April 21, 2003
Henny for Your Thoughts

Of the many surreal things I've heard during Gulf War II, this exchange by Donald Rumsfeld and a reporter last week has to top the list:

DONALD RUMSFELD: The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times and you think, "my goodness, were there that many vases?" (Laughter) Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?

REPORTER: Do you think that the words "anarchy" and "lawlessness" are ill-chosen...

DONALD RUMSFELD: Absolutely. I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn't believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny-Penny, "the sky is falling." I've never seen anything like it. And here is a country that's being liberated, here are people e going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they're free. And all this newspaper could do, with eight or ten headlines, they showed a man bleeding, a civilian, who they claimed we had shot... one thing after another. It's just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country. Do I think those words are unrepresentative? Yes.

My first reaction was: Is it possible I just heard him blow off the looting of national treasures?

My second reaction was: Henny penny! Who talks like that?

Seriously, I thought the whole thing was made up. It didn't make any sense. Apparently Rumsfeld, when he's in haste to debunk his critics, ends up talking like my grandmother.

(He's used this term before, apparently. The Betty Fnord Clinic offers this example.)

At first I thought he'd gotten the metaphor wrong. Wasn't it Chicken Little who thought the sky was falling? But I checked and Henny-Penny is, indeed, another character in that (rather tiresome) story.

It's apparently a better known term than I thought. For example, it's the name of this "provider of global foodservice solutions" (and here I didn't even know there was a problem). It's also an Australian chicken restaurant.

Elsewhere, apparently a number of folks have beloved pets named Henny Penny. For instance, this apparently real chicken is wearing a lovely knit hat.

The Rumsfeld quote took place on April 11 and was widely reported on April 12. (Yes, this is not exactly timely now, but I have not been feeling well, so it's had to wait.) Eerily, this site named a "Henny Penny" Pet of the Day on April 12, 2002! Now that's something to sqawk about.

This is getting altogether too creepy. I'd better go wear a large object on my head until people stop talking like this.

Posted at April 21, 2003 09:04 PM

Well, who really was using the Code of Hamurabbi any more, really?

And, it's not like there's HUGE demand for a library of humanity's earliest written language or anything, right? Cunieform? We're WELL past that.

And what WOULD a middle-eastern conquest be without priceless libraries and the patrimony of all humanity looted and burned? Honestly.

Posted by: mike on April 22, 2003 12:16 AM

You of course saw the Slate listings of Rumsfeld poetry? It's good fun.

Perhaps someone could organize a poetry slam between the Iraqi information minister and Donald "Let's Rumble" Rumsfeld.

Posted by: brian on April 22, 2003 10:36 AM

I have nothing witty to add, but this was a great post.

I feel like wearing a large object on my head most mornings.

Posted by: Laurie on April 23, 2003 09:35 AM

Keep a sharp eye peeled, Laurie! Who knows if it might be the crown of Sarpedon!

Posted by: mike on April 23, 2003 11:27 PM

Ouch! Why, I STILL remember the burning of Alexandria, and it was lo, those many centuries ago. Library burners are vile heretics and should be hoisted with their own petards.

Blasted barbarians. Homunculi.

Posted by: Felicity on April 26, 2003 01:19 AM

You may well mock our Donald's reference to Henny Penny, but that Saddam Hussein - what big eyes he's got, and what big teeth he's got.. Would Mr Rumsfeld like to buy some of my magic beans?

Posted by: Dave on May 2, 2003 10:11 AM
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