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Hold a $20 bill up to the light and you'll see, over on the left-hand side, a little strip, a "security thread" with the words "twenty USA" written on it. The government says it's there to make it tougher on counterfeiters.

Hah! Who believes the government?

Not everyone. Some folks see a nefarious purpose to this strip. It's a secret internal espionage device, they say, connected to a central computer, which can track you via your currency.

Can a little polyester strip do that?


"Not that strip," said Tim Bajarin, who knows about such matters. He's the head of Creative Strategies Research Institute in San Jose, Calif., and he says the strip on the double-sawbuck "doesn't have that kind of power."

So far, said Bajarin, nothing has that kind of power, but something may when people have "a chip that they can carry in their pocket with a transmitting system applied to it."

But don't worry. Bajarin said no one could slip one of those chips into your pocket unless you knew about it and consented to it.

There, do you feel better now?

Only if you're rational. And, this being America in 1995, that could make you downright peculiar. As the country sinks deeper into neo-medievalism, irrationality runneth rampant. So rampant that the most absurd socio-political paranoia crawls toward the mainstream from the dark corners of madness where it has long lay dormant.

In its semirespectable incarnation, political insanity warns citizens to beware of "the New World Order," usually just abbreviated
Poor George Bush. He was describing a post-Soviet era in which the civilized nations of the world might work together, through the United Nations, to prevent aggression and protect the independence of small countries. Now his benign, hopeful, term has been perverted to scare the ignorant.

America has always had a political nether world where a few psychologically disturbed people, either ignorant and bigoted right-wingers convinced there was a "Zionist conspiracy" or batty leftists obsessed about a "secret team," clung to bizarre theories about mysterious forces which were about to take over the country.

Now some educated folks who ought to know better are taking this stuff seriously.

And where once the extreme left and the extreme right each had its own peculiar version of paranoia, they seem now to be blending. These days, the bigoted ultra-rightists of northern Idaho and the sophisticated New Agers of Sedona, Ariz., see the same black helicopters.

You know about the black helicopters? Piloted by masked men in black uniforms, they have dropped down on highways in Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico, harassing motorists.

And where is the verifiable evidence for any of this?


Some of this information (about the lunacy, not about the helicopters) comes from Ted Daniels, whose Millenial Prophecy Report in Philadelphia keeps track of the new irrationalism.

"The black helicopters are probably a descendant of the 'men in black' who allegedly used to visit people who have had UFO experiences," Daniels said. "But in this latest version people think they are not extraterrestrial. They think they belong to a secret arm of the government. It's supposed to be part of a plot to impose a dictatorship on us."

The government, in its wisdom, has given the forces of lunacy a sliver of evidence. Among the "proofs" of the secret government conspiracies are the 1992 shootout at white supremacist Randy Weaver's Idaho hideout, in which FBI agents killed his wife and son, and the 1993 massacre of the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas.

Both incidents were, in fact, unwarranted and unnecessary violations of personal freedom. That both incidents were caused by the inherent incompetence of police forces, not by a deep, dark, conspiracy, is un-provable, being merely rational.

And the rational is always at a disadvantage when confronted with its opposite.

Considering that most of this lunacy comes from the West, it would be fitting to cite the words of the greatest writer the American West has produced.

"Verifiable knowledge makes its way slowly, and only under cultivation," wrote Wallace Stegner (and don't you wish you could ever write a sentence half this good?) "but fable has burrs and feet and claws and wings and an indestructible sheath like weed-seed, and can be carried almost anywhere and take root without benefit of soil or water."

Fellow lovers of verifiable knowledge, gird up.

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