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December 30, 2003

Nailing the “Information Please” fifth column. Okay, so “shortly” is a relative term. In this holiday season, I’m more and more finding myself stripped of the power of speech. Most recently, by the news that “the FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs.”

(Via Arthur Silber, who seems nearly as stunned as I am.) [12:26 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Nailing the "Information Please" fifth column.:

Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 12:47 AM:

I saw that on Yahoo this evening and was left with my mouth literally hanging open. It's an amazingly dumb alert: inane at best in its obviousness (terrorists could use information to plan attacks) and/or paranoid in its breadth (anyone interested in anything might be a terrorist).

That the people who are supposed to be protecting us all are morons at best is not reassuring.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 01:38 AM:

They can have my World Almanac when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. Or when next year's edition comes out, whichever is first. With the possible exception of the dictionary, there's no reference book I use more often, either at work or at home. I keep old ones in my bedroom and even in the bathroom. (Come to think of it, right now the new one is in the bedroom.)

I have been tempted to keep one in the car to browse at long red lights or if I'm waiting for a tow truck. Maybe I won't now. Or maybe I'll get one of those Bible covers they sell at Wal-Mart and put it in there. Take that, John Ashcroft!

Knowledge is power.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 01:43 AM:

Yeah, I think that's their problem with it.

Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 02:46 AM:

What scares me about this is that it's indicative of the sort of flailing about that this, along with the announcement of putting Air Marshals on US bound flights, appears to be going on in DHS. They're working hard at reassuring us. And you could read that as meaning that DHS is scared.

"No, really folks, we're on top of things. Our best men are on the case. (And we hope the public won't call for our heads the next time the bad guys get lucky.)"

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 03:02 AM:

Maybe we92re over-reacting:

The FBI noted that use of almanacs or maps may be innocent, "the product of legitimate recreational or commercial activities." But it warned that when combined with suspicious behavior -- such as apparent surveillance -- a person with an almanac "may point to possible terrorist planning."

Oh, OK. It92s not the almanac, it92s the suspicious combination of carrying the almanac while looking at stuff.

"The practice of researching potential targets is consistent with known methods of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations that seek to maximize the likelihood of operational success through careful planning," the FBI wrote.

Research! Those crafty terrorists! Why don92t they just wing it, like I used to do on tests in high school?

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 03:53 AM:

I find that "Holy crap!" is always an appropriate reaction when dumbfounded by dumbness.

Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 08:39 AM:

You do know that FBI stands for Feeble Brained Incompetents, don't you?

You didn't? I'm shocked, shocked...

norbizness ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 09:35 AM:

Also beware of swarthy people who are inexplicably reading up on 100 ways to please their significant other in the latest issue of Redbook.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 10:36 AM:

The FBI noted that use of almanacs or maps may be innocent,
That's the part that got to me. I'm a map junkie you know. Love maps. Pore over them. Read them. Study them. Carry them around in my car.

They're missing a bet though. If they think the stuff in almanacs is bad they should take a look at tourist guidebooks. Helpful info out the wazoo. I just bought guidebooks for Greece, Europe, and, uh oh, the Tokyo subway system. I could be in trouble here.


Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 11:43 AM:

Hmm. Just finished using the 2004 OFA to plan our coven schedule for the year, but now I think I'll carry it wherever I go. Go thou and do likewise.

With the Bush Administration and attendant losers, it's hard to know whether we're dealing with stupid lunatics or deranged morons. I often find myself paralyzed with indecision between these two alternatives.

C.J.Colucci ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 11:44 AM:

Dear Ms. Fundis:
You are under arrest for giving aid and comfort (i.e. practical advice on how to avoid detection of unauthorized almanac use) to terrorists. Pending the determination of whether you count as an enemy combatant -- which could take a while, there is no deadline, and no one can make us make a determination any faster than we feel like making it -- you may or may not have a bunch of rights we may tell you about later, but until we decide whether you might have them, you don't.
John D. Ashcroft
Attorney General

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 11:45 AM:

How long before publishing or possessing almanacs and reference books is regulated? Yeah, sure 'Congress shall make no law respecting' and all that, but this is National Security we're talking about. You aren't one of those terrorists, are you? Too bad if you got thrown in jail with no charges against you, no lawyer, and no contact with your family or friends for years on end....

How do y'all feel about national identity cards and internal passports? Let's bring the cold terror of "Your papers are not in order" to America's heartland.

You gotta love these people.

I recently had cause to take an inter-city bus. Unlike the last time I took the trip, I had to show picture ID in order to pay cash for a ticket. A little bit less freedom, and for what?

You'll find a whole lot of security in a Federal prison under 24-hour lockdown. What you won't find there is that life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that someone once mentioned.

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 02:20 PM:

Gosh, I'm so glad I copied my Encyclopedia Britannica DVD to an encrypted partition on my laptop; I can always claim it's just p0rn (course that spelling must be a search term by now?).

Don't know about identity papers in the heartland but I remember folks being rousted on the beach in South Florida (? what does heartland really mean anyway if not New England) in the 60's for lack of draft cards in their bathing suit pockets. I remember too that an awful lot of driver's license regulation is directly traceable to interstate enforcement of child support and has long been in effect - once upon a time I had inadvertantly reversed 2 digits on my social security number for an Idaho driver's license - had to produce quasi proof of number last time.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 03:57 PM:

Information about America available on a Need to Know basis only, coming soon to a country near you!

Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 04:02 PM:

I'm from New Hampshire orginally, more specifically, from a tiny town called Westmoreland. Lots of small farms and such, and lots of traditional Yankee farmers. So the first thing I thought of when I saw the word "almanac" was not the sort published by U.S. News and World Reports, but The Old Farmer's Almanac, which makes its home in Dublin, New Hampshire.

I can just see the F. B. I. trying to figure out why the Briggs and the Lebmanns and the Lewis's have marked up the pages about when to plant peas and corn for the best growth . . .

catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 08:35 PM:

Actually, Lisa, that's what I thought of too, and I'm not even from a small New Hampshire town. :)

Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 08:47 PM:

It brings to mind how I felt when they brought the internet censorship act into Australia. This can't be happening. Oh wait, it is. Yeah, but they can't make it work. That doesn't mean they're going to give. OK, so they'll do it, but everyone will ignore it. Yeah.

Racing round and round in my head.

PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 09:23 PM:

Mary Kay: I'm a big map junkie too--I ALWAYS navigate when we go on road trips. I ♥ the map. And honestly, when I see people with maps in public, I kind of expect to see them looking at things, or surveying them.

I also had the guidebook thing pop into my head. I can just see German or Japanese tourists getting harrassed in the future. "Oh, wait, you said you were a tourist. Not a terrorist. I get it now. But we still have to take your Fodor's Guide--can't have you wandering around with reference and surveying our national landmarks."

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 12:21 AM:

Hey, PiscusFiche, you say tourist and I say terrorist, let's call the whole thing off.

If only we could.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 12:44 AM:

Wait a minnit ... Isn't "almanac" actually an Arabic word???

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 02:24 AM:

Lois Fundis writes:

"They can have my World Almanac when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. Or when next year's edition comes out, whichever is first."

Sigfile fodder, for sure!

Dads always kept an almanac in his office, so I do, too. I was awestruck when I received my first almanac (1966 Reader's Digest Almanac) under the Xmas tree. I fear it made me the most obnoxious kid in the sixth grade for a while. "Did you know that the three largest industries of Andorra are sheepherding, tourism, and smuggling?"

I find myself referring to it less often in the Age of Google, but my almanac is still a reliable friend when the winds of curiosity blow.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 04:02 AM:

They're missing a bet though. If they think the stuff in almanacs is bad they should take a look at tourist guidebooks.

The important part, as I realized this morning, is that -- like most English words begining with "al" -- "almanac" is an Arabic word. "Encyclopedia," "map," and "tourist guidebook" are not.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 08:22 AM:

One thing that bothers me, they aren't looking in the right places or for the right things anyway. Who cares if someone is watching an airport holding an almanac -- how about someone watching with Jeppesons in their hand? Or checking out a chemical plant with a volume of risk data from one of those publishers that cater to insurance underwriters. (Actually, if you were to classify some of the best information for terrorists and saboteurs, industrial insurance underwriters and planning department staffs would need codeword clearance.)

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 03:44 PM:

Many of the words we use for the pursuit of knowledge are derived from Arabic--almanac, algebra...I imagine they are as embarrassed by it as we are.

PDM ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 07:54 AM:

Let's suppress ALL knowledge. After all, the Dark Ages were remarkaly free of terrorism, wern't they?

Keep 'em dumb and dumber-----good citizens waving the flag!

A thinking average person is dangerous to the Amerikkkan ruling asses.....

Mr.Murder ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2004, 01:18 AM:

this has a making of a Courage the Cowardly Dog episode where the terrorist come for Grandma and Grandpa's Almanacs on Cartoon Newtork. Condition Das UberYouth now on enemy strategy and prompt response.

Surely this would make great presidential debate material. Then again Bush couldnt read one to save himself, Dean would be "too Angry" with an Almanac in hand and thus be profiled as a "suspicisous" Almanac person, depite his knowledge as a Doctor to use the almanac effectively to save lives. Sharpton would ask why the Almanac has no afro-centric credit when many of its original folk customs originated there in some form (LOOK OUT-HE HAS A LOADED GOURD!). Kucinich would say all we need is an Almanac, give one to Iraqis to grow food with, and get our soldiers home before the latest Almanac expires. Lieberman would not that he has always supported the almanac, especially any sections involving Kosher foods applications and notes non-kosher foods should be profiled in addition to Gourds many of which were African staples and can carry dangerous fluids or give comfort to enemy in said fashion. Kerry would note that every almanac has alliterative credit to skull and bones, some of them have actual Phrenology diagnosis manuals and can profile great leadership in addition to their historical information which has a roll call of his fraternal order installed. Edwards will point out that even though he is young being from the south made the almanac a part of his success and he would bever let terror scare us away from being smarter and melding respect of tradition to modern new age progress, in fact he is ready to give college credit to anyone who uses the almanac religiously or as a rolling tray for tobacco grown from his state.
Clark would note the farmer's Almanac has great meaning to his Arkansas heritage and was even applicable to Kosovo weather forecasts. He would be able to use the Almanac for tactical and strategic superiority in any situation domestic or foreign.
Delay is recieving lobby money from Almanac interests who were fearful of having their good become a non item like freedom fries.
A recently published war/terror assessment notes that the latin Almanac is very popular with the exodus of Latin voters. The terror alert is now at green for their ID card clearance.
O'Neil former assistant and Mr. Greenspan noted no american has enough money to move or vacation/travel right now so looking lost would be the sole possession of the curent President. In fact the school he was at on 9-11 is the sight of an Almanac reading to improve the kid's learning opportunites since he "left them behind" after that day.This time he will even hold the book rightside up for the photo-op.
Final note- walmart bar code inventory assesment software and hard drives are now formatted to note all Almanac purchases, and veteran's assistance funds are cut by the amount of purchse price (minus sales tax) to avoid any backlash.Current disabled vets returning soldiers who may buy Almanacs and go around planning revenge for a chimp of a leader who never even attended his assessment at war time and held them to a higher standard.

The Almanac story was a clever ruse to cover bad war news, scandal revelations with energy task force appeals, and terrible economic news and it scored well with middle America wal-mart target markets.