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
But 2003 was about more than embracing fakery and forgery–it was also about punishing truth-telling. The highest price was paid by David Kelly, the British government weapons expert who killed himself after he was outed as the source of a BBC story on “sexed up” security documents. Katharine Gun, a British intelligence employee, faces up to two years in prison for revealing US plans to spy on UN diplomats in order to influence the Security Council vote on
While truth did not pay in 2003, lying certainly did. Just ask Rupert Murdoch. According to an October study conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, when it comes to the war in
On December 19 the Federal Communications Commission gave Murdoch the right to purchase the top
When Bush came to office, many believed his ignorance would be his downfall. Eventually Americans would realize that a President who referred to
In many cases, fake versions of events have prevailed even when the truth was readily available. The real Jessica Lynch–who told Diane Sawyer that “no one beat me, no one slapped me, no one, nothing”–has proven no match for her media-military created doppelgÃ¤nger, shown being slapped around by her cruel captors in NBC’s movie Saving Jessica Lynch.
Rather than being toppled for his adversarial relationship to both the most important truths and the most basic facts, Bush is actively remaking
It brings to mind the story about why Castilian Spaniards pronounce gracias as “grathiath.” In the seventeenth century, the country was ruled by a monarch with a severe speech impediment and a fragile ego. To flatter the ruler, it was decreed that everyone should imitate the king’s lisp and mispronounce their c’s and s’s.
According to all reputable linguists, the legend is a complete fake. But in Bush’s