Strange Loops Journal Archive: August 2003

Blog || Politics || Philosophy || Science || Fiction || Quotes

August 29, 2003 top

I've been informed the comment function of the board doesn't seem to be working properly. Sometime this weekend I'll try to get a working version going, probably switch over to a more traditional blog template (right now I customize all the HTML by hand). Hopefully I can get this fixed, add working comments and hopefully permanent links to blog stories (so a person can link to an individual entry even if it's been a while and new entries have come up).

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August 28, 2003 top
Busy week. I've moved into my new dorm for my last year of college (hey, my philosophy degree may be useless, but Bruce Lee majored in philosophy and he could kick your ass, so there). I started classes Monday, and I've got a really full load. Among the classes are an astronomy viewing lab (woo, lot's of observatory time!), history of Japanese civ, philosophy of language, historical method/theory seminar, and then some stock biology, lit and poli-sci. It'll be a busy semester, but it'll get a lot out of the way. Anyway, that's why I haven't blogged yet this week. I have, however, stumbled upon a great deal of interesting news this week, so I'll share that real quick:

  • Daily Kos points out that Bush will leave us with some amazing debts and deficits, and things will only get worse if he's reelected. Whatever happened to Republicans being the moderate spenders and democrats being the money-wasters? Oh, that's right. Republicans are allowed to toss our economy away on unnecessary and badly-planned wars that never end. No wonder Gulf War vets are suing Bush's friends.

  • Following up on the story of my favorite proxy anonymizer JAP being compromised by government injunction, here's a story of another compromised anonymizer given in to government pressure. Surfola says it "will not give out your name, residence address, or e-mail address to any third parties without your permission, for any reason, at any time, ever." Apparently they lied. Thankfully, there are still a few decent anonymizers and proxies out there.

  • Misconceptions, new conceptions and weird conceptions about the brain: The Urban Legends page clears up the myth that we only use ten percent of our brains; apparently 'gut instinct' is more than just a saying; apparently some pretty smart people have no brains. Thank to the brainiacs at Incunabula for the links.

  • As if natural microscopic creatures aren't bad enough, now chemists have created smart dust. Partly in response to the speed of developments today, the National Science Foundation has decided to put some money into studying the societal impact of nanotech. Which might not be a bad idea, because some Japanese researchers (who must've quite enjoyed the movie The Matrix) have developed a process to produce electricity from blood that could eventually turn people into human batteries. I kid you not.

  • On a note related to the last two sets of links, our old friend DARPA (research arm of the Pentagon) is trying hard to create a brain-machine interface. One of their aims is to try to find a way for inputs via magnetic stimulation to control a brain from outside it in predictable ways. In other words, they're studying a new form of technological mind-control. Apparently the drug- and torture-based mind control of the CIA and army just aren't working like they used to.

  • Philosophistry links to this guide on How To Meditate, thus coming at the brain from a more mystical-spiritual angle, ala Timothy Leary. Interesting story about him: "Leary was convicted of a drug possession charge, fled, and eventually imprisoned for several years. When he arrived in prison, he was given a standard psychological test that the prison used to assign inmates to appropriate work assignments. Having written the test himself, he was able to give the answers that got him a job working in the prison library."

  • For those who haven't heard about it yet, a poor 8-year old boy with autism was killed by his pastor and family as they tried to forcefully and painfully exorcise from him the demons they thought caused his autism. Read the story here, and tell me the U.S. has actually made progress from the days of witch trials. Worst of all, the possibility has been floated that the death - ruled a homicide by the medical examiner - will go unpunished due to a state law that says child endangerment is okay on religious grounds. The was intended to protect those people who let their sick kids stay home in bed to die rather than take them to a hospital for treatment, but the district attorney has actually mentioned the possibility that the law could apply to this active murder. At any rate, this story gives all the more reason for us to increase disability awareness. We should be past the days of autism -> demons, I think.

  • In political news, it looks like the IDF (Isreali Defense Force) is at it again, committing cold murder by shooting a completely subdued man. The officials say they shot him when he refused to open his overcoat. The pictures prove that he was naked before they shot him. Yeah, we can trust the Isreali government's claims about what happens when it lets its trigger-happy soldier-boys loose on the occupied populace. They've never lied, have they?

  • The government here at home is also acting shady. Apparently now due process protections no longer apply and it is okay for the government to treat people different based upon their first amendment activities. No-Fly List for U.S. Anti-War Activists: it's not just criminals and suspected terrorists (based upon often unreliable evidence) that can't fly. Now those who don't agree with their government are deemed too dangerous to let on a plane.

  • But then, the government isn't the only threat these days. Here's an update on the recent RFID-chip entry: the RFID makers are so intent to make every product on the planet individually traceable that they're trying to package them as homeland defense devices. Not only will everything you own now broadcast information about itself (and likely its use by you, before long), it will also check for biological or chemical agents in your food. Handy-dandy, and all it costs is twenty-five cents and all semblance of human privacy.

  • But then, maybe we should just blindly trust all this new technology made by big, greedy companies? After all, how could you not trust a technology dubbed Trusted Computing? The FAQ linked to let's you know a little about how computer and media makers are aiming to further control and own all content on your computer. Use MS Word to create a document? Well, soon you won't have any choice but to pay a fee every time you open it or send it to someone (even if all the words inside it are your own, and the recipient paid for their copy of the Word program to read it). If you don't, your program will stop working, and possibly all of your old documents may become completely inaccessible until you pay. Just another helpful service from your friends at Microsoft and Intel. Thank goodness for Trusted Computing.

  • Yes, new technology is cool, especially when it lets you blow people stuff up. Who doesn't like a good fireworks show?

    And that, my friends, is all she wrote. 'She' being the net goddess I call hypertext. Look for more contentful posts to follow.

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  • August 22, 2003 top
    In The News:

    The Alabama chief justice who secretly installed a 2.5-ton monument of the Ten Commandments into the public courthouse was suspended today because he refused to remove the monument after a federal judge ruled he had to. What scares me is that Moore became chief justice of the state in the first place: this guy appears to think the U.S. is a theocracy, and he certainly doesn't seem to understand the establishment clause of the first amendment. For a judge to be a devout and vocal Christian outside of the court room is fine, but when we're on official government property, let's keep the religion out of it.

    On a somewhat related(?) note, I stumbled (via Philosophistry) upon this cool little article about physicist Richard Feynman's distinction between science and faith. It's a fun read - but then a lot of Feynman's material is fun. If only all physics professors were like him.

    This looks like it'll be an excellent book, and it's recommended by Cory Doctorow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (and BoingBoing blog). Bruce Schneier attempts to separate the myths and hype about security from the real facts, and he questions whether we actually get any security by giving up our freedoms in the name of safety. I'll definitely be grabbing a copy of this one.

    Finally, I was really pissed off to find out yesterday that the proxy service I use for net anonymity was secretly compromised by the makers as part of a lawsuit. The service now logs anyone who visits a certain unnamed site, and that info is sent to the government (in Germany, I should add, where the university developers reside). It's just one specific site, so the service still works technically - the chance of randomly hitting whatever site it is must be astronomically low (unless Germany is outlawing google now). But the real problem is that the developers didn't take the service offline or in any way let people know it was compromised. They simply slid in a secret patch (which I myself naively installed, figuring these people of all people wouldn't do anything bad in a patch that was mandatory for the service), and kept on chugging. Thankfully someone spotted the new code. But it sucks that even so cool a privacy service like JAP can fall so easily. Our rights online are fragile these days, and it seems even the people on our side aren't always as sturdy as we'd like.

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    August 20, 2003 [Entry 2] top
    Okay, I've been holding off on this rant for a while, but after seeing this article about RFID technology on a few blogs recently, I figured it's time to just toss it out there. For the record, I find RFID tags frightening and an all-around bad idea. What are these things? They're tiny radio emitter chips that can be secretly embedded in anything from store products to cash and which, when activated by a scanner in the area, broadcast a signal that tells the scanner information held by the chip. So a company might plant them in every pair of jeans (with individual IDs), and then anyone with a scanner could tell how many pairs of jeans are in the area (that's useful for store inventories).

    Unfortunately, someone could also scan your house and tell what possessions you own (thieves no longer need to look in windows); or they could scan your body to see what's in your pockets. And it's even possible that the chips could be used to store personal information, so that when you buy a specific pair of jeans from the store, they are registered to you and then your movements can be tracked by following where the jeans show up.

    In the not-too-far future, long range scanners could be planted all over so that every item (or human body, if we embed such tech in us as will probably happen) can be tracked everywhere it goes. Suspicious activity could be reported to the police automatically. Heck, the government is already working on implementing a similar system called CTS, and they're improving technology that can recognize people based on facial features and how they walk. These sorts of worries are not dystopian science fiction, they are being used in the here and now, and it would take an extraordinary amount of faith to think that no government will ever corrupt the technology and use it wrongly.

    Here are some links to news stories on RFID tags:

  • Wired article on the attempt by RFID manufacturers to gain support by billing the technology as a homeland security measure. By doing so, they may get legal protection under the Safety Act of 2002 which offers lawsuit protections to makers of antiterrorism devices.

  • Register story about a leak of information from the MIT Auto-ID Center. "The Auto-ID Center is the organization entrusted with developing a global Internet infrastructure for radio frequency identification. Their plans are to tag all the objects manufactured on the planet with RFID chips and track them via the Internet," says the group who uncovered the information. The leaked information includes a lot of public relations ideas on how to trick the public into accepting RFID technology.

  • piece that touches on the issue of "targeted advertisements", which are already becoming popular on the web thanks to cookies. We could end up with our televisions showing us ads for stuff they think we're likely to buy, or with the walls of public malls addressing us personally with an offer for something they think we'll want based on some algorithm that has profiled us based on what items we are wearing and carrying with us.

  • Another Wired article brings up the money issue: RFID chips are likely to show up in cash within the next couple years, making it possible for companies/governments to track every person's spending habits, whereas now they only have data from credit/debit transactions or are limited to aggregate information. And considering that the government is already trying to keep an eye on people who use cash, it wouldn't be surprising if the government chose to have an automated system watch everyone's cash transactions for "suspicious activity". Withdraw a little too much cash to buy that used car from a friend and you might find the FBI knocking on your door, "just to check things out". And why shouldn't they - after all, innocent people have nothing to hide, right? Privacy is only for criminals, right? [Here's an interesting, related piece called "The Cashless Society" by John Horvath]

    Anyway, for me RFID tags present a double threat. One the one hand, they have the potential to be abused by a government in Big Brother fashion. In 1984, Orwell never imagined we'd be able to track a person's every movement, maybe even their every thought and emotion, through automation - he still relied on the unwieldy Soviet-style spying that requires one watcher for every person watched. On the other hand, these chips are positively certain to be abused by greedy corporations looking to invade our privacy in the interest of flooding us with ever more personal and invasive advertisements in order to maximize consumption and profit. These RFID chips are an important reminder to those of us on the lookout for police state spying that the same sort of spying can be done by private corporations as well as governments. We would do well to keep both under a very close eye.

    For now, get the word out! Tell your friends and family about the dangers of RFID, don't let them hear only the pre-packaged public relations sound-bytes about the technology on the uncritical evening news. Write letters or call the manager at major shopping spots (grocery stores, Walmart, whatever) and make it clear that you won't stand for them to use such technology, at least without very strict safeguards that ensure personal privacy and make sure the chips can't be used off the store shelves. Contact your representatives and make it clear that you want them to look into oversight for potential abuses of this technology. But for goodness sake, do something before we're all living in the world saturated with the most invasive targeted ads and government watchers...before we're all living in a world with no privacy.

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  • August 20, 2003 [Entry 1] top
    News and Links:

  • Apparently not only are Americans three times more likely to believe in actual virgin birth than in evolution, but almost half of non-Christians believe in Jesus' virgin birth! I can only hope that this is due to a misleading poll (i.e. these are people who believe in the Christian god and mythology, but don't attend church and so weren't classified as Christian), because the alternative is downright frightening. Could that many non-believers really just accept the Christian story because it's so pervasive in America? Could that many people really hold such blatantly contradictory beliefs?

  • As long as we're dealing with statistics, here's a graph plotting Bush's popularity rating on various polls during his time in office. Note the unimpressive results early on followed by a huge jump in September, 2001 (as would have happened to any leader in his position, I'm sure). After that there's a steady decline back down to earlier levels until we again encounter a sudden big jump in April, 2003, during which the Iraq invasion was going on. Isn't it strange that people suddenly approve of the president not before the war, not after, but during. Prior to the war, you have all the hype and the president trying to sell his case, and some people buy it while some people don't - his approval rating doesn't change much. But right when the war starts and things have gone from opinion/debate to "facts" reported by the patriotic media, people suddenly approve of him. When the events are actually happened, people seem less likely to question them because they feel little control. When things are merely hypothetical, they're more eager to voice an opinion of dissent.

  • This tool has been floating around the Blogosphere today. It was set up by the Bush administration as a tool for his supporters to take action locally (that is, to help get him reelected). All you do is put in your zip code and the site will return a list of all the newspapers and talk radio outlets in your area, along with contact info for each. It makes grassroots news-based action much easier than it would be if you had to track down each organization individually. Fortunately, the tool is just as useful for those who don't support Bush. Don't let this go to waste: use it to contact local papers and radio stations and get your own voice heard, because it looks like the Bush supporters will be doing the same.

  • More nano-news, this time a nano-motor. This technology is shifting into mainstream news really quickly. I've a feeling we'll keep hearing about the leaps in nanotech for a while. Before we know it we'll be turning entire oceans into crude oil for our SUVs using molecular-scale engineering. Woohoo!

  • Blackout anarchists: maybe there's hope yet for us humans. Well, okay, maybe GNN and I are reading too much into things, but you have to admit it's really cool to hear that in a situation like this massive blackout (which is a huge and abrupt change of lifestyle for us power-hungry Americans) people didn't go nuts and panic and loot or riot. In fact, a lot of them pitched in to direct traffic, offer rides, bring ice to elderly, help pregnant women, etc. If only we could find a way to transpose this emergency mindset into an everyday thing, maybe an anarchistic society has a chance after all.

  • I haven't had time to get a proper entry on Jose Padilla's situation in the Decaying Freedom page, but I really want to get this story out more anyway for those who haven't heard about it. Jose Padilla is accused of plotting terrorist acts, and rather than try him in court to see whether the accusations hold up, Bush designated Padilla an "enemy combatant" and transferred him from the control of the U.S. Department of Justice to military control. He is being held incommunicado - unable to talk to family, news or even his own lawyer! He has not been charged with any crime. This is all such a blatant attack on the Bill of Rights, as naked an assault on our freedom as we've seen in a long time, and yet this aspect has gotten basically no mainstream media attention and few people seem to care. Our most fundamental rights of due process are being eroded before our very eyes by the people who claim they are defending them.

  • Finally, a little 404 humor, link courtesy of Neil Gaiman.

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  • August 19, 2003 top
    I can't decide whether I'm a transhumanist or a Luddite, a futurist or a would-be hermit.

    Let's face it: computer technology has given us some cool stuff and allowed us to do some cool things. We can communicate across the world instantly, play games and share thoughts with complete strangers, explore new mediums for art, bathe in information and opinion, not to mention all the behind-the-scenes stuff that is run by the ubiquitous computer.

    I honestly have trouble imagining myself being very happy without at least some access to the internet, and I'm sure others today feel the same. A person who happened to live in the wrong community might find themselves stranded among people they can't associate with. Atheists in the Bible Belt often face derision and scorn from fundamentalists; Arabs in America face racism based on ignorance and false patriotism; conservatives in a liberal town or vice versa feel like a fish out of water. Networked computers are a tool of freedom that allow people to transcend the accidents of geographic location and embrace a larger community of their choice. With proper education and effort, the internet may even make it possible for the populace to retain some freedom from the control of tyrannical governments (as encryption has helped protect many of those who work for human rights under repressive regimes abroad).

    Likewise, science fiction as well as speculation on current research now paint an increasingly detailed and immediate future full of spectacular promises. From drastically extended lifespans to improved health to hyper-body-modification to net immersion or even AI, we are presented with pictures of an awe-inspiring world never dreamed of one hundred years ago.

    Unfortunately, life isn't so simple as all that. Along with positive portrayals, scifi often shows us the negative possibilities. From the eugenics and discrimination of GATTACA to the human-machine war of The Matrix to various incarnations of Orwell's Big Brother, we see ways in which futuristic or transhumanist technology could turn on us, or be turned on us. And applying a little imagination to the research realities of today can be even more frightening.

    Foremost among such short-term-future technologies is nanotechnology (computers on the scale of nanometers), which has recently shifted from science fiction (as in Neal Stephenson's brilliant The Diamond Age) to mainstream research interest for giant biotech and engineering firms. And therein lies the rub: technology may offer us great new possibilities in theory (and occasionally - by luck - in fact) but that technology tends to be designed, built, distributed and controlled by large corporations whose interest is in maximization of profit.

    And that's the basis for my personal dilemma. Philosophically, I'm intrigued by the possibilities that technology offers us in the future. I think the Borg have given hive-minds a bad rap; I think artificial intelligence can provide a very real diversity of thought; I think Matrioshka Brains are sexy; and I think humanity qua homo sapiens sapiens isn't perfection incarnate so why not tinker a bit for some new experiences? But I'm also a realist, and I know that my vision of what could be will never match up with my vision of what will be. I'm not saying I can predict the future, but I think the present and the past can give us some pretty good hints at what is to come. Short of a radical change in how society operates, we will face the inevitable corruption of government and business. It doesn't matter whether it's a capitalist or communist system, the system will corrupt. And it's that system which largely controls technology.

    I don't know, maybe there is some promise in anarchic technology - in the philosophy of technology that brings us encryption that largely can't be cracked (thus controlled) by authorities, that brings us copylefting and the open source movement, that brings us attempts at distributed and anonymous networks. Maybe that philosophy - if not quashed too early - can take hold and help people keep new technologies in line.

    But I'm highly skeptical. As soon as the NSA and the rest of the U.S. government discovered how powerful encryption was they started legislating control over it. As soon as they realized how powerful the internet was they started coming up with tools and legislation to control it.

    So now when I look at news like this recent piece about spray-on computers or this piece on DNA computers I don't marvel at the profound positive possibilities. Instead, I wonder how DARPA will use them to spy on every human being for the government's own purposes. I wonder how zealots like John Ashcroft will try to use the new technology to invade our lives and impose morality and approved thought.

    I wonder how in the world we humans will survive the technological revolution of the singularity when we are still stuck in the dark ages of cultural and societal development. So as I find myself torn daily between the beautiful, bright sci-fi future I want to experience, and the dark reality I see fast approaching, I begin to think more and more that our best hope for salvaging the future lies not in finding better technology, but in molding a better society. Only once we have established a general culture where large-scale corruption of the government/corporate kind is not tolerated will we stand a chance to control our own destiny in the way the transhumanists promise.

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    August 17, 2003 top
    The Decaying Freedom page has been updated with a link to the new VICTORY Act bill circulating through Congress right now. If it isn't one thing, it's another. A new story was added to the fiction section, called Omniscience, or How To Kill The Buddha When You Are Him. I also posted a copy of an open letter to Dr. Laura (by someone other than myself); it's old hat to some but still good for a laugh. Since a fellow writer has recently gotten me hooked on the Japanese poetry form haiku, I've decided to put some of my own up on a page in the fiction section (for lack of a better place). Finally, a very crappy little story from early high school called "The Harp" was removed from the fiction section. In the "reason for removal" column was etched the following: infinite embarrassment. I don't know why that piece of junk was there in the first place.

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    August 14, 2003 [Entry 2] top
    You might notice a slight change to the layout. I've added a little table-frame to the right with info that used to be up top. It saves space at the top of the page and conglomerates things to the side like most blogs seem to do. I also joined BlogRolling, which keeps a list of the blogs I frequent or recommend. It also allows me to add other blogs to my site list with a single click, and allows other bloggers to add my link to their BlogRoll with a single click. I opted for this path (despite adding javascript to an otherwise clean HTML page) because I'm hoping to pull in some more traffic from other blogs and maybe get some cross-linking going with interested/interesting parties. I also just went through most the major search engines and directories and got myself listed or signed up to be crawled by a bot, so that should be bringing in some more traffic as well.

    Let me know if you have any comments on the new layout, or if the javascript for the BlogRoll in any way slows down the loading of the site (as my earlier attempts at a comment service did when it invoked javascript). Or just write to tell me I smell funny and my writing sucks. That works too. (Warning: all hate mail will be dialectized into Redneck and then posted here for general mocking purposes)

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    August 14, 2003 [Entry 1] top
    So I stumbled upon this article by Katherine Winans of entitled Baboon Logic. Contrary to the title, it's not a scientific article on our primate cousins (as should be obvious by the source), but it makes a good point that hits home particularly hard for me. Excerpt:

    I stopped believing in the government soon after I paid attention to the things it said. I saw the government's word, and then I saw that it was a lie. Period. Enough for me. I saw the state bomb Yugoslavia with munitions dripping with radioactivity, under the pretense of humanitarian good, to a tune hummed by the American taxpayer. Paying attention let me see the lie.

    So I turned into a news junkie. I ate it up. I scoured. Ask me about body counts. Ask me about numbers of settlements, dates, who moved in and how much they were paid. I can tell you what a WMD is, who has them, when they got them, how many, who knew, what they've been used for, who hasn't used them, why we care about them, who spent money to make caring seem not to matter. I keep track. Compile lists. Cruise sites. Burn hours. I've burned a lot of hours. I paid attention, because the attention seemed to matter, and I'm not willing to let what's gone on keep going on. Not while I'm still around. I still care.

    And yet [...] I begin to wonder what all this attention does for me, or for anyone else. My time and my life are eaten by this obsession to expose the lie. And in every instant that I chit chat about what Bush said or did or didn't do, who pays Perle and how the state undermines the principles it seeks to uphold, at all times I seem to be enforcing this idea that the state matters, that the state has authority, because I'm willing to devote so much of my time to giving it the evil eye.

    [...] There must be a different way. And it must have to do with how we live. Our private lives. To whom we grant authority. Where we place our focus. What we make important.

    A good point, that. I myself have spent untold hours scouring the news (reputable and not-so-much) trying to piece together a reliable picture of what exactly the government is up to. Yet what good has it done or will it do, in the end? I fear not much. I think she's got a point that it might be better to concentrate more on the smaller picture where I truly have a choice as to what kind of life I live. Granted, I'll continue to keep a critical eye on current events; but I definitely need to stop letting my discoveries get to me, not to mention eat up my time.

    Like Winans, I've recently thrown out my television (as much for self-preservation from the corporate behemoth as to avoid the conglomerated media) and stopped reading the local news paper (which is mostly junk anyway, and subject to the whims of a few editors, whereas the net offers diverse media outlets through linking and blogging to sources just as reliable as the local paper's). I need to spend less time surfing the net for news of attacks on civil liberties. Really what I need to do most though isn't change my behavior, but change my attitude, my way of thinking about the situation. It's one thing to be informed and take a stand against a corrupt government and society. It's another to dedicate one's time to worrying and ranting about it obsessively. Take heart though, dear readers (all three of you), I'll probably still post the occasional watchdog rant here on the site when the mood strikes.

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    August 13, 2003 top
    I just finished Gore Vidal's book Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace and I was rather disappointed. I hadn't read anything by the author before, but his name was familiar and the back of the book made it sound like he would be tackling civil liberties issues while exploring similarities between Timothy McVeigh's bombing and the September, 2001 crashes. Just the kind of material I was looking for, I thought (though I had little interest in McVeigh, having not paid attention back when it happened because I was still pretty young).

    Well, Vidal did make some interesting points in regards to civil liberties (especially in pointing out some of the parallels between Bush's current counter-terrorist assault on freedom and Clinton's own during his reign), but the 2001 material was brief and shallow compared to his exploration of McVeigh's situation (not that that material was any less shallow). Vidal paints a reasonable picture of McVeigh as a desperate and angry guy striking out against what he sees as a repressive government by attacking what he sees as a particularly nasty arm of that government (the FBI and ATF). This is in counter to the more common picture of the time painting McVeigh as a lone anti-government nutter acting for no real reason at all.

    Unfortunately, Vidal goes too far and tries to present McVeigh as a hero-figure, even exploring the possibility that McVeigh wasn't involved in the bombing but heroically took responsibility because it was a worthy cause (or some such junk). Needless to say, I had trouble going out so far on that particular limb with Vidal. I may agree with McVeigh that the federal government has become too powerful and lacks the proper oversight it needs; I may agree that the federal government has committed some particularly bad acts (as seems to have been the case with Ruby Ridge and Waco where they apparently used military force against citizens in contravention of the posse comitatus law (but then, I'm no lawyer and haven't researched the area, so I can't say for sure)); but I simply can't get behind someone who bombs a building full of people. He might have considered it an act of war (or a counter-attack, as McVeigh put it), but I don't support it when the U.S. government bombs similar buildings in other countries (or even buildings with more tenuous links to the local government), so I sure as hell can't support it when McVeigh does it. Collateral damage as a part of war is not an acceptable excuse in my book whether you're a major world power or a lone zealous patriot trying to fight what you see as a corrupt government.

    On top of Vidal's all too out-there defense of McVeigh, he tends toward some rather blunt conspiracy theories. Not that there aren't real conspiracies of a sort going on in the U.S. government, military and corporate society. But he sounds less like an independent journalist searching for the truth than a raving "conspiracy theorist" of the stereotypical sort. When it comes to 'conspiracy' investigation, one is always in danger of being filed away with the fringe whackos based solely on subject matter. One has to take extra precautions to remain clearly in the territory of mainstream thought to avoid falling into the trap that is being a "conspiracy theorist". A journalist investigating the campaign contributions of big companies that benefit from the decisions of high ranking government officials is the sort of conspiracy work we need in order to start fixing the holes in the system. What we don't need is Vidal claiming that the ATF must've set the bomb in Oklahoma City because only five of their people were injured. It makes for an interesting speculative theory, but it isn't the kind of thing to be putting in a book that otherwise attempts to provide a reasonable exploration of government corruption.

    Finally, most of the material in the book is recycled. He reprints in full a number of stories he did for Vanity Fair magazine, and at one point he even includes a 20-page list of American military campaigns taken from the Federation of American Scientists. While that latter is valuable material itself (almost worth the price of the book just as a quick, basic reference), it seems too much for a book that is already short at 160 pages. Toss in a couple rehashed essays that are only tenuously related to the rest of the book (including a theocracy rant that comes out of nowhere) and you have a book that makes you feel like you were cheated. Too much old material veiled as a commentary on September, 2001. It was a nice try, but the end product was unfulfilling. And needless to say, I didn't come out of it sympathizing with McVeigh.

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