So here we are in the Year Aught, the millennium's over, the Christmas tree is down, we're in debt, and here comes January, February, Ry-Krisp and cottage cheese. Now is the winter of our discontent, so I think we ought to coordinate our paranoias.

I've been worried about our paranoias lately -- we don't have them in order.

Some of us got all paranoid about the Y2K bug, while the media enjoyed a late-year terrorist boomlet. Traditionalists are sticking with the Russians and still want to build Star Wars. I couldn't figure out why, at this late date, the Strategic Defense Initiative still has legs, unless it's because the Republicans haven't had a new idea since the Reagan administration, so they're stuck with it.

But then I happened to pick up one of those old techno-thrillers, a vintage late-Cold War gem, that had the Soviets hiding astonishing technological capabilities, all the better to eat us with, my dear. How fiendishly cunning were those Soviets in the thrillers -- and I realized you can't have an entire genre of literature loose in a society for years and years without repercussions.

Bet a dollar to a dime that that's why the senators rejected the nuclear proliferation treaty last year -- in addition to their desire to show up President Clinton, they suffer from techno-thriller lag. Who knows how those fiendishly clever Russkies might hide underground nuclear tests from instruments that can pick up a car crash in Minsk?

In addition to the black helicopter crowd, which sees the U.S. government as the main menace to freedom (thus achieving a happy concordance of paranoia with both Islamic terrorists and old communists), we have the ever-popular media conspiracy. Both left and right have media conspiracy theories, though I must say that the left is gaining on points. Economic globalization is good for some heavy-duty paranoia, too.

Meanwhile, our more advanced thinkers are into global warming, rising sea levels, greenhouse gases, coastlines under water and other great stuff. Personally, I think you have to be pretty smart to (a) understand the science involved, and (b) accept an emotionally unsatisfactory outcome in which we have met the enemy and he is us.

Y2K paranoia was great for technophobes, a sort of just-short-of-Kaczynski distrust of all modernity. But global warming is for those who actually trust scientists, or at least think scientists tend to know what they're talking about. And distrust of science runs deep in our culture -- in many cartoons, scientists still look like Dr. Frankenstein's assistant, Igor.

That's why I'm interested in resistance to the idea of global warming as a source of paranoia. Part of it seems to be political -- maybe because Al Gore is worried about it or the Clinton administration signed the Kyoto accord, so it's politically incorrect for Republicans to take it seriously. In a curious incident last year, Dubya Bush first announced that he thought global warming was a serious problem, and then he backed down after protests from the oil industry. It's, like, un-Republican to worry about it.

There are probably stupider things than making global warming a political issue. I just can't think of them right now.

True, scientists have been wrong before. One of my favorite books is The Experts Speak by Cerf and Navasky, a compendium of misinformation by assorted authorities. But there is a depressing near-unanimity of opinion among earth scientists on global warming. Besides, the insurance industry is taking it very seriously indeed.

I think I've figured out why our resident nutters won't get paranoid about global warming. It's not something you can solve by stockpiling guns.

Our nuts -- of whom I think quite familially, having sided with them a time or two (Ruby Ridge, Mount Carmel) -- are can-do guys and gals. If they see a problem, they are prepared to take it on, head on, personally, whether anybody else sees the problem or not. Global warming is highly unsatisfactory for such purposes. You can't shoot it, or even beat it in a war, so what good is it as an enemy?

Also, global warming is practically a perfect subject for denial. It's hard to see a shrinking polar icecap, or even a shrinking glacier unless you live in Alaska.

I was reminded of the power of denial in a political context when Gov. Dubya recently went into denial about the existence of hunger in Texas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture came out with the same-old, same-old: Texas is second-highest in the nation in both "food insecurity" (now there's a bureaucratic phrase for you) and actual hunger. Five percent of Texas households were listed as experiencing hunger, compared to 3.5 percent nationally.

Bush took this as a political shot. "I saw that report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where?" Bush demanded. "I don't believe 5 percent are hungry. I'm surprised a report floats out of Washington when I'm running a presidential campaign. You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas."

You'd think so. I hate to tell him this, but the same report has been floating in Washington and seeping out of Texas since at least the 1960s.

Those same 17 counties in South Texas have been listed as hunger counties since I started reporting, and there used to be a bunch in East Texas, too. They don't seem to count by counties anymore, but there's absolutely nothing new in the Ag report. This state has had a high hunger count since people started counting. You'd think the governor would know that, wouldn't you?

Across the state, people who run soup kitchens and food pantries promptly offered to show the governor where there is hunger. The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley has seen a 50 percent increase in the past year in the amount of food it distributes to churches, soup kitchens and relief agencies, according to its director.

I was especially struck by something said by Linda Foraker, who runs the Southwest Food Pantry, an arm of the Christian Life Church in Austin. She said that given the country's economic prosperity, she can understand why Bush might not be aware of the problem.

"I was blind to this, too," she told the Austin American-Statesman. "Until you actually start working with it, you would never see it."

Unless you looked, of course. If the leading Republican presidential candidate can be in denial about something as often-proven as hunger in Texas, why should we expect global warming to catch on in the paranoia contest?

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.