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You heard it straight from the almanac's mouthpiece

Sunday, January 11, 2004

For this, our third annual We Read The Almanac So You Don't Have To column, we first had to get past orange level-alert library security. Displaying either its astounding thoroughness or accelerating desperation, the FBI has warned that terrorists might be using almanacs to plan attacks on tall U.S. buildings bridges, and tunnels.

After maybe a week of planning just how we'd procure an almanac under these circumstances, we decided on a bold anti-stealth measure, namely walking up to the reference desk and saying out loud, "May I look at an almanac?"

"Sure," came the reply.


So this column is no threat to national security, at least not intentionally. Moreover, our interest in bridges and tunnels is generally limited to how much traffic is on 'em or in 'em, and that stuff is never in the almanac. We read the almanac to find out the running speed of the Mongolian wild ass (40 mph) and to see if the odds against a royal flush (649,739 to 1) are higher than the odds of the Pirates winning the World Series (not by much).

The annual almanac plow-through began in response to repeated surveys by people like the National Geographic Society demonstrating that, basically, nobody knows nothin' about nothin' (notably English), particularly Americans and most particularly young Americans. Eleven percent of Americans 18 to 24 can't find America on a map and 29 percent can't find the Pacific Ocean on a map. Some percentage too frightful too publish probably can't find a map of any kind under any circumstances. More 18- to-24-year-olds can tell you the location of the last "Survivor" show than can find New Jersey on a map. I wish I was making that up.

Happily, after only two years of providing the results of my personal almanac excavation/-regurgitation, a team of young Americans actually won the National Geographic World Championship this past summer in Tampa. There was no need to thank me, and no one did, because these columns haven't really dealt much with geography, except to promise one day to reveal the approximate location of Saudi Arabia (125 miles southwest of Baghdad). Of course, only 13 percent of young Americans can find Iraq on a map, so what's the point?

In any case, we present our list of random facts it wouldn't hurt to know, especially if you suspect you're in that demographic academics routinely identify as knowin' nothin' about nothin'.

The richest presidential candidate is likely John Kerry, whose disclosure statements list Family Net Worth at between $199 million and $839 million. The poorest is probably Dennis Kucinich at between $2,000 and $32,000. Two thousand dollars? E-mail campaign pledges to

The population of Pittsburgh is 327,898. The population of Pittsburgh not wearing dentures is 16,224.

Thirty-five percent of high school dropouts are smokers, while only 14 percent of college graduates are smokers. In the event that high school dropouts and/or college graduates are characters in a major motion picture, 85 percent of them are smokers, regardless of education.

Playboy still outsells Newsweek, but that would end if back-page essayist Anna Quindlen could be talked into some cleavage every couple of weeks. Don't make us ask George Will.

The national prison population is approximately 1,440,000, which is larger than 12 states and the District of Columbia.

The National Film Registry's list of "culturally, historically or esthetically significant" films starts with "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948), thereby rendering the remainder of the list moot. Worse, the remainder of the list doesn't even include "Abbott and Costello Meet Michael Jackson."

The kidney is by far the most transplanted organ, and the waiting list for kidneys is by far the longest (livers are second in both cases). Despite the obvious difficulties (see "Young Frankenstein"), no brain transplant waiting list exists mostly because we don't appear to have much use for them.

The 10th-best-selling album of all time is the soundtrack from "The Bodyguard," starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. See previous note.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, earns a salary of $171,900, little more than half the minimum for Major League baseball players. Ibid.

Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.

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