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In the late 1970s, David Byrne wrote a faux be-happy song titled Don't Worry 'Bout the Government. Today few would appreciate the irony, since worrying about the government has become a kind of grim national obsession-it's what Americans seem to do best, or at least loudest. At its extreme, this anxiety is expressed in the now famous conspiracy theories held dear by some right-wing militia members-namely, that the U.S. government has a secret plan calling for United Nations troops to take over America. Coded markers are being placed on the backs of road signs so that the Blue Helmets will know which way to turn to get to the concentration camps in which they will be holding normal Americans, whose buttocks will be implanted with mind-controlling computer chips, turning us all into zombie-slaves of the new world order. For what reason--sheer, thrilling gall?--remains to be seen.

Now there are a lot of reasons why this scenario is patently ridiculous, not least among them the fact that no one in his right mind would turn to the U.N. to pacify a vast and unruly nation like the U.S., not when Bosnian Serbs defy U.N. troops as if they were to be taken no more seriously than a force of substitute teachers. However, an even larger problem with this conspiracy theory is that the Federal Government doesn't work nearly well enough to execute it, not on the scale and with the level of secrecy and precision the militias envision. After all, government is run by the same people who once paid $640 for toilet-seat covers, who went ahead with the initial raid on the Branch Davidians even though they knew David Koresh had been forewarned, who couldn't figure out that Aldrich Ames was selling secrets to the Soviet Union even when the $70,000-a-year cia officer moved into a half-million-dollar mansion and began driving to work in a spiffy new Jaguar. While government might seem faceless and all-powerful to outsiders, insiders know it's an organization made up of human beings, with all the incompetency that implies. Think of your own workplace-and then multiply the ineptitude by millions.

Unfortunately, many conspiracy theorists don't have workplaces with which to appreciate this analogy. And anyway, giving far too much credit to one's enemies is a hallmark of the paranoid mind-set. This would explain the theory, in vogue among certain Bill Clinton haters, that a cabal of White House aides murdered Vincent Foster, the President's deputy counsel, and not only managed to make the killing look like a suicide but also persuaded numerous fbi agents and members of the U.S. Park Police to join in on the cover-up-all in all, a nifty feat for a White House that has yet to demonstrate it knows how to vet a nominee or hew to a position.

The O.J. Simpson trial deals in the same kind of cognitive dissonance. Defense lawyers are suggesting that the l.a.p.d. has executed an ingenious frame-up of Simpson even as they lay bare the workaday ineptitude of the same alleged conspirators. These views would seem self-evidently irreconcilable, and yet the public is said to be so willing to believe in a police conspiracy that virtually every legal expert expects Simpson to walk.

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