Sunday, January 17, 2010

Follow Up, Calvin Trillin and the Underpants Bomber

Liberated from the current New Yorker, Talk of the Town

Crystal Ball
by Calvin Trillin

So far, despite all the attention given to the wannabe terrorist from Nigeria widely known as the Underwear Bomber, nobody has mentioned that I predicted this turn of events. How many dead-on predictions does a person have to make to get a little credit around here? Am I implying that I’ve been similarly prescient in the past? Well, now that you mention it, yes. In a 1978 column about what was then being called the New Right, I said that I’d had some experience in the early sixties with the previous New Right, a movement most memorable for speeches that reached a level of boredom not witnessed in this country since members of the Communist Party droned their way through the thirties. Given the number of years between the two New Rights, I wrote, another New Right should be coming along around 1994. Sure enough, in 1994 a number of readers (three, if memory serves) wrote to remind me that my prediction had been uncannily correct: Newt Gingrich had led the Republicans in a historic takeover of Congress, and the press was full of stories about the power and vibrancy of the New Right.

A coincidence, you say? A lucky guess that I couldn’t repeat? Wrong. In a book I published in 2006 called “A Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme,” here is what I said, in one of the non-rhyming passages, about the so-called Shoe Bomber of 2001: “I’m convinced that the whole shoe-bomber business was a prank. What got me onto this theory was reading that the shoe bomber, a Muslim convert named Richard Reid, had been described by someone who knew him well in England as ‘very, very impressionable.’ I had already decided that the man was a complete bozo. He made such a goofy production of trying to light the fuses hanging off his shoe that he practically asked the flight attendant if she had a match. The way I figure it, the one terrorist in England with a sense of humor, a man known as Khalid the Droll, had said to the cell, ‘I bet I can get them all to take off their shoes in airports.’ So this prankster set up poor impressionable Reid and won his bet. Now Khalid is back there cackling at the thought of all those Americans exposing the holes in their socks on cold airport floors. If someone is arrested one of these days and is immediately, because of his M.O., referred to in the press as the underwear bomber, you’ll know I was onto something.”

That’s right: I predicted the Underwear Bomber in 2006. You could look it up. Around the same time, I repeated the prediction in public appearances and, as I remember, a couple of times on television. (I firmly believe that, in this world of ever-diminishing irreplaceable resources, using a line only once represents the sort of wastefulness our society can ill afford.) And what transpired on Christmas Day three years later? Another bozo tries to blow a hole in an airplane and succeeds only in setting his underpants aflame in a manner that might have rendered him ill equipped for the seventy-two heavenly virgins who were to be his reward if he succeeded. And how is this bozo described by friends and family? Naïve. And where was this bozo educated? University College London, within commuting distance of that diabolical trickster Khalid the Droll.

Has that name—Khalid the Droll— been mentioned even once in the endless press and television interviews with so-called security experts who prattle on about “connecting the dots” and “fostering interagency coöperation” and “eliminating stovepiping”? No, not once. Not once has anybody said, “Somebody should have followed up on Trillin’s underwear tip.” Not once has anybody considered the possibility that, after the shoe-bombing scheme worked to perfection, Khalid the Droll announced to his cell, “When they’ve had a few years of taking off their shoes, I bet I can make them expose their private parts to full-body scanners.” Not once has one of these after-the-fact analyzers considered the possibility that, just as the thirties Communists and the early-sixties New Right tried to bore us into submission, Khalid the Droll is engaged in an elaborate scheme to embarrass us to death.

And what will be the next step in this scheme? I’m working on my prediction now. I just hope somebody is paying attention this time. ♦

Read more:


NCJack said...

Let's just pray that Calvin doesn't hypothesize a suppository bomber

Toad said...

Once upon a time, Johnny Apple of the NYT described New Orleans as a cross between Port au Prince and Patterson NJ.

Since then both NOLA and PAP have seen sorry times. If the late Mr. Apple and Mr. Trillin are on the same wavelength I'd reconsider life near Patterson.