Uncle Frank's Diary

Number Sixteen

Drop the Almanac, Pal,
and Spread ‘Em!

Uncle Frank’s in trouble. He’s an almanac user.

Not that he wasn’t in trouble before, but now the fit is really going to hit the Shan.  Surely you’ve seen the news: On Christmas Eve, the FBI alerted 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide about the threat posed the Homeland by (gasp!) almanac users. The geniuses at the Hoover Building want law officers everywhere to be on the alert during traffic stops, donut breaks, and high-speed chases on the Fox Network for people carrying these dangerous weapons of mass statistics.

Especially worrisome are almanacs “annotated in suspicious ways.” You know, the ones bearing idle marginalia along the lines of  “lb butter & doz. eggs,” or “Alice 231-5566,” or “Bush Sux.”

Talk about suspicious—and these people are.

“All right, Buddy, out of the car! Drop the book! Put your hands on the roof! On the roof, I said!”

The paunchy, balding librarian does his best to comply with the officer’s gentle encouragement. He knows his crime: driving while almanacked. There’s no denying it, and no escape. The copy of the World Almanac spread eagled on the passenger seat is all the proof necessary to demonstrate his ill intent. And wait until the authorities get a load of the annotations. God in heaven, and all’s wrong with the world.

Roadmap to Ruination

According to the bulletin the FBI Seekers of Evil sent out, “Terrorist operatives may rely on almanacs to assist with target selection and preoperational planning.”

You bet. Practically any almanac has tons of info useful to those of the terrorist persuasion. Just thumb through one at random. You’ll see lists of big cities, sports stadiums, airports, data on condom use, beer consumption, television ratings, best-selling records, you name it: If it’s done in the USA, it’s all there, a virtual roadmap to the destruction of the American Way of Life.

Small wonder that in his last address to the world, Osama bin Laden gloated over capturing a cache of 2004 almanacs. Even now, his operatives are busy distributing them to cells everywhere. Without almanacs, these guys wouldn’t even be able to find North America. With them, they’ll be driving truck bombs into your attached garage while you’re concentrating on America’s Most Moronic Celebrity Interviews on Fox. Count on it.

All right, all right, everyone knows this is ridiculous. Everyone, that is, except the aforementioned bright lights of legal intelligence at The Hoove, and John (Lost the Senate Seat to a Dead Man) Ashcroft, and everyone else in the most feckless administration since Harding’s.

But is this weird fixation on almanacs not also ominous? If the Bush Gangsters are addled enough to believe that these annual guides provide some uniquely valuable grist for terrorists—stuff, for example, that they couldn’t look up readily with Google—why would they not identify other publications as at least equally indicative of menace?

Selections from the Terrorist’s Book Club

Like a good portion of the books in the reference collection some 50 feet from where I now sit, and that anyone could consult simply by walking into the library and asking for help at the reference desk. What could a terrorist do with the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics? How about the Encyclopedia of Infectious Diseases, or the Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals and Carcinogens, or the Encyclopedia of Guerrilla Warfare? I’m betting that a conscientious, thoughtful terrorist could find some inspirational reading in any of those books, among many others freely accessible in countless libraries.

And the FBI is worried about almanacs?

“The full force of Homeland Security all across this nation is at work to keep you safe,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently said.

Wow. It certainly fills me with a peaceful, easy feeling to know that Sec’y Tom and the boys have caught on to the lurking dangers of almanacs. I mean, these guys are doing a first-rate job!

And how long will it take them to catch on to the multitude of other avenues that terrorists could employ to obtain worthwhile information? Not just books in the reference collection, but like, oh, daily newspapers? Can we really consider ourselves safe when everywhere we look, we can see signs that people—strangers!—are finding out details about what’s going on in our own hometowns simply by shelling out 50 cents for the local newsrag?

Sooner or later, the agents of security will awaken to all they’ve been missing: that free flow (although not as free as it once was) of information that makes livin’ in the USA more fun and better for your health than living most other places. When they do wake up, and realize that the almanac scare is only a warm-up, a practice toss, better keep your reading habits to yourself.

They’ll be watching you. And taking suspicious notes.

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Graphic by Karen McGinnis