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Matthew Hein:You know what I did last summer

The racy parts of “Ulysses” were already underlined when I checked the book out. I just thought YOU should know that.

I have no problem with Attorney General Ashcroft and Admiral Poindexter assembling that database they’ve been working on. Whether they decide to stick with the current project name, Total Information Awareness, or switch to some even spookier title (perhaps along the lines of All About Everyone or Data-U-Betcha), they seem pretty set on assembling some huge database on everything everybody does. Talk about setting high goals for yourself. Way to go, guys.

Their plan involves lots of cool little catchphrases, like “data mining” and “virtual dragnet,” and comes straight out of one of those paranoid science-fiction dystopias, like “Brazil” or “Minority Report.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA to its friends), a Department of Defense branch working on Total Information Awareness, has not yet stated whether we can expect high-quality special effects if the program gets implemented. If we’re going to be subjected to all the spying and paranoia of a Philip K. Dick novel, we should at least get a few good futuristic fight scenes out of this thing.

But far be it from me to protest anything that might put a few computer programmers back to work, even if I can’t understand how assembling all these data on somewhat innocent folks could ever deter a suicidal attacker. I just want to explain a few of the items that might come up in my electronic file.

These are not so much excuses or explanations as footnotes. Naturally, I have nothing to hide. I just want to provide some context to help all the good folks over at DARPA get to know the real me.

Besides “Ulysses,” you must know that I checked out a few other books with naughty parts and vaguely subversive ideas. I think I should explain a thing or two about that.

First of all, I don’t really read all the way through most of the books I get from the library. And even when I do make it all the way through something, I rarely understand it in a way that would make me in any way threatening to anybody. So don’t pay too much attention to my library records.

A good case in point is that “Manufacturing Consent” book by Noam Chomsky. When I walked out of the library with that one, I thought it was going to be more of a how-to book – like maybe with some suggestions on how we can all pull together to get everyone to support the president and stuff. As soon as I figured out that the tome was some kind of – what’s the word? – critique on the media working as propagandists, I closed that thing and slid it in the overnight book depository.

I also want to explain the existence of three different birthdays in my file.

When I was a little sprout of a Hein, that now-defunct ice cream parlor gave out little ice cream cones with little clown faces on them to birthday boys and girls. The waiters brought out a huge drum and kazoos and all kinds of fun stuff and basically made you feel like attorney general for the day. So I might have sort of shuffled my birthday around a little there, but I had no idea at the time that those birthday cards I filled out were going to become part of my permanent record. Sorry about that one.

Because I used my debit card during the transaction, I figure my recent $35 purchase at Friendly Bob’s Smoke Your Bud Off Blown Glass Boutique is more or less public knowledge at this point. Again, the pure data only tells part of the story. In the interest of total information awareness, I would like to point out that my purchase that day – in fact, the only reason I entered the shop at all – was a cool little Zippo lighter with an eagle design for my uncle’s birthday gift. Just thought you should know.

I’m sure there are plenty of other bits of information that might have the good folks at DARPA scratching their heads and wondering: Who is the man behind the data? I’ll try to answer a couple of the more obvious questions that my file might conjure up.

Those Internet visits to “Marx” sites, for instance, were simple mistakes. I was trying to find stuff about Groucho, Harpo and Chico, not some long-winded foreigner.

Similarly, that online sex toy purchase last year was actually, strange as it may seem, part of some home bicycle repair I was doing around that time. As for my club card purchase of hempseed toaster waffles, I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe there was cool offer that I needed the box top for.

And I know that somebody must have signed me up for that American Civil Liberties Union membership list as some kind of joke, you know, like getting one of your little league teammates a subscription to Sassy. It was probably some prank from one of my wacky friends; I don’t take it too seriously, and neither should my friends at DARPA.