Don't Panic! January 08 2004

Your war questions answered

Why has the FBI issued warnings about almanacs?

On Christmas Eve, the FBI issued a warning to law enforcement agencies telling them to be on the lookout for almanacs. The rationale is that almanacs can be used by terrorists "to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning" and that, dig this, "the practice of researching potential targets is consistent with known methods of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations."

That may sound silly to you, but it's not a joke. The bits between the quotation marks come from the Associated Press, which managed to get its hands on a copy of the warning.

This doesn't mean that police are gonna start knocking on the doors of almanac purchasers, although with Ashcroft in charge of things you never know. The FBI warning is meant to give police around the country one more clue to look for as they go about their daily routines of traffic stops, investigations and posing for "Sexy Cops & Firemen" charity calendars.

The FBI wants cops to be on the lookout specifically for almanacs that have "suspicious" markings. For example, let's say that a cop pulls someone over and sees the 2004 edition of The World Almanac sitting on the back seat of the car. Thanks to this warning, the cop is far more likely to notice the little sticky note that's marking Page 447. And thanks to this warning the cop is probably gonna open up The World Almanac and see that Page 447 is the page that lists the country's largest dams, and that Hoover Dam (whose location is pinpointed for terrorists as "Nevada-Arizona") is circled, and there's a note next to it saying "Blow this dam up in the name of Allah." Thanks to the warning, the dam attack will be thwarted and the mighty Hoover Dam will be saved. Farmers in California can continue to grow the nation's veggies, the Southwest will continue to have electricity, and that neat dancing fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas can continue its 4X-hourly nighttime schedule.

The makers of almanacs would argue that all of the information contained within them is public and that a lot of the information comes directly from the government. They might argue that if a terrorist was to use an almanac to research a target that he/she might simply write down the information on the piece of paper or put it in a computer file rather than haul around an enormous book that includes hundreds of pages of sports, entertainment and astronomy trivia.

They might also note that the CIA has one of the best almanacs around available on its Web site, as well as a link to a page from which anyone can buy a CD-ROM designed to teach counter-terrorism techniques to law enforcement. In other words, terrorists can buy the government's playbook from the government, so why single out almanacs as a tool of terror?

Well, that's just the sort of appeal to rational thought we might expect from terrorists and their sympathizers in the "Hate America" almanac industry. There is much evidence that terrorists and almanac publishers are in cahoots. The first almanac, Poor Richard's, was published from 1732-1757 by revolutionist, radical and guerilla/ terror leader Benjamin Franklin. And one need only glance at the cover of the 2004 edition of The World Almanac to see where the affections of its publishers reside. The photo montage on the cover depicts the United Nations building above President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. If that's not a clear sign that almanacs are tools of Osama-loving Saddamites, then I don't know what is.

Even the seemingly innocent Old Farmer's Almanac is on the side of the evildoers. The current edition includes a recipe for "Kurdish Hot-And-Spicy Red-Lentil Soup" in honor of Ramadan! Elsewhere, the book includes instructions on how to make fire starters out of twigs and candles.

So, readers, if you see someone with an almanac, do not approach them. Call 911. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.


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