THOSE WACKY SECRET AGENTS
Humor is not among the attributes usually associated with spies. Yet at least some employees of Britain's Special Operations Executive during World War II apparently were pranksters.
Consider German passport No. 25840. It identifies its holder as "Adolf Hitler," a Jewish painter, and it is stamped with a visa allowing him to emigrate to what is now Israel.
The Nazi dictator, of course, was not contemplating retirement to a life painting watercolors of synagogues. The passport -- among a batch of heretofore top-secret documents released Friday by the government's Public Record Office in London -- was a gag.
The SOE was a wartime sabotage and subversion unit, but it was noted for having a few jokesters on the job. "They loved practical jokes," said Mark Seaman, an expert on the SOE at the Imperial War Museum in London. "The Hitler passport was obviously a joke," he told The Times newspaper of London.
The passport was supposedly issued in Vienna -- the city where Hitler once eked out a living as a painter in water colors -- on April 30, 1941, and contains a genuine photo of the Fuhrer. The crowning touch is a huge, red letter "J" -- for "Juden," identifying him as a Jew, for the Gestapo -- on the front.
"There definitely was an air of frivolity" among the 50 agents, many of them ex-criminals, who made up the SOE's forgery department, said Seaman.
WHAT A RELIEF!
A mock trial that sought to prosecute filmmaker Peter Jackson for "the desecration of 'The Lord of the Rings'" ended in an innocent verdict for the Australian director.
Ave Maria College, a four-year Catholic liberal arts school near Ann Arbor, Mich., debated Thursday night whether last year's blockbuster hit movie "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings" -- the first of three films based on the J.R.R. Tolkein trilogy -- followed closely the classic work.
Arguing in favor of Jackson's vision was Joseph Pearce, the author of "Tolkien: Man and Myth" and "Tolkien a Celebration: Collected Writing on a Literary Legacy." He told jurors: "It was a great relief as the film unfolded that Peter Jackson has made a real effort to be true to the text and even to bring in the spiritual dimension that was so central to Tolkien's understanding of myth."
Acting as prosecutor, AMC professor of literature Henry Russell recited the film's failures -- including bad casting and acting.
But in the end, the jury of 12 AMC students sided with Pearce and found the Australian director "not guilty."
HO MUSEUM OPENS
The wooden house in Thailand where Vietnam's revolutionary icon Ho Chi Minh hid from French colonialist police and plotted their overthrow in the 1920s will open as a museum on Tuesday, the Bangkok Post reports.
The house -- in Ban Na Jok village in Muang district of Nakhon Phanom province, 400 miles northeast of Bangkok -- has been restored to its original condition, including Ho's personal desk, with the help of about $4,500 in donations from ethnic Vietnamese residents of the area.
The current owner of the house, Teo Nguyen Van, 80, was one year old when Ho Chi Minh took refuge in the village in 1923. Van's father was one of the half dozen followers to accompanied Ho during his seven-year exile in what was then Siam.
In addition to Ho's original writing desk, the new museum will display other possessions of Ho's and similar objects from the same time period, which are on the way from museums in Vietnam.
Ho is the center of a personality cult in Vietnam, where his body is preserved in a mausoleum and his former jungle hideout is lovingly restored at a shrine in Hanoi.
REASONS TO CELEBRATE THIS WEEK:
MONDAY: This is Be Electric Day, celebrated on the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Edison.
Carnival, a.k.a. Mardi Gras -- that period of fun and festivities prior to the beginning of Lent -- is today (Shrove Monday) and tomorrow (Shrove Tuesday).
Today through Feb. 16 is Freelance Writers Appreciation Week. It's also Love To Give Week, National Child Passenger Safety Awareness Week
This is Satisfied Staying Single Day.
It's Youth Day in Cameroon
Denmark celebrates Shrove Monday with the Street Urchins' Carnival.
In Iceland, this is Bun Day. Children with colorful sticks invade homes and are rewarded with whipped cream buns.
This is National Day in Iran, celebrating the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.
And Japan celebrates National Foundation Day, commemorating the founding of the Japanese nation in 660 B.C.
TUESDAY: Today is Mardi Gras -- a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday -- the last big blow-out celebration before the austerity of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.
This is International Pancake Day in Liberal, Kansas, where the annual International Pancake Race will be run. This is the 53rd year in which the women of Liberal have competed with the women of Olney, England, where the contest is known as the Shrovetide Pancake Race. (Web site: pancakeday.com)
It's Paczki (pronounced "poonch-kee") Day, celebrating those round, sugar-coated, fruit-filled Polish pre-Lenten pastries. YUM!
Chinese New Year is observed today, which begins the year 4700 or the Year of the Horse.
This is Darwin Day, marking the anniversary of the birth, in 1809, of Charles Darwin. (Web site: darwinday.org)
It's also Leadership Success Day (Web site: leader-success.com); Lost Penny Day, a day to gather up all those pennies stashed in jars and donate them to charity; and Safetypup's Birthday.
Today is Bursting Day in Iceland, celebrated with feasts of salted mutton and thick pea soup.
And it's Union Day in Myanmar, the nation formerly known as Burma.
WEDNESDAY: This is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. 40 weekdays and six Sundays remain until Easter.
Today through Feb. 20 is National Condom Week. (Web site: ppsinc.org)
And it's Get A Different Name Day. (Web site: wellcat.com)
THURSDAY: This is Valentine's Day, which started out as a celebration of the feasts of at least two Christians with the name Valentine who were martyred -- i.e., killed -- on this date. One, a priest, was beaten and beheaded in 269 A.D., supposedly for performing secret wedding ceremonies for soldiers at a time when Roman authorities thought it best that soldiers remain unmarried. Another Valentine, the Bishop of Terni, was said to have had his head chopped off also on this date but possibly in a later year. Actually, early church officials may've chosen Feb. 14 as a celebration of Christian martyrs as a diversion from the pagan observance of Lupercalia. Today, it's a romantic holiday.
Today is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day. (Web site: tchin.org). It's also National Have-A-Heart Day, a vegetarian-oriented observance, and Race Relations Day.
This is Ferris Wheel Day, celebrated on the anniversary of the birth, in 1859, of George Washington Gale Ferris, inventor of the Ferris wheel.
Belgium celebrates the second day of Lent with the Cat Festival.
And today is Viticulturists' Day in Bulgaria, an ancient celebration based on the cult of Dionysis, the god of wine and revelry.
FRIDAY: If you were living in ancient Rome, you'd be celebrating Lupercalia today -- a fertility festival that may've been the forerunner of Valentine's Day.
This is National I Want A Butterscotch Day, and National Sea Monkey Day.
And today is Susan B. Anthony Day, honoring the women's rights advocate born on this date in 1820.
(Thanks to Chase's 2002 Calendar of Events)
BY THE WAY...
It was on this date in 1990 that South African activist Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving more than 27 years. With what had he been convicted?
Mandela and eight others had been convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.