In the Loop: The CIA World Factbook Is Out!

Remember when Steve Martin's character in
Remember when Steve Martin's character in "The Jerk" got all excited about the new phone book? Well . . . (Courtesy Of Cia - Courtesy Of Cia)
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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Impress your friends, confound your enemies! Here's your opportunity. Guaranteed, for only $14.95. Yes, the CIA World Factbook for 2010 -- billed as "a country-by-country guide to the world at your fingertips!" -- is now available wherever books are sold.

It's perfect "for travel, work, or just to impress your family and friends with your knowledge," Skyhorse Publishing announces in a promotional blurb. "Need to know the chief political pressure groups in Burkina Faso?" the promo asks. Well, no, not really.

Okay then: "Want to know the military service age and obligation in Australia?" Actually, yes, there are many inquiries each week about that. The Factbook says 17-year-olds, with parental consent, can serve. There is no draft.

The Skyhorse version, printed in Canada, has "nearly seven decades' worth" of facts and stats, the blurb says, calling the CIA "the leader in international research." (Probably true, but not something that comes immediately to mind.) And they have ways of getting "facts" that the Encyclopaedia Britannica doesn't.

The paperback's Amazon.com ranking yesterday was No. 21,558, which may be because the information, regularly updated by the agency itself, is also available free at http://www.cia.gov. (Go to "Library" on the left side of the home page. The World Factbook gets 3 million visits a month, an agency spokesman said.)

The Government Printing Office also sells the Factbook, but it's priced at $80. Since it's a government publication, you can download and print as much of it as you like. Skyhorse published the whole thing.

The 904-page book tells you, for example, that there are nearly 16,000 people living in Akrotiri and Dhekelia, two areas in Cyprus kept by the Brits when Cyprus was granted independence in 1960. They have their own court system and laws. Half the population is British military and contractor personnel and their dependents, and the remaining folks are Cypriots. The two bases have a total area of about 97 square miles -- more than 1 1/2 times the size of the District of Columbia -- and 60 percent of the land is privately owned and farmed. The areas have been reported to be part of a British-U.S. signals intelligence system -- something the Factbook doesn't note.

There are great trivia nuggets amid the very detailed country-by-country reports. Have you ever heard of Jan Mayen, described as a "desolate, arctic, mountainous island" northeast of Iceland and a bit more than twice the size of the District? Home to the famous Haakon VII Toppen/Beerenberg volcano, the island, a territory of Norway, was named for the not-very-famous Dutch whaling captain who discovered it. No one lives there save some employees of Norway's radio and meteorological stations.

So "whether you want to learn about your next vacation spot or you simply don't trust your research to online references," the Skyhorse blurb says, in what could be a slap at Wikipedia and maybe Frommer's, you'll have the "CIA's knowledge right at your fingertips."

Look for the hidden clues in the index to find those elusive weapons of mass destruction. (Decoder ring not included.)

NEW-PLAN-STAN?

The Council on Foreign Relations may want to pick up a couple of extra copies of the Factbook. We got an e-mail invitation last week, part of the august group's Washington Meetings Program, with the subject line: "CFR 10/23 DC Meeting - Pakistan: Defining the Possibilities."

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was going to be chatting about the possibilities in that troubled country.

Then we got a second e-mail with this subject line: "CORRECTION: CFR 10/23 DC Meeting - Afghanistan: Defining the Possibilities."

Hard to keep those 'stans straight.

NAMES THAT CLICK

Don't forget! The deadline is midnight tonight for entries to the Loop rebranding contest! We must help government agencies adopt catchier Web addresses, ones that might come to mind when people think about those agencies, so it's easier to remember how to find the sites.

For example, one entry suggests hotair.gov for the House of Representatives, and another proposes iou.gov for the Bureau of Public Debt. There are many fine entries, so we'll put together a panel of judges to pick the winners.

Send your suggestions -- maximum two per entrant -- to rebrand@washpost.com. Winners will receive a fabulous Loop T-shirt and acknowledgment in the column. Remember, to be eligible for this contest, you must include a phone number -- work, home or cell -- so we can contact you.

Good luck!

IF YOU DON'T GET IT . . .

No contest yesterday for the quote of the day. It's from one lonely Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), who tells us she voted for the Senate Finance Committee's health-care bill because "When history calls, history calls."

Forget that this echoes the old saying "when nature calls." And we always thought the actual saying was "When history calls, answer the phone." But no matter. Snowe was in the driver's seat yesterday and will be there for a while.

A TEAM EFFORT

So maybe Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should get a piece of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize? Maybe 10 percent of the cool $1.4 million as a consolation prize?

That seemed to be the line Ireland Prime Minister Brian Cowen was taking in Dublin on Sunday when, with Clinton at his side, he took "the opportunity to recognize and congratulate President Obama." Cowen noted that Clinton "has been fundamental at the new U.S. administration's commitment and massive efforts to build a better world to tackle global problems in a cooperative, multilateral framework" and said, "The award of the Nobel Peace Prize is an early and truly well-deserved recognition of those efforts." Madam Secretary thanked him for praising Obama.

So maybe more than 10 percent?


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