The day’s treasure comes from the San Jose Mercury News, which ran this story a couple days ago, but I only saw it on the wire today, so forgive: Many citizens believe Saddam has mystical powers. An excerpt:
UMM QASR, Iraq – Ahmed Ali believes Saddam Hussein can never die. All his life, the 23-year-old laborer has heard about the dictator’s powerful stone.
Saddam, the story goes, had the stone made shortly after he came to power 24 years ago. Its powers were first tested inside a chicken. One of his soldiers pulled out a gun and shot a bullet at point-blank range. The chicken’s feathers fell off, but it lived.
So the dictator implanted the stone in his upper arm.
As the curtain falls on Saddam’s reign, many ordinary Iraqis are reluctant to believe that their much-feared dictator has lost power, much less that he is actually dead. Stories abound of Saddam’s mystical powers that have helped him elude assassination attempts and missile strikes.
“The stone makes him bulletproof,” Ali, a slim man with a Saddam-style mustache, said in a serious voice.
Our business editor, a farm girl, was particularly amused by the detail about the chicken. It’s right out of Looney Toons, isn’t it — the nude chicken, perhaps scorched black by gunpowder, saying, "What the-?!?" before looking right at us and crossing her wings over her crotch. Good thing she had that magic stone inside her!
Of course, then we have to wonder how Saddam got the stone out.
The chicken never wins these things.
I’m beginning to wonder if these folks are ready for democracy. The whole country sounds like south Florida to me.
Week, be over. Just…be…over. Not only did the spring weather renege on us, I had one of those days today. My 11-year-old job-shadowers, Molly and Katie, came today. We had an interview. "Where did you go to college? Why did you choose journalism?" they asked. Beats me. The interview was over in 7 minutes; with 53 to go before their mom showed to pick them up, I took them for a tour. It’s always an interesting litmus test, a building tour. When I did this with the local Mensa chapter, all that interested them was the reel room, where the giant rolls of newsprint are stored. "How long would one of these rolls be if you unrolled it?" someone asked. "Six miles," I replied instantly, a total fabrication; I mean, if she expects me to know this, I’m going to have some fun with her. One guy actually pulled out a tape measure and took dimensions, then started doing the calculations out loud, and they all joined in.
I seem to recall six miles was fairly close.
Typical Mensans. The library — to me, the true treasure trove of any publication — interested them not at all. But calculating the length of a roll of newsprint, well, that’s entertainment.
The 11-year-olds liked the photo department and the designers’ area best, which figures, I guess. Computers they understand. At one point I apologized that the newsroom wasn’t more interesting. "One girl in our class got to watch them operate on a cat at the vet hospital," Katie said, a little sadly. They’re coming back next week; I’ll try to arrange a nice multiple homicide for them. To really top off the fun, I took them to the morning news meeting, which always disappoints; it’s nothing like the ones on "Lou Grant." I always hope for some real bickering, but these days, the best you can hope for is some strained tension, which I tried to explain, good Kremlinologist that I am.
After that things eased up a bit, but it’s still only Thursday.
Some interesting mail this week, on, of all things, Leni Riefenstahl. Here’s Alex:
I remember when the Leni Riefenstahl documentary first hit the theaters. I took a lot of heat from some of my holier-than-thou politically correct friends for even patronizing it, let alone the conclusions I shared afterward.
You think it sucks that the war in Iraq makes right-wingers feel justified in venting blind hatred all over the place? A movie like the Riefenstahl bio seems to make the most liberal people react with the same kind of rancor, not to mention an unwillingness to consider anyone else’s thoughts.
As I see it, what Leni did is not much different than what my old high school contemporary Mark is doing right now as a serf in the fiefdom of Bush. What if–and I know this is an absurd leap–but what if Bush managed by some sleight-of-hand (like the Supreme Court decision that made him president) to become supreme dictator for life? Would we judge Mark as harshly as we judge Leni Riefenstahl?
She certainly didn’t think she was shaking hands with the devil when her nation’s new leader told her he adored her work and offered to be her patron. Years later, when it became undeniably clear that Hitler was a genocidal authoritarian dictator, it’s not like Leni or anyone felt free to play hero. Look how cowed most Americans are about expressing dissent right now–and this is a free country where the secret police don’t generally show up at night and torture your children in front of you to extract testimony against neighbors who dare to think for themselves.
When she says she was doing what she loved in the service of something she didn’t care for or know much about, she’s really not much different than me or a lot of people I know. At the risk of being politically incorrect, what I see in Leni Riefenstahl is a person who has what it takes to be more alive at 100 than most people are at 40. If this is what comes of a life unburdened by conscience, where can I shed mine?
It’s hard to judge what any period in history was like, even if you lived through it. We’re all the blind men describing the elephant, and while it seems obvious, now, that anyone that close to Hitler would have to know what was going on, more than one authority has given her a pass on it. I’ll happily give her credit for her genius as a filmmaker and photographer and call the books as balanced as they’ll be in this life.
Let the weekend begin. See you back here in 48 hours.