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The War on Terrorism and My Almanacs

By D. G. Martin
Posted Sunday, January 4, 2004

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Anyone who tries to take away my almanacs is going to have a fight on his hands.

I am in trouble with the FBI. So are some of my best friends, the ones to whom I gave a new almanac for Christmas.

According to news reports last week, the FBI has warned 18,000 police organizations to be on the lookout for people with almanacs.

“What is the FBI thinking?” I thought. The almanac is one of my favorite books. I like to have a recent copy nearby, all the time, to settle arguments with my friends on questions such as, what is the tallest building in the world?

The FBI says that terrorists use almanacs “ to assist in target selection and pre-operational planning.”

“The practice of researching potential targets is consistent with known methods of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations that seek to maximize the likelihood of operational success through careful planning.”

After reading about this report, one of my friends confronted me and said, “ I'm giving your almanac back. What were you trying to do? Get me arrested?” He was smiling, sort of.

I may be in even bigger trouble. Last month I bought three different almanacs--“The World Almanac and Book of Facts,” “ Time Almanac,” and “The New York Times Almanac.” I planned to compare them over this year to see which one of them served my purposes best.

The FBI's terrorism-almanac alert spurred me to begin my comparisons now, starting with which one of these almanacs might be most useful to a terrorist.

Since I knew that terrorists have an interest in tall buildings I checked “The New York Times Almanac” to see if it had such a list. It didn't. “Time Almanac” has a list of the world's 100 tallest buildings, a list of notable modern bridges, the world's highest and largest dams, and notable tunnels. Since most of the listed structures are in other countries, I am not sure this almanac would be of much use to terrorists working on targets in this country.

On the other hand, “The World Almanac” has a comprehensive list of the tall buildings in North America, organized conveniently by cities. It also lists more than a hundred important bridges in North America as well as major U.S. Dams and reservoirs and about 15 of the longest North American underwater vehicular tunnels.

Each of the almanacs lists the world's busiest airports. “The World Almanac” has a separate list for North America.

“The New York Times Almanac” has something for the terrorists that the other ones miss, a complete listing of all the nuclear plants in the United States.

I do not really think that any of these almanacs is going to provide a terrorist with key information that he could not find in other readily available public records. But the FBI has a point. Our open society and the vast amount of information that is available to all of us can be used against us. By terrorists or other enemies. But the free exchange of information is one of the greatest benefits of living in a free society. We cannot let the terrorists or the FBI take that benefit away from us.

In any event, anyone who tries to take away my almanacs is going to have a fight on his hands.

Just a couple of weeks ago one of my almanacs helped settle a big argument a friend and I had after church on December 21st--the day of the winter solstice. “This is a great day,” I said. “I love it when the days start to get longer.”

“Me too,” my friend said. “But, you know, the sun is still going to keep on rising a little bit later and later for the next few days.”

“That just can't be right,” I said. “If the days are getting shorter, the sun has got to start rising earlier.”

I rushed home to check my almanacs. Only “ The World Almanac” has a list of sunrises and sunsets for each day of the year.

It settled the argument in my friend's favor. Its chart showed that, while the sun begins to set later and later sometime in early December, the sun does not begin rising earlier until a few days after the beginning of January.

Before I put my almanacs down, I checked to see what each one said about North Carolina. Not much, although each of them gave a very brief summary of some important facts. All gave a short list of famous North Carolinians. There were some interesting variations. For instance, “The New York Times Almanac” and “Time Almanac” omitted Andrew Jackson, but they included him in the South Carolina list.

So much for those almanacs, at least for the time being.

If you are interested in seeing the complete list of famous North Carolinians from each Almanac, send an e-mail request to dmartin13@nc.rr.com.

But you have to promise not to tell the FBI that I own so many almanacs.

*********************

D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5PM. This week’s (January 11) guest is UNC-Chapel Hill’s women soccer coach Anson Dorrance, the author of The Vision of a Champion.

 
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