, not 'fanatic' looking at all. And he knows how to use the media. He makes these veiled threats knowing they will be broadcast on Israeli news and scare the Israeli populace.

Meanwhile, to those who don't know any better, he comes across as a calm, normal human being who is simply protecting his people, rather than the fanatic who uses psychological warfare, PR – and his own people's casualties – to his benefit.

He knows what the world needs to see and hear to get them to say "how wrong of Israel" and there's no doubt he plans what he's going to say very carefully.

Hassan Nasrallah is clearly a very dangerous, cold and calculated individual. With someone like that heading an organization which has legitimate political recognition in Lebanon (Hezbollah holds seats in the Lebanese parliament); and with the Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon, I wonder whether a true peace with our northern neighbor will ever be possible.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

An Ode to Nancy Drew...and Other Heroes

Nancy Drew - she was my first hero. A fearless teenage detective, endlessly saving the innocent citizens of River Heights (and other exotic international locations) from shadowy figures in the dark.

One cold winter night, when I was in first grade, my mother came home from the Bexley Public Library with a beat-up copy of 'The Witch Tree Symbol.' Tucked under the blankets in my parent's big bed, we read together, night after night, my mother helping me sound out the big words.

To this day, I remember the picture on the cover - a sinister, gnarled looking old tree with Nancy crouching behind. Just the cover art alone fueled my imagination, without even having read a word.

Many years later, when I was in journalism school, I was lucky enough to interview Mildred Wirt Benson, one of the original writers hired by Edward Stratemeyer of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, to bring the plotlines of Nancy Drew mystery stories to life. I tracked her down via the web and some good old-fashioned 'detective work' if you will, and called her at the Toledo Blade newspaper, where she wrote a weekly column.

Under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene, Wirt Benson gave Nancy a personality of her own and a sense of spunk - much of which she'd taken from her own personal life. Also the author of volumes of Kay Tracey; Flash Evans; Ruth Darrow; Penny Parker, etc., etc... - Wirt Benson would have been a hard act to measure up to, as I am guessing the Nancy Drew writers who followed in her footsteps could atest.

Wirt Benson was the first woman to receive a master's in journalism from the University of Iowa. As if that weren't trailblazer enough, she stated in one interview that she enjoyed treking in the jungles of central and south America. Add to that the fact that while in her sixties, she became a licensed commercial and private airplane pilot - can there be any question as to who put the spunk in Nancy Drew?

In a 1985 interview with Osha Davidson of 'Iowa Alumni Magazine,' Wirt Benson explained: "The plots provided me were brief, yet certain hackneyed names and situations could not be bypassed. So I concentrated upon Nancy trying to make her a departure from the stereotyped heroine commonly encountered in series books of the day."

Wirt Benson passed away in May 2002. It was a sunny Tel Aviv afternoon, and I was sitting in an Internet cafe reading over the day's New York Times. Her obituary caught my eye. I remember feeling such a sense of loss. This strong woman, this imaginative writer, was in so many ways, responsible for the person - and the writer - that I'd become.

And so, here is my ode to Nancy Drew - and my expression of ever-lasting gratitude to Mildred Wirt Benson.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

In Memory of the Fallen Ones

The soldiers stood at attention, rifles at their sides, orange berets on their heads. Birds sang, bees buzzed and the smell of spring flowers floated in the air. Families gathered around gravesites, here and there, sitting on stools, talking quietly amongst themselves, remembering their fallen sons and daughters.

It was Israel's annual Veteran's Memorial Day, and I was at the Kiryat Shaul National Military Cemetery in Tel Aviv. I was accompanying a friend, who was bringing her mother to visit the grave of her uncle, her mother's older brother.

His name was Jacob, and her mother told us he was quite a looker. The girls swooned over him, but he only had eyes for his sweet-heart, who he was supposed to marry. He'd already given her a ring.

Jacob died at the battle for Rafiah, during the Sinai Campaign in late October 1956.

Israel - backed politically by France and Britian - fought to expell Egypt from Sinai. This was after the Egyptians blocked Israel's access to the port of Eilat, cutting off her sea trade with a majority of Africa and the Far East. This was followed by Nasser's announcement of the nationalization of the Suez Canal.

In any case, it is doubtful 23-year-old Jacob thought much about the politics of the situation before he went into battle. According to his sister, he was upbeat. "Don't you worry about me," he told her, "I'll be fine! The Egyptians are no match for us - we'll eat them without salt!"

My friend's mother sat by her brother's grave and lit a memorial candle. "Why? Why?" she cried. "What a shame! What a shame! You should be an old man today with many grandchildren..."

It happened fifty years ago, but she told us she remembered it like it was today.

Jacob, a tank driver, was killed by Egyptian artillery fire. "The first round he survived," she told us. "I asked his commander at the funeral. He said a medic had talked to him after the first hit and he was only wounded. But with the second round, he suffered a head injury and when the medic returned he was dead."

I looked down the line of graves and saw that many were killed in the same battle. Eighteen-years-old, nineteen, thirty-three, all were young, in the prime of their lives.

"I still remember polishing his boots before he left," she told us. "And his girlfriend grabbed him by the legs and begged him not to go...I told her 'let go of him, you'll make him leave with a bad feeling!'"

Jacob promised his sister a celebration - a "big party" when he returned.

But instead, every Veteran's Memorial Day for the past fifty-years, she finds her way to the Kiryat Shaul National Military Cemetery to leave him flowers on his grave.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Just Give me My Nikes and the Open Road

I was six years old the first time my dad took me running. We only went a couple miles, but to me it seemed like a marathon. Step after step, my father coached me along. "Pace yourself," he said, "you don't want to get tired too fast. We have a long way to go."

I had been watching him. Watching as he went out on his daily runs. A former Israeli national marathon champion, my father now ran for sport. And I'd pester him, trailing behind on my bike. "Take me with you, take me with you, Dad - please!"

"It's too far," my father would reply. "Maybe next time we can do a short run."

Finally, the day came. "Put on your gym shoes," my father said. "We'll go for a run."

More than 25-years, seemingly hundreds of pairs of running shoes and thousands of miles later, I'm a grizzled veteran of the pavement: The yapping dogs, nipping at my heels. The honking horns, mingled with the sweet stench of exhaust fumes. The envious stares from sedentary women. The smart remarks from young men.

Wind, rain, sleet, snow, hail, nothing fazes me. Maybe this is hard to understand for someone who's never been there. But every runner knows what I mean.

At first, your muscles ache, they cry out for you to stop. 'Who needs this punishment?' you ask yourself. But then you get into the zone. Your body feels fluid. Your breathing is metered. And you fly.

I guess you can compare it to the surfer catching the perfect wave. Some call it the runner's high. All I know is, it happens. And when it does, nothing can stop you.

So you can keep that extra hour of sleep. Just give me my Nikes and the open road...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel 2006

It is the eve of Israel's national Holocaust Memorial Day (Tuesday, April 25). Tomorrow, the sirens will wail and the country will come to a standstill. People will stop their cars and stand by the roadside, their heads bowed in respect and in memory of the more than 6 million men, women and children who perished in Europe not so long ago.

My grandmother, Elsa, lost her parents, brothers and sisters in the war. She was able to survive due to her Aryan appearance, and the kindness of a wealthy Gentile woman who hired her as a personal physician. The story I heard as a child was that when the Gestapo stopped a passenger train they were riding on and demanded my grandmother's identity card, the woman told the Nazi officer, "she is my personal physician and I need her by my side, unless you yourself intend to take responsibility for my medical care."

My grandmother was the last Jew to graduate from the University of Prague Medical School, before their admission was barred by the Nazi regime. As she went up to recieve her diploma, one of the professors spat on her. "Thank god this is our last Jew," he said.

My mother told me that when she was growing up, she would sometimes lie in bed late at night and hear her mother crying over Rosalee, her little sister, only a young child when she was killed.

My grandfather was a prisoner at Bergen Belsen, and my mother remembers the numbers tattooed on his arm. He did not talk much about his experiences, my mother told me. But he did tell her about the day the Gestapo arrived at his office.

He was a psychiatrist practicing in Vienna, Austria. The Gestapo officers informed him that he was under arrest. They would not allow him to tell his family that he was being taken. My mother said that the Nazi officer was especially cruel. But when he saw my grandfather's pet parrot, his demeanor changed. He began playing with the bird and talking with it.

Realizing that the parrot was the officer's 'soft spot,' my grandfather told him that if he were arrested, no one would be there to feed it. He asked to be allowed to drop the parrot off at home, before his arrest. In reality, he knew if his family found the bird at home, they would understand he'd been picked up by the Gestapo. My grandfather used to say that the Nazis were more humane to animals than they were to people.

Then there was Mrs. Lenobel. My Tel Aviv neighbor, many years ago, she has since passed.

One day, Mrs. Lenobel saw me in the stairwell of our apartment building and invited me in for cheesecake. I could not say no. A widow, I knew she was lonely.

But I really wasn't in a cheesecake mood, I told her. Mrs. Lenobel would have none of that. "You don't have to worry - everything is kosher," she smiled.

Then she told me her story. When her first husband and infant son were killed in the Holocaust, she'd stopped believing, and stopped keeping kosher. But when her second husband was ill in the hospital, she made a deal with God.

"I told him, 'If you make my husband get better and come home, I will believe in you again.'" Her husband did recover and on the day he was released from the hospital, she koshered the house.

In another interesting and related note, there was a small article in Israel's daily "Yediot Ahronot" newspaper today that Professor Issac Ben Afriam recently died. He was a comrade of Hannah Senesh, serving together with her in the Jewish brigade of the British forces during WWII.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the story of the Jewish brigade, they were European Jews living in Israel who volunteered for the British forces. In Israel, which was then a British mandate, they formed a brigade which was to parachute into their native countries. Their mission was to carry out both reconaissance, and aid fallen British soldiers and pilots. Their ultimate goal, of course, was to rescue other Jews. Hannah Senesh was caught after being sent back into her native Hungary. She was executed by firing squad at age 23.

May history never repeat itself.