Don’t think and drive.
That was the message sent out by the FBI to roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies on Christmas Eve. The alert urged police pulling over drivers for traffic violations, and conducting other routine investigations, to keep their eyes open for people carrying almanacs. Why almanacs? Because they are filled with facts–population figures, weather predictions, diagrams of buildings and landmarks. And according to the FBI Intelligence Bulletin, facts are dangerous weapons in the hands of terrorists, who can use them to “to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning.”
But in a world filled with potentially lethal facts and figures, it seems unfair to single out almanac readers for police harassment. As the editor of The World Almanac and Book of Facts rightly points out, “The government is our biggest single supplier of information.” Not to mention the local library: A cache of potentially dangerous information weaponry is housed at the center of almost every American town. The FBI, of course, is all over the library threat, seizing library records at will under the Patriot Act.
The blacklisting of the almanac was a fitting end for 2003, a year that waged open war on truth and facts and celebrated fakes and forgeries of all kinds. This was the year when fakeness ruled: fake rationales for war, a fake President dressed as a fake soldier declaring a fake end to combat and then holding up a fake turkey. An action movie star became governor and the government started making its own action movies, casting real soldiers like Jessica Lynch as fake combat heroes and dressing up embedded journalists as fake soldiers. Saddam Hussein even got a part in the big show: He played himself being captured by American troops. This is the fake of the year, if you believe the Sunday Herald in Scotland, as well as several other news agencies, which reported that he was actually captured by a Kurdish special forces unit.
It was Britain, however, that pushed the taste for fake to new levels. “Her main aim is to meet as many Nigerians as she can,” the Queen’s press secretary, Penny Russell, said of the monarch’s December trip to Nigeria. But just as Bush never made it out of the airport bunker in Baghdad, the Queen’s people decided it was too dangerous for her to mingle with actual Nigerians. So instead of the planned visit to an African village, the Queen toured the set of a BBC soap opera in New Karu, constructed to look like an authentic African market. During the “fake walkabout,” as the Sunday Telegraph called it, the Queen chatted with paid actors playing regular villagers, while actual villagers watched the event on a large-screen TV outside the security perimeter.